Most of us have never really thought about creating “outdoor living spaces” around our homes. The whole idea may seem a bit odd – until you step back and think big picture for a second. What we’re talking about here is dividing up your yard to create individual spaces with unique design features for a specific use. For example; a pool or spa area has its own special needs and would be different from a meditation garden. Your outdoor dining area is going to have some different elements than the kids play area. Your porch, veranda, or patio will have very different needs than a garden with a water feature in it. You can have a diverse collection of outdoor living spaces, and yet, tie them all together with creative use of landscaping and design.

Once you have separated in your mind the different and specific outdoor “spaces” around your home; imagine each space as if it were in a shoe box with a lid on it. Your job is to design and decorate each of your “shoe boxes” for their specific use. There are four areas of your box to work on; the floor, the walls, the lid or roof, and the content. Let’s break each of these down a bit.

Your “floors” will vary widely depending on the usage of the space, and your overall themes. In a children’s play area, it could be a nice lawn, or if you’re adding an outdoor play set, you may decide some wood chips, beauty bark, or even sand makes sense. Obviously, a patio, or deck has a different use and therefore different floor needs; wood or recycled composite lumber, slate, brick, flagstone, concrete, or even tile would be appropriate. Safety is a factor, for example, you would want to be careful to put non-skid “flooring” around your pool or spa area. Your outdoor dining area should have a surface that is easy to clean – or you could borrow my dog to hang out with you next time you’re barbequing – he’ll clean up everything but the pickles!

Next on the list would be the “walls” of your box. You can have a lot of fun with this one as there are so many creative ways to separate your spaces and isolate individual features. Lets say your pool equipment sits in its own little “dog house” in your backyard. Think about how you could “wall” it off, or screen it from view with some creative use of shrubbery. My buddy, Phil, built a really cool water fall and pond feature near his pool which covers his pool equipment. The pumps and filters for the pool and the water feature were all tucked under his waterfall with easy access doors on the side away from the pool and house. Very clever! You may wish to screen off a section of your patio or porch to provide a little privacy from your neighbors. Creative use of a trellis, arbor, or pergola can help create a perfect quiet spot in your garden for meditation or relaxing. Fencing your yard to keep your kids or animals in or “theirs” out would also be considered in your “walls” design. How about well placed shrubs for a hedge? You can have a lot of fun with this one – think about size, colors, textures, sun, and seasonal issues when you’re deciding on specific plants and where to place them.

The “lid” or roof of your box would be your over head space if the “box” you’re working on needs it. A lid could be a roof over your patio, or deck to provide shade and protection from rainfall. A lid could also be a garden arbor or pergola set up over a garden bench. ImagePlant some climbing vines like morning glories, or climbing roses to provide color, beauty, and shade for your little nook. You can also plan more portable solutions such as a patio umbrella that could be moved around to protect from the sun or rain.

The last element to touch on is the “content” of each box. Here is where you can really let your personality come out. We all have a collection of memorabilia, and curios that accumulate over the years, well; here is a great way to put some of them to good use. Find ways to display your treasures around your outdoor living space – just be careful that you put the weather proof ones in the weather, and place the rest with some protection. There are a great many fun and creative things you can add to your gardens and patios to create little surprises and smiles, and conversations. I’ve always got an eye out for the unusual trinket that I could add to my space to make it more “me”. Wishing wells are popular, or how about a cedar garden bridge to link two areas of your garden. Find a fountain that fits your décor. Don’t forget your feathered friends – put a couple of “designer” bird houses around your place. We live near the Pacific ocean and have a collection of beach stuff; driftwood, shells, etc. that we’ve worked in to our gardens.

Then there are your outdoor furnishings to consider. Start with a theme or style that you want to carry in to your design. Then list the different pieces that you will need for each of your “boxes”. Keep in mind the amount of space you have and be sure to factor sizes and dimensions when you begin to shop for the right furniture. Also consider maintenance issues when choosing materials and colors. Here’s a short list of ideas just to get you started; a porch swing or, you could hang a swing on an A-frame, Imagea glider bench if you don’t have a place to hang a swing. How about rocking chairs, or a rocking bench if you like to snuggle with someone special while you rock the stress away at the end of your day. For your dining area, a patio table, chairs, and maybe an umbrella to provide some shade. There’s always the good old Adirondack style chairs Image which you can find in a huge variety of colors and configurations. The style you choose will present a variety of material choices such as; cedar, teak, oak, wrought iron, wicker or rattan, cypress, or even recycled plastic furniture made from old milk bottles and plastic packaging in a fun selection of wacky colors!

So, there you have it, a few thought starters to help you start visualizing what you can do with your outdoor living space. Get started right now, you’re going to have a blast putting this all together!