10 Beautiful Outdoor Spaces That Will Make You Rethink Your Current Backyard
Your backyard is brimming with design opportunity—it just takes a little imagination (and inspiration) to make the most of it. "An outdoor space should feel inviting and draw people outside," says landscape architect Keith Williams of Nievera Williams. "No matter what the space is used for, it should feel comfortable and create a sense of destination."
So, how does one go about creating an enticing outdoor area, one that's as restorative as it is transportive? Williams says figuring out the purpose of the space is a great place to start. "When designing an outdoor space, you should not only consider its use, but how the space will function in relation to the interiors of the home," he says. "Natural elements, like exposure to sun and shade or wind are important factors to take into account, as well."
Whether you've opted to install a patio, deck, or swimming pool, once you've determined how you're going to use the area, the next step is to decorate the space with furniture and accessories that speak to your unique aesthetic. "It's nice to incorporate fabrics and materials that relate to the indoors," Williams notes. "This creates a cohesiveness and an indoor-outdoor atmosphere that makes the space feel like a true extension of the home."
Looking for more ways to create a beautiful and inventive outdoor area in your own backyard? We reached out to some of our landscape-savvy designers for advice—and they didn't disappoint. From rustic cabanas with fire pits to decks designed for entertaining, read on to discover 10 creative outdoor spaces that will make you want to spend all day outside.
While an outdoor area should look beautiful, Vanessa Alexander of Alexander Design says it's equally important to consider practicality as well. "Comfort, light, and warmth are the three key components to an outdoor space," she says. "I like my outdoor area to feel like an extension of the indoors so that the rhythm of the furnishings and the materials feel connected and read fluidly." Here, for example, modern furnishings reference and reinforce this contemporary home's architecture.
A New Room
Just because it's located outside of your house doesn't mean that your patio, deck, or pool isn't part of your home—which is why James Farmer says you should treat it just as you would any other beloved space. "Creature comforts from within make for a terrific outdoor space," he says. "Is there Wi-Fi? A place to plug in an outdoor lamp or lantern? Or a fan? Outdoor fabrics are as lovely now as interior options, so outdoor spaces can be as chic and comfortable as your den. The purpose, form, and function will truly set the tone." Case in point? Note the chic textiles and living room-inspired lounge vignette that Farmer brought to life while working on this project.
If you plan on using your backyard patio, porch, or deck for entertaining, Cortney Bishop—who designed this party-ready space—recommends investing in plenty of plush, but sturdy seating options. "Think about the largest crowd you might have in your outdoor space and plan for enough seating accordingly," she says. "Durability is key, so I encourage our clients to make strong investments in quality, long-lasting outdoor furnishings and textiles."
According to Abbe Fenimore of Studio Ten 25, utilizing outdoor fabrics, like the visually dynamic textiles seen on these in-water lounge chairs, is essential to the longevity of an outdoor space—but you don't need to sacrifice coziness for durability. "To create a cozier feel in a covered space, I like to replace the 'outdoor' inserts of pillows with down inserts," she says. "Just make sure you bring them in during bad weather since they won't hold up over time."
Searching for a strong, but stylish material to construct a sustainable outdoor space? Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo says Ipe wood, also known as Brazilian walnut, is the way to go. "Ipe wood is long lasting and won't rot," she says, noting that her clients used the wood type when creating this built-in outdoor seating area. "Also, you can let it patina over time to a beautiful gray."
Plenty of Shade
No well-designed outdoor space would be complete without a shaded area to retreat to. If you don't have a partially-enclosed area to work with, like the modern covered patio seen here, get creative. "Design a seating area with a place to set a drink that allows for sun or shade, depending on the desire," says Kendall Wilkinson. "For entertaining, integrate hidden speakers for music and space heaters to allow for year-round use."
Nothing elevates the ambience of any space faster than a roaring fire, which is why Virginia Toledo of Toledo Geller suggests installing a fireplace in your outdoor area (how cozy is this outdoor fireplace?). "The same way that a fireplace is the natural place for people to gravitate inside the home, it happens outside, as well," she says. "If it's not in the budget to build a fireplace, consider adding a fire pit at a lower price point."
Privacy is crucial in any outdoor area, and Charlie Hellstern suggests using screens—like the tile-inspired cut-outs she used in this project—that don't completely disconnect you from your surroundings. "Consider privacy screens with small openings you can slightly see through," she says. "While safety is a must, be careful not to build in solid walls that keep you from enjoying your view from a seated position on your terrace."
Becky Shea says it helps to design your outdoor space around a designated focal point. "In a living room or a dining room, for example, there's always a focal piece and an axis point," she says. "Consider a unique tree, sculpture, pond, or path to be that focal point outdoors, and use that element to build out your space on the axis." Here, a breathtaking (and extra-long!) swimming pool commands attention.
Mind the View
If you're lucky enough to have a scenic view from your outdoor area, Lauren Nelson recommends playing it up as much as possible. "The main factor to consider when designing an outdoor space is how to optimize views and scenery," she says. "Arrange a furniture layout that maximizes a good view, whether it's the swimming pool or ocean."