Outdoor Rooms vs. Open Decks

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open deck just off the Couple's Suite of the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House overlooks the alley - but will anyone sit there?

Yes, it’s pretty, but will anyone really sit on this deck on the alley?


classic Hearth Garden nestles around white brick outdoor fireplace at the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House

Hearth Garden

   America has a decades-long flirtation with decks dating all the way back to the 1970s, but open decks have several serious problems. Wanda and I designed the Coastal Living Idea House in 2011, and the landscape designers did a wonderful job of realizing our design intent almost everywhere around the house… except for one place: the private Couple's Garden was traded at the last moment for an open deck overlooking the alley that is unlikely to ever be used. I never heard exactly how that happened, but switching back to “the normal way” is such an easy thing for a developer or builder to do that it’s a cinch to understand how such a thing could take place. But it’s still unfortunate. Here’s why:


Longevity

view across the Hearth Garden to the Dinner Garden at the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House

view from Hearth Garden to Dinner Garden

   Treated pine salesmen will tell you about their 40-year (or longer) warranties, but go out and try to find a deck that has been there since 1974. They don’t exist. Sure, you might find one that’s in the same place as one built in 1974, but it has likely been rebuilt several times since then. Simply put, treated wood doesn’t last very long laying flat under an open sky. Wood porch floors often last for most of a century, but they’re covered, which protects them from much of the sun and almost all of the rain, ice, and snow. If you want a floor outdoors under the open sky, you really should use flooring made of stone or clay. In other words, pavers or tile of some sort.


Privacy

garden rooms snuggle into back corner courtyard of the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House, framed by side porch with striped canvas roll-down awnings

outdoor rooms work best when they

snuggle into a corner of the house

   A proper floor is only part of a well-designed outdoor room. If you’re like most people, you’re more comfortable sitting down outdoors in a place with at least some privacy instead of places where you’re on full display to the public… at least when you’re home. If you’re sitting at a sidewalk cafe with other diners, that’s perfectly fine. But for most of us who don’t like the idea of living in glass houses, home is not a place where we really aspire to be on display. That’s why outdoor rooms need solid walls that are at least shoulder height when we’re sitting down. For most outdoor rooms, we feel much more comfortable if they’re at least as tall as we are when we’re standing.


Room Type

   The amount of privacy needed isn’t the same with all outdoor rooms. Kitchen Gardens can be most public, located where neighbors can walk by and ask “how does your garden grow” or whatever. Views into Dinner Gardens or Breakfast Terraces can be OK as well, as we’re acclimated to eating in public. But the Hearth Garden should be more private, and the Couple's Garden should be the most private of all, because it’s the realm shared by only the two of you.


Comfort

small trees planted along the private garden fence of the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House provide cooling shade and privacy from the neighbors

row of small trees cool the garden and provide privacy

above the top of the garden wall

   Outdoor rooms should be designed to cool you in summertime, but should keep you warm late into an autumn evening. A room open to the breeze can keep you cool on a summer afternoon, but is very difficult to keep warm as the days shorten deep into the fall. But you can also keep cool by other means as well, such as shade from an arbor or tree, or the cooling effect of a fountain beside you. So it’s easier to keep an outdoor room comfortable for months longer if it’s mostly enclosed.

   But maybe that’s just me… what would you prefer? Are you a huge open deck fan, or would you consider a well-designed outdoor room instead? Take this poll, then see what everyone else thought as well… thanks!


   ~Steve Mouzon


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