The Key Elements of a Great Outdoor Space

Increase the livability of your outdoor space with the elements of fire, water, earth and a few more necessities. 

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Photo By: Alderwood Landscaping

Photo By: Metcalfe Architecture & Design, LLC

Photo By: Tomas Ovalle / Associated Press

Photo By: EWM Realty International, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

Photo By: Barron Custom Design, LLC

Photo By: Allison Corona Photography

Fire, Water, Shade and Earth

Big or small, inexpensive or extravagant, your outdoor living space is an investment in your house as well as an investment in your peace of mind. But it doesn't have to be overly complicated: just include fire, water and earth (and a little shade), says landscape designer Michael Glassman. Find ways in which you can use these elements to create a cozy open-air refuge made for relaxing and entertaining.

Dining Alfresco

"In a recent national survey, the number one request for a backyard is an outdoor kitchen," says Glassman. "The idea of dining under the stars is wonderful. Have you ever noticed how food just tastes better when you eat outside?"

It Doesn't Have to Be Over the Top

Although outdoor kitchens can be pricey, they don't have to be. The idea is to extend your home's living space into the backyard. So if a built-in gas grill with all the accoutrements isn't in the budget, a charcoal grill will cook your meals up nicely. Whether you're serving a small group or a family feast, you can find a variety of stylish outdoor dining tables and chairs to suit your needs.

A Warm Fire Invokes Conversation

On a cool, crisp evening, cozy up to a heat source — like an outdoor heater, chiminea or fire bowl — with a cup of tea and a good book. Or enjoy the ambiance and smell of a wood-burning fire in a custom-built or pre-fabricated fireplace.

Create a Serene Atmosphere With Water

The sound of a gurgling fountain is a soothing addition to your backyard oasis. Keep it simple with a tabletop fountain or get more elaborate with a professionally installed bubbling stream at the patio's edge.

A Roof Extends Usability

Overhead structures like a gazebo or screened porch provide comfort and protection from rain, giving you more opportunities to spend time outdoors.

Make It Unique

A palapa, or thatched roof structure, also provides protection when it's rainy, hot, bright and sunny. Call your local building or planning department to find out if you need a permit for a structure like this (in most communities you don't need one). Electrical outlets for a fan, heater or other device usually require some type of authorization.

Plan For the Seasons

Earthen elements, such as plants, rock, and other natural materials, provide year-round interest. Some elements, like stone paving and rock walls, anchor the space, while others, such as trees, shrubs and flowers, are fleeting and change throughout the seasons.

Don't Forget the Floor

Incorporate earth tones into your accessories to connect them with nearby plantings, mulched beds and stonework. For example, outdoor carpets provide the indoor look outside. They're made from a weather-resistant fabric that's durable and won't mildew. They're easy to clean, and they dry quickly.

A Good Seat Makes It Easy to Chill

Outdoor furniture can also enhance the earth element by incorporating pieces made with different grains and colors of wood. When selecting furniture for your outdoor room, aim for comfort. Then consider the size; don't over- or under-scale your furniture for the size of the space. Finally, consider durability. Select items of good quality that won't easily fall apart in the elements.

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