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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Monday, August 24, 2009

If design is right, outdoor areas can be living space, too

By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer

People tend to look at homes from wall to wall, considering only the inside space as liveable area.

Many often neglect to consider the outdoor spaces, never stepping foot in them let alone using them every day.

A remodeled deck and added pergola gives homeowners an outdoor space that is both usable and accessible.

What many often don't recognize is that their outdoor areas can be living space, too, if the design is right.

One of our clients, Sally Grant, recently remodeled her two decks and patio to create a complete outdoor living space. Grant first started the remodeling process because the two levels of wooden decks on the rear of her home were seriously deteriorating.

Not only had the sun done in the original wood decks, the heat and glare had made the decks unusable as living space. Though shade was a major issue in this remodel, equal consideration had to be given to the view.

Sitting on the foothills to the north of Salt Lake City, this home has a gorgeous panorama from the mountains to the east, across the city, to the Great Salt Lake on the west.

To solve the shade problem, we designed a pergola — a lattice top with large cross timbers that cover the entire deck. The new shading device serves both to cool the house and make the deck useable before the sun sets.

No longer does the home's owner need to keep all the interior window coverings closed to block out the sun. The view is now appreciated throughout the day from the interior of the home.

And care was taken to design the pergola and railing so as not to block the million-dollar view.

This project also demonstrates the important architectural principle of layering. The columns, rather than detracting from the view, actually enhance it. Grant says the new structure frames the view as opposed to blocking it.

The connections from indoor to outdoor spaces are critical to making outdoor spaces truly liveable.

Some of these connections are visual — windows — and some are literal — doors.

The stronger these connections, the more apt our lives are to spill outside. Grant''s house already had good indoor/outdoor connections on both levels, with a lot of full-height windows and French doors.

One connection that was missing, however, was from the upper deck to the lower deck. The addition of a metal spiral stair took care of this.

The amount of use this stairway now gets is proof that this was a missing link in the original design. Grant said even her dog uses the staircase, and the grandchildren can't get enough of it.

Other connections were corrected in this remodeling project: The Grants' home came with an indoor pool on the lowest level (about a half-level below the walk-out basement).

Though the pool received some use for exercise and entertaining grandchildren, it was not rising to its inherent potential.

It was not a particularly attractive room, and it was boxed off by itself.

The stairs from the family room to the pool were cramped and awkward, and there was little space around the pool for lounging.

The connection between the pool and house was strengthened by revising the stair layout and adding windows to the family room walls.

Now the residents can comfortably access the pool area, and they can see what is going on from the family room

The connection between the pool and the outside was also improved by removing the south wall, moving it out about 10 feet to provide a nice lounge area, and filling the wall with glass doors.

These doors provide light and views when closed. When they are all open, the sunlight and breezes outside are welcomed in.

The concrete deck around the pool flows seamlessly out into the yard to create a patio for those that want to soak up those rays.

Because this house is on such a steep hill, the lower deck of this home sits about three feet above the rear yard. It originally had a railing all the way across the back of the house.

This was both a visual and physical barrier to connecting to the backyard. This railing was removed and steps were added across the entire length of the deck.

Now people can flow from space to space unobstructed. The steps also provide a wonderful platform to display pots of flowers or for overflow seating if a crowd is gathered.

Grant said with all the little additions the house is more usable inside and out.

"We can now access the deck from almost every room in the house," she says. "It is like we added a couple of new rooms. The backyard isn't a big, grassy area, but now it is used. We can entertain there."

"In the Salt Lake area, we really do have lovely weather most of the year," Grant said. "We should capitalize on our outdoor space. We don't have bugs or a lot of rainy days like some other places. The only thing we have to worry about is protecting ourselves from the sun in the summer," she added.

"I see homes with these little decks off the back of their house, but people don't use them," Grant said. "It might take a little redesign and that deck could be a place for their families to gather." As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

© 2009 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.

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