Is it spring yet?

Well, the technical answer is no, but psychologically some of us need to push the issue a bit.

One way to endure the winter doldrums is to focus on spring gardening. We’ll bet some of you are spending time with your Burpee catalog or wandering around your favorite garden center, watching workers set out the spring inventory.

So, what do architects know about gardening?

Just this: Houses and gardens together create the environment we call home, and they should “speak” with each other.

When we look at a remodeling project, our main concern in this regard is the connection between the indoor and outdoor space.

Traditional homes, especially those built before 1950, express little interest in this symbiotic relationship. Many of the modest tract homes built in the valley in the pre- and post-war boom period have the bedrooms and bathroom at the rear of the house; getting to the back yard involves using a side door and walking down the driveway to even find useable outdoor space.

Today’s lifestyle embraces both inside and outside space. Especially with our favorable climate, outdoor areas can act as an additional living space from spring through fall.

Some families rarely cook or eat indoors at all during the summer months. This does not require a full-scale outdoor kitchen; simply a nice barbecue and comfortable seating arrangement will do if they are located in an area that functions well and makes us feel at ease.

An obvious time to strengthen the indoor/outdoor connection of a home is when you undertake an addition or major remodeling project.

With the advent and popularity of outdoor living (as in outdoor kitchens, outdoor living rooms, etc.), all projects should spend some design time on how to take advantage of the additional light, space and views provided by the exterior of a home.

In the project seen in the accompanying photo, a small enclosed porch was removed and replaced with a lovely library/music room on the main level with a new laundry room and bathroom above.

This allowed for the installation of French doors in the library that lead out to a new terrace, which is now the focal point of the back yard.

The terrace also connects to the kitchen/family room area on the other side of the house, and holds a built-in outdoor cooking area and a hot tub. This new “outdoor room” extends the available space for the family to entertain and to spend time together.

Obviously, this exterior space adds considerable value to the property, as well as enhancing the new interior space that was added.

The addition of a pergola over a portion of the terrace gives added definition to the space and variety to the spatial experiences it offers.

The wide steps connect the terrace solidly to the rest of the yard, encouraging all to move easily between the two areas.


We have spoken before about a favorite architect/author of ours by the name of Sarah Susanka. She has a wonderful book written with Julie Moir Messervy called “Outside the Not So Big House.”

Reading this would be a wonderful way to entertain and educate yourself while you wait for spring. This information will help you improve the design and function of both your home and garden.

Susanka and Messervy point out that, “Every site has a vantage: either a prospect — a view from a high position, as on a mountain; or a refuge — a protected setting such as under a canopy of trees.” Begin with analyzing your property. Try to look at it with “new eyes” to see if there are design opportunities you have neglected to consider.

Messervy, who is a landscape architect, says that a landscape is really made up of two basic elements.

These are paths and places. This is similar to the attention an architect puts on flow and circulation within a house; the same principle applies to your garden. Consequently, the flow from the inside to the outside is critical when considering house and garden as part of one design.

Another corollary issue is any area of transition that occurs along the circulation path. These transitional areas occur both inside and outside of the house and each one should receive special design attention.

Finally, consider the concept of views in this design process.
Seamless outdoor spaces beforeSeamless outdoor spaces 1

The enclosed porch, above left, was removed and replaced with a library/music room on the main level, above right. This allowed for the installation of French doors in the library that lead to a new terrace, the focal point of the backyard. The terrace also connects to the kitchen/family
We are usually concerned with how our house will be viewed from the exterior, but we sometimes forget to take advantage of views from the house out to the yard.

Some of us are lucky enough to have spectacular natural views, such as a mountain peak or a valley spread out below our property; however, those of us with less dramatic locations can do a lot to create view opportunities in our yards.

Looking out at a special tree, a wall fountain or a lovely pond can do wonders for the space within the house and for our spirits as well.

This may be the year to think beyond the type of seeds we will plant and begin to think about creating a design that will enhance both our homes and our gardens.

Creating an outdoor room is both fun and challenging and can add interest and value to your property. If we all begin to think spring, maybe it will get here sooner rather than later.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group,, a local architectural firm specializing in home remodels. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at as*@re*******************.com.

Tips to designing seamless outdoor spaces