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Many creative ways to produce outdoor social spaces

No matter how much space you have outdoors, there are many creative ways to create outdoor social spaces.

“Outdoor ‘rooms’ can complement your interior rooms if you create a flow between the two. It’s a way to create a whole living space,” said Aeleri B. Tierney, of Amherst’s Kuhn Riddle Architects.

For example, Tierney recommends having a screened-in porch as a transition point.

“You can flow in and out, having the feeling of being outdoors without the mosquitos,” she said.

Tierney added that screen porches can be used for three seasons if well situated.

“Naturally, you don’t want them facing north. You can have cool breezes in summer or sunny warmth in the fall if it’s situated right. I know some people who love them so much they sleep out there,” she said.

Getting started

If you have just moved into or just built a new home, Tierney said, wait a year before doing anything major. She said it’s better to watch the landscape and see how and where you have sunny or shady spots and at what times of day. Also, you want to see what plant life you have so you know what you will be dealing with.

The simplest way to get started with creating outdoor social spaces, she said, is first creating pathways to “destination points” in your yard. For pathways, she said, you want to be able to “bleed into the landscape. Paths can define the outdoor space.”

Materials you can use to make pathways range from stone or slate flagstones, which can be more expensive, to concrete flagstones that are made to look like real stone, which are less expensive but tend to not last as long, Tierney said. Stone, gravel, sand or stone dust are other options.

“You can also use wood mulch if you want a forested look,” Tierney said.

With pathways, there is a certain amount of maintenance involved, depending on the material — for example, weeding, or if you shovel the path in the winter, you are likely to displace stone or other materials onto the lawn area she said.

Destination points

For some time, people have been increasingly drawn to having various types of fire pits as a destination point.

“The thing that’s great about them is you can use them year-round. There’s nothing like having a roaring fire to sit around in winter,” she said.

Fire pits can be made in any number of ways and Tierney said there are kits that can be purchased. Essentially, you have a protective material below the surface such as concrete, stone or brick to lay the wood on. Tierney said it’s a good idea to have a clear flat area surrounding the pit to avoid danger from sparks.

“You can make the flat area wide enough to have chairs or benches, too,” she said.

Other popular destination points can be a pool, hot tub or another water feature, depending on your space and how much you want to spend.

Outdoor cooking areas

“It’s best to be as near to your interior kitchen as possible when creating an outdoor cooking space, unless you are planning on putting in more plumbing,” Tierney said.

She added that being closer to the dwelling allows the cook to be more of a participant in the event or family gathering. Tierney suggested having a gas line go out to the outdoor cooking area for your grill.

“That way, you don’t always have to be lugging propane tanks around,” she said.

Tierney added that “some people like to grill outside all year-round, so some type of overhang is usually appreciated by the cook. However, you want to be sure you have flames a safe distance from the house.”

Tierney also suggested having some type of outdoor sink and prep area for convenience and to also allow the cook to interact with family or guests more easily.

Lighting

Lastly, a simple method of creating an outdoor social space is the use of lighting. You can simply place lights on a fence or strung around a specific area, or have spots on the landscape for Tiki torches, candles, or hurricane lamps, Tierney said. “Uplighting a tree or shrubbery can make for a beautiful and even spectacular focal point,” she said.

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