Creating an inviting outdoor room isn't that different from planning interior spaces. Residential design pros consider floor, ceiling, walls, finishes, lighting, heat, and cooling to create open-air living with just the right balance of exposure and refuge. Luxurious touches like oversized fireplaces and built-in seating keep homeowners coming out. Architects also list location as one key to success. Ruth Hasell, AIA, advises: “Outdoor spaces work best if they have meaning in relation to an indoor space and are carefully planned in form and finish.” Clients aren't afraid to invest in this kind of design quality—to the tune of $200 to $600 per square foot for the projects seen here.

Poolside Lounge
This rustic loggia bookends the pool deck between the main and guest houses on a Martha's Vineyard, Mass., estate (right). Both buildings shield the space from brisk winds but are far enough away to let the sun warm the space throughout the day. An imposing fireplace made from local stones caps the corner nook while a simple trellis sets it apart from the rest of the fully exposed terrace. Eventually, vines will cover the cedar trellis, creating a green ceiling and more shade. Enhancing the cozy quotient, stone armatures lined with cedar benches extend from the chimney. “Just because you're outside doesn't mean you can forget the elements of making a good room,” summarizes architect Mark Hutker.

Builder: Doyle Construction, Vineyard Haven, Mass.
Architect: Hutker Architects, Vineyard Haven
Landscape Architect: Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, Cambridge, Mass.
Photographer: Brain Vanden Brink

Gary Hasell

Courtside Seats

Adding a dining room to this California Ranch produced a fully enclosed courtyard between the house and the formerly detached garage. An existing concrete block wall that runs along the front yard made an interesting focal point for the outdoor living room. “We loved this wall and really wanted to make use of it,” says architect Ruth Hasell, “but empty walls often become de facto storage, so we put the fireplace there.”

A raised hearth sits in the sightline of the new dining room, where large sliding doors open the interior to the private outdoor space. A post-and-beam “ceiling” made from Douglas fir continues across the courtyard, through the addition, and out the other side to a new pool deck. “Although not structural,” explains Hasell, “the trellis serves as an architectural device to unify the three spaces.”

Gary Hasell

Builder: Rafael Diaz, Tustin, Calif .
Ruth Hasell, AIA, Architect, Tustin
Photographer: Gary Hasell  

Charles Davis Smith

Pizza Porch An awkward side yard became the ideal locale for a massive clay oven that heats to 600 degrees F to bake the perfect pizza crust. It made sense to push the hot spot away from the house while keeping it close enough to use frequently. Black-painted bricks form a mod enclosure for an oven that architect Dan Shipley describes as “a little funky-looking.”

A 40-pound copper door provides additional heat control; the counterweights that operate it are a nod to Texas' famous barbecue pits. The chimney helps support a steel-framed canopy that shades the 16-foot-by-16-foot porch. For the canopy, Shipley speced an off-the-shelf plywood product intended for making concrete forms. “The underside is a slick red surface that you can leave exposed,” he says. Ipé decking hovers close enough to the ground to forgo guard rails, so guests can dangle their legs over the edges while waiting for their slice.

Charles Davis Smith

Builder/Architect: Shipley Architects, Dallas
Landscape architect: David Rolston Landscape Architects, Dallas
Photographer: Charles Davis Smith