Imagining Outdoor Rooms
A house might be one room, suitable to all uses of rest, shelter, activity, or a house might have several rooms, each room suited to its purpose, cooking, gathering, sleeping. Each room wants some quality suitable to its use, quiet privacy for a bedroom, open sunny for a morning-breakfast room, cozy closeness for a den.
A house might also have one outdoor room, a yard, or two yards, front and back, the front public, the back private. A yard might have a tree for shade, a fence for border, shrubbery for blanketed transition. A yard suits occasions of greeting, sports, pen, et cetera; yet a yard can be more than four fenced walls. A yard can be contiguous rooms, each room suited to its purpose of use, relaxation, beauty.
Open, flat yards will want the borders of walk, bushes, fences, walls. Hilled yards will want stabilizing transitions, terraces, steps, and beds. Borders and transitions might be formal or natural, though in truth the natural is too a formality, best when studied and contained. Water of pools create romance, reflection, especially if the water falls into a pool of fishes.
Water of fountains makes a music that gently overbears the noise of machines; its spouting, flowing water creates a certain fascination alike staring into a flame.
Another pool, a dipping pool, is suited to soaking beneath a glaring sun, to cooling family and friends in conversation, sometimes with refreshments in hand. Fireplaces and firepits offer another opportunity for gathering and conversation, yet here with the fascination of light and shadow dancing face to face, otherworldly excitement in the common everyday.
There are outdoor kitchens, outdoor entertainment rooms, outdoor dining rooms, there are balconies, terraces, lanai, there are gardens for produce, flowers, recreation with paths to walk upon, benches to rest upon, there are secret gardens walled from the world, secret gardens where two might meet on a bench beneath willow or cypress shimmering with sheets of leaves.
An outdoor room might be a court for tennis or pickleball or dance, it might be a pitch suited to croquet or cricket or tent, it might be a pool suitable to play or exercise, the pool with a dedicated house. A pool house might be simple storage, or storage with an open shower, or storage and shower to the side, its center open to television, conversation circle, refrigerator for bar, shelves for games, towels, and poolside books.
A garden might contain a folly, a little house of romance designed for potting, writing, sleepy retreat. The folly might echo the style of the house, Federal, Greek, or Mod, or the style might complement the house, spired temple for the Gothic, Sherwood treehouse for the Tudor, crosscut woodsman for the Arts & Crafts.
The folly might like a pretty, flowered window box, musical windchimes, or for the antiquarian, an Aeolian harp whose strings sing to the bees with the breeze.
I have designed many such rooms, each with its charming feature, a sunken garden with miniature grotto, a woods’ path that terminated on natural curiosities and opened to pleasant vistas, a stream that flowed to a hidden, sylvan pool, and little private yards of a stable turned guest house where each affectionate couple might enjoy delights of privacy, the hanging garden, hot tub, tablecloth and champagne.
My last house had seven gardens, gardens for shade and produce, for Virginia plants and ancient plants, a yard for ball-play with pups, a fountained dipping pool, an airy high balcony, a curtained retreat off the master suite, an outdoor kitchen of stone hand-cut, an outdoor, octagon dining room, a stone bench encircling a shade tree, a shaded stone bench cushioned with draping flowers, and there were curved walks, descending staircases, circular stairs, a serviceable folly, terraces, and fences, and gates, and French doors that opened to the several rooms.
All of this with the resources of middle-class income and the joyful labor of a few summers.
The outdoor room extends the house, doubles pleasure and use without the daily cost of heating, cooling, power. Sure, you might do as I have done, install mood and landscape and accent lights, either by simple timed bulbs or by slowly extinguishing solar lamps. You might install underground sprinklers timed for convenience, which, as I have found, is the work of a Saturday. To people your gardens you might ask cuttings of friends’ ornamentals, or you might accept petaled roadside volunteers into your home, or you might harvest vagrant seeds, and you can always buy plants formally brought up by the nearby nursery.
More than means, an outdoor room wants imagination in design, craft in creation, care in maintenance. Likely, a future “10-Minute History” will dilate upon outdoor rooms, gardens, and follies, giving to each a detailed consideration and to all luscious, descriptive illustrations. I hope this gloss was an urge to inspiration and to action.
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Imagining Outdoor Rooms
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