Outdoor rooms extend the usable living areas of the home. Sometimes they are adjacent to the home itself as in a covered patio. Sometimes the landscape elements that define an outdoor room are fully detached and separate from the residence and have their own roof structure.

So what differentiates a patio seating area from an outdoor room? The answer is by how many “indoor elements” are included in the design. What are those landscape elements that define an outdoor room? Here is a partial list:

  • Defined flooring such as an area rug,  stone, tile or wood with a distinct edge
  • Overhead cover to define a form of ceiling or canopy
  • Walls or enclosure defined either by solid walls, barriers or other form of containment which articulates the space
  • Furniture that allows relaxation and comfort or a place to serve and enjoy food and beverages
  • Outdoor kitchen accessories including grills, refrigerators, sinks and countertops with bar stools
  • Curtains or drapes that provide enclosure, privacy and an interior feel
  • Patio heaters, fireplaces, firepits
  • Entertainment elements that substitute for a family room such as big screen televisions and outdoor sound speakers

A simple shade structure may or may not be designed to create the feeling of an outdoor room, because it may only be designed for shade as the primary function. In this case, do we want total shade as in creating a solid cover, or do we want partial shade which allows light to filter through an open beam structure?

Most shade structures are not designed as outdoor “rooms” unless they have some kind of wall or enclosure that defines the area under cover. The furniture and other amenities that are placed in the space also define how well the ambiance feels like an true outdoor room.

Today, many pieces of furniture and fabric can withstand the elements including area rugs. Some outdoor speakers are also designed as water resistant.

This outdoor space pictured left has the essence of a room primarily because of the solid tile mosaic wall and the open beam patio cover above.

This ramada below forms the ceiling of this outdoor kitchen and seating area (pictured below). The space is further defined from the main patio level by two steps descending to the outdoor kitchen level. Can lighting, a ceiling fan and accessories complete the design giving it that indoor feel.  Although there are no walls as in the picture above, the room is defined by the four columns while the absence of solid walls mimics a great room indoors. Stairs lead to the view deck above.

This sitting area serves as an extension of the indoor living space because of the proximity to the transition between indoor and outdoors.

Defined by walls on four sides, an atrium that was big enough for sitting areas could also be designed as an outdoor room.

Outdoor rooms have been a trend among design professionals over the last several years mainly because of their relationship with architectural elements and the influence of interior designers who see the spaces more from a “room” perspective than from an outdoor patio perspective. Both however, led to the concept of landscapes being more appropriately defined as outdoor living areas whether they have defined rooms or more casual outdoor retreats.

Before the interior professionals began defining outdoor rooms, garden designers had always designed secret gardens, meditation gardens and other sanctuary spaces that could also be considered outdoor rooms. In retrospect, it seems that the architects and interior designers were trying to expand their design territories into the landscape of outdoor spaces.

Whether its an inside room or an outdoor room the design principles are the same for all the design professions and how the landscape elements are transformed into rooms is a reflection of our creativity.