Unlike the glass-enclosed garden rooms or conservatories in the UK—glazed interior spaces that provide visual access to the great outdoors—garden rooms in this country are generally open-air spaces (porches, screened-in sunrooms, covered terraces, or patios wrapped with tall hedges) that ease transition from interior spaces to an exterior garden or lawn.
Whether designed as a retreat for quiet contemplation or as an outdoor entertaining area for gatherings of family and friends, a garden room is most appealing when merged with some indoor creature comforts. Long Island, New York designer Andrew Maier offers these suggestions for bringing out the best in outdoor living spaces.
1. Top it off. “An outdoor room is best if it is covered with some kind of roof, or the suggestion of a roof,” Maier says. “For example, I like pergolas with lots of vine growth. They are romantic and so gorgeous, however they lack some practicality that most people need—what do you do when it rains?” His preferred option? “Custom canvas awnings are my favorite; they’re less expensive than you may think, and they create the effect of adding a room onto your house.”
2. Create a glow. “Lighting is best when many sources of light are used, preferably around the perimeter of an outdoor room,” says Maier. “A good rule of thumb is to use no overhead lighting of any kind, unless maybe it’s a shaded lantern with a low-wattage bulb. Also think about hiding the source of the light. A soft wash of light cast on a wall is so much nicer than seeing the glare of a spotlight.”
Maier also recommends bringing lamps outside when the weather is fair. “Decrease the wattage in the light bulbs by 50% and use buffet lamps on a bar or a big chunky lamp on an end table,” he advises. “Lampshades glow at night and make the space feel much more ‘room-like’ than any other thing you could possibly do.”
3. Stay grounded. “Try adding a synthetic outdoor rug to the mix too,” says Maier. “They are widely available in the retail and custom market, and they make the room feel finished and clean.”
4. Consider the context. “Whether it’s a pergola, covered porch, patio, or pool house, consider keeping the style of your outdoor room in sync with the style of your home,” Maier suggest. “You’ll be happier in the long run if you don’t try to create a tropical tiki hut for a Georgian colonial.”
5. Make it cozy. Defining outdoor spaces with comfortable furnishings and easy-care fabrics enhances their comfort and allure. “Outdoor fabric companies are now making softer, less “plastic-y”, and more ‘fool-the-eye’ weather-resistant fabrics than ever before,” says Maier, who prefers muted colors for outdoor rooms.
“Colors for outdoor fabrics should never be too artificial—keeping some ‘muddiness’ in the colors of the fabrics will ensure that in the harsh light of day, things still look natural and not jarring,” he says. “When I sit in an outside room, day or night, I want my eyes to be relaxed—not overly invigorated by a whole bunch of bright, busy fabrics.” He also gravitates to large furnishings in outdoor rooms. “I like an outdoor sofa or lounge chair that is grounded, bulky, and invites you to fall into it—when you’re outside, nothing small and fussy ever seems comfortable,” he says.
As for materials, Maier suggests going for what stands up to the elements best. “Teak sometimes works, but a woven synthetic faux-wicker type of sofa or chair that you see so often in catalogs these days is great, because it can easily be blended with other ‘less matchy’ things—from a pair of old iron occasional chairs coated with chippy paint to a modern coffee table.” Having a few major pieces that match is a good place to start, says the designer, “but mix up the rest to ensure that the outdoor room feels homey and personal and not stiff.”
To see more of Andrew Maier’s work, visit his website here.
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