Moments of calm are perhaps harder to come by these days, as everyone navigates this turbulent world. Spaces for rest and relaxation at home have become important for resetting the mind and body. With spring’s arrival, nature’s calming effects beckon people outdoors, so we’ve asked local experts how to go about creating the perfect backyard escape.
According to Martin Romero, vice president of Design + Build Sales at Mullin, the process begins with envisioning the space’s uses and knowing your priorities.
“Just like any other facet of construction, a well-thought-out and developed concept increases the functionality and aesthetic of the space, thus increasing its appeal and intrinsic value,” he says.
At Mullin, Romero finds that new exterior design builds often revolve around achieving an escape through personal connections and interaction — parties, family gatherings — which makes extending the indoors to the outdoors a common goal for homeowners.
After envisioning how the space will be used by you and your guests, the next step is space planning. Whether you’re going big with a project and utilizing the expertise of a landscape architecture or a design and build firm or you’re just trying to spruce up an underutilized corner of a lot for a greater purpose, space planning is crucial in successfully bringing the vision to reality.
“We treat outdoor space planning just as we do indoors,” says Penny Francis, principal designer and owner of Eclectic Home. “We measure and draw to scale the spaces and determine first how the area will function.”
Francis says to consider all the options: space for dining, for entertaining others, and for lounging alone. Another important consideration is usability throughout the year.
“Grand front porches are beautiful but limited in their functionality,” says Chris Kornman, co-owner of Entablature “Once the mosquitoes are out, no one wants to be on their front porch. Rear areas allow for broader designs such as screened-in porches or large sliding-door systems with integrated screens.”
According to Kornman, one unique aspect of New Orleans homes is existing accessory structures that are on the rear property line. At Entablature, Kornman and his team often renovate these structures into pool houses or cabanas.
After space planning, and knowing what you have to work with in terms of scale and budget, it’s on to the details. Experts agree that little details make a big difference. From creating a harmonious theme among new and existing hardscape materials to ensuring the proper elevations for a swim-up bar in the pool, attention to detail is just as important in designing your outdoors as it is indoors.
“Just as color, texture and scale are considered when designing the interior of your home, these same principles should flow to your outdoor living space,” says Vikki Leftwich, interior designer and owner of Villa Vici. “Well-thought-out landscaping essentially creates exterior rooms.”
According to Leftwich, complementing the home’s interior through your exterior design choices will help create a seamless flow and elevate the feel of the outdoor space. For example, someone with a contemporary interior style might benefit from a sleek, minimalist approach of open areas with architectural foliage and a monochromatic palette.
Interior Designer Maureen Stevens agrees, saying the flow from interior to exterior is absolutely key. In addition to reflecting the style you’ve chosen for your interior, she recommends adding your personality through the foliage you choose.
“Are you more of a French, super classic kind of person where topiaries may be your best bet for your outdoor space? Maybe you are wilder and more bohemian at heart; mixing and matching shrubs, greenery and flowers may be your thing,” she says. Additionally, choice of planters factor in, from the minimalist to the traditional to the artsy. And lastly, so too matters the furniture, color palette, and tablescaping.
When curating your outdoor furnishings, start with the largest, most eye-catching piece and work around it, says Nomita Joshi-Gupta, principal at Spruce and Nomita Joshi Interior Design. Focal points could be a relaxing fountain or fireplace, dramatic planters, or a remarkable piece of furniture.
Joshi-Gupta says that no home should look like it belongs in a hotel or on Instagram — it should reflect you and the statement you want to make. She recommends adding personalized objects to showcase your unique personality, whether outdoor art or accessories such as a favorite pillow or throw.
By utilizing and including things that you love — and that are comfortable — you will create a space that invites you to enjoy it, echoes Eclectic Home’s Penny Francis. With regard to furniture, Francis recommends mixing furnishings from multiple vendors and manufacturers to create a curated, well-designed exterior.
Outdoor furnishings exist in an array of finishes and materials, from teak, iron, concrete and aluminum to synthetics like resin wicker. Retailers like RH, West Elm, CB2 and Anthropologie are expanding outdoor collections and luxury brands like JANUS et Cie, McKinnon and Harris, Vondom, Summer Classics, and Gloster can be sourced locally.
Nothing can make or break a mood quite like lighting, and our designers have recommendations for setting the right tone. Layered lighting is best, they say, and can utilize a number of sources. Subtle lighting in the landscaping, spotlights directed at trees or focal points, string lights in uncovered areas, warm overhead lighting or sconces in covered areas, standing lamps in patios and covered porches, and candlelight from hurricane and votive candle holders for dining al fresco are just a few examples.
Whether lounging by the pool with a glass of wine, reading in a comfortable nook on the porch, or connecting with loved ones in the open breeze, our experts recognize that a well-designed outdoor space is key for lowering the blood pressure. With just a few adjustments or additions to your backyard this spring, you’ll be relaxing and unwinding in no time.