In 2014, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed porches and outdoor rooms are “on the comeback,” and a 2015 study by the National Home Builders Association estimates that by next year 88 percent of all new construction houses will have multiple porches. With so much emphasis on outdoor living, homeowners are interested in bringing the outdoors into the home and vice versa.  New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles asked local experts for their top tips on blending our interior and exterior rooms in order to create a seamless connection between the two. Here’s what they had to say.

Give Yourself Something To See
“Outdoor-in is the new idea of landscaping and hardscaping,” says Tommy Benge, owner of Benge Landscaping. “When we’re envisioning a project, a designer’s eye is always cognizant of the entire property.“ Benge points out that even views from second-story rooms can factor into an outdoor plan and that developing a landscape with focal points for various views often evolves in stages. “Landscaping is a living, breathing aspect of your house,” he says. “You live with it just like you would a paint color. It takes time to develop the vision top to bottom.” Landscaping also can be used for the opposite purpose – to block unwanted views and provide privacy. A strategically placed hedge can make an aesthetically pleasing, light-filtering solution that still enables you to have a sense of the outdoors. “It’s important to consider what we call the borrowed view, or what is beyond your property,” says Jeannette Roussell, a landscape architect with Landscape Images. “Is the view pleasant or something objectionable that you want to screen out?” Another perk of being able to see outdoor rooms and landscaping from indoors: “Visually, it extends your indoor space, making it feel bigger,” says Roussell.  “It’s a good optical illusion.” Whether building a deck or a fence, Alex Long, owner of Impact Fence and Deck, always advocates studying the views from inside. His general advice for fences seen from inside includes making sure that the top does not line up with a window, finishing them with a cap and trim, using a protective, penetrating stain versus paint and choosing a style that corresponds to your interior. (A horizontal fence is a modern look that he doesn’t suggest for a traditional home, for example.) Long, who also installs pergolas, adds that outdoor focal points should be lined up on axes or sight lines when you want to see them from inside.

Choose Indoor Looks/Outdoor Performance
According to Chris Tidwell, vice president of sales and marketing for Aeratis, a manufacturer of engineered products for porches and patios, using the right materials will help you create the optimum effect and go a long way toward upkeep. Aeratis makes historically accurate products (they look like wood as it was milled from the mid-to-late 1800s) with “new world” performance. Their double-sided Traditions Twenty-Four beaded ceiling/wainscoting, designed to replicate wood installed at Oak Alley Plantation in 1865, can be used for walls or ceilings and for indoor or outdoor areas. Their main product, double sided tongue-in–groove porch flooring is used for outdoor applications like porches, patios and outdoor kitchens, as well as indoor areas like mud rooms and saunas. “It allows consumers to take the elegance and grandeur of the foyer to the outside and create a consistent environment between the porch and the interior of the home,” says Tidwell of the flooring. Aeratis also offers a more cost effective, paint-ready flooring option.  It can be painted or stained to match your interior décor and only requires repainting every seven to 10 years. The company warranties its products against manufacturing defects and performance failures and the products are fire rated, making them ideal for outdoor kitchens. They’re also slip-resistant, termite-proof, mold-resistant, and can be waterproofed.  Today’s outdoor fabrics, many of which have the look of natural fibers with the durability of advanced synthetics, offer the same indoor/outdoor flexibility. “Sunbrella is stain- and soil-repellent,” says Blythe Wren, owner of Wren’s Tontine, which specializes in window treatments. “The same fabric can be used for seat cushions and pillows and curtains inside and out.” Sunbrella and similar outdoor fabrics are quick drying and usually washable.

Grace Kaynor of Sorte on Magazine Street says that many of her clients are choosing “outdoor fabrics” for their interiors. “A lot of my clients have young kids, and outdoor fabrics are easier to clean,” she notes, adding that they look beautiful and work especially well in transitional spaces like porches – or as she calls them, “second living rooms.” She is also an advocate of using wicker furniture. “You can really mix wicker with anything,” she says. Her current favorite furniture line is Dedon, which makes “beautiful sofas and coffee tables” that go well in both interior and outdoor spaces.

Create Outdoor Rooms That Complement Your Interior
Treat your outdoor areas with the same design principles that you would use inside so there’s visual continuity. When indoor and outdoor areas offer similarly inviting aesthetics, there’s more likely to be a natural flow between them.  You may choose to tie them together by using cohesive color schemes or furniture styles.

Roussell focuses on color. “When the view is a focal point from inside, color is important,” says Roussell. “You want the indoor and outdoor colors to complement or build on each other. If you have pastels inside, you may want to carry that outside. Or you may want to use a contrasting color.” Chase Mullin, owner of Mullin Landscape agrees. “The main thing is to respect what’s going on inside,” he says. “You don’t want to have a super formal interior and go directly into a super casual exterior.”

Make A Transition Space
“You want a transition space as you move from inside to outside,” says Mullin, noting that such a space can be a deck, porch, patio or even a pergola. According to Roussell, the transition leading from the house to the outdoor living area should be on the same level as the house and at least large enough for two people to stand on.  She adds that steps to a lower level outdoor space should lead where you want to go.

Frame Your Views
Window treatments can affect everything from whether you can see the outdoors to how you see them. “People want privacy but the main thing is to keep the view,” emphasizes Wren. To that end, Wren says Solar Shades, which are made of fiberglass and are available in varying degrees of sheerness, have become one of her top selling items. ”You can see through them but they still keep out the heat and protect your furniture and paintings from the sun,” she says. Solar Shades also can be used outdoors, as can Aeroshades, specifically made of weatherproof materials for outdoor areas like porches. For French doors, a popular architectural feature in New Orleans, she often recommends roman shades, which can be neatly retracted so as not to obstruct views, while for sliding glass doors she likes the clean, modern look of gliding window panels like Hunter Douglas’s Skyline product. “They’re like a Shoji screen that can be stacked back to the side,” she says. Another way to frame your outdoor views is by having in glassed-in room. “Most of the time, with a glassed-in room, it’s maxed out with windows,” says Carl Noto, owner of Carl Noto Patios. “It’s a 180 degree view of your outdoors.” Noto, who creates a range of different outdoor spaces including covered patios, screened rooms and glassed-in rooms, explains that a glassed-in room is a year-round space for enjoying the outdoors, while a patio or screened room is seasonal. For energy efficiency, he advises using double insulated windows with Low E glass (which cuts 75 to 80 percent of UV rays) and Argon gas.

Provide Some Liquid Refreshment
The tranquil sight of an outdoor water feature makes an impact on semi-outdoor areas like porches and on indoor rooms. Placed near a window or door, fountains, ponds, pools and waterfalls have a cooling, calming effect. But Roussell advises that water features should never be located based on the indoor perspective alone. “You’ll experience a water feature more outdoors so considering the outside is critical,” she says. In New Orleans gardens, where space is often limited, Mullin advises clients to use a single water feature rather than a pool and fountain for example. “In a small space, it’s better to capitalize on one focal point,” he says.

Don’t Forget Scents and Sounds
“New Orleans is a historic place; in the early 1800s, fragrant plants like citrus, jasmine and verbana were used as natural perfumes,” says Benge. “That’s still in play today.” Benge suggests using fragrant plants and trees near widows and French doors so that their scents can waft through the house. Roussell adds that scents are a reminder of the time of year. “The seasons of New Orleans are based on our scents,” says Roussell who likes Sweet Olive and Michelia figo, which bloom in spring; gardenias, night blooming jasmine and Carolina jessamine, which bloom in summer and sweet olive again for fall. Benge recommends locating soothing water features near doors and windows (when it works with the outdoor plan) so that they can be heard from inside. ”It’s easy to put up a simple water feature and have a natural sound machine,” he says.

Bring In Natural Light Without The Damaging Effects of The Sun
If natural light is a priority, but views are not, Solatube is a unique solution. A tubular daylight device invented in the 1980s, it resembles an oversized can light and delivers just as much light as a skylight – without the heat and the UV rays that fade furniture, rugs and art. Brad Downs, co-owner of the Baton Rouge-based dealership, notes that it’s less expensive than putting in windows, it’s great for small spaces, it’s a green, energy-efficient alternative to putting in light fixtures, and its natural light versus incandescent or florescent (a popular choice for photographers and those with art collections). “We like to say ‘we bring Louisiana sunshine into your home,’” says Downs.

Seamless Connections  Seamless Connections
Impact Fence                              Carl Noto Patios

The Flip Side
Keeping The Elements Out

Most homeowners want to bring in a sense of the outdoors, but intrusions from outside – especially water – are never welcome. Before buying a home or starting a renovation, making sure your home is level and in compliance with flood requirements is essential. Davie Shoring levels and elevates houses and also moves historic and other homes. “Correcting the foundation is the first thing you want to do,” says owner Warren Davie.
“Staightening door frames and windows is useless if the house needs to be leveled.” Davie says solving foundation and elevation problems can improve interest rates, insurance rates, and make it easier to get a mortgage. Siding, soffits, fascia, and gutters likewise help keep water where it’s supposed to be. Strong Shield Siding, works with all of the above and specializes in fiber cement siding. “Wood rots and leaks,” says Cassio Santos, owner of Strong Shield. “Replacing it with fiber cement siding gives you the same look and it lasts longer, doesn’t burn, doesn’t’ get termites, doesn’t rot, you paint it less often and it’s a green product.” Santos says fiber cement board also is used for semi-interior walls in areas such as patios and for interior walls in places like garages. Like wood, it’s meant to accept paint. It also comes in prefinished colors that don’t have to be painted. In business for more than 50 years, LAS, which manufacturers and installs windows, shutters and siding, emphasizes the benefits of vinyl siding and shutters. In addition to being built to withstand water and treated to repel insects, some vinyl siding is rated to stand up to hurricane force winds and to provide greater energy efficiency. Thanks to improved technology, Vice President of Sales Mike Wibel says the look of vinyl siding and shutters is better than ever as well. “We have the technology to build a product that lasts and gives the aesthetics of wood,” he says. But product alone is not enough. Wibel stresses the importance of proper installation and maintenance. “It doesn’t matter how great a product you have if it’s not installed properly,” he says. LAS also provides care maintenance instructions for every job it installs. While bleach is routinely used to pressure wash wood, it should never be used on vinyl siding.