Otter Creek Awnings

Outdoor Living Inspirations

Paradise Is As Close As Your Own Back Door!

By Elizabeth Warren, Co-Owner, Otter Creek Awning & Sunrooms

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Do you have a great outdoor space with a lot of potential but no idea what to do with it or where to begin? What’s there now isn’t working? A big part of your property, whether it’s a forgotten backyard or an abandoned patio area, could be blossoming into the centerpiece of your home.


As an outdoor living designer, the first thing I ask homeowners when we sit down to discuss their outdoor makeover is how they envision using their exterior space. Will it be a private retreat, a family gathering place, a spot for entertaining, or all of the above? Once you know how you want to use your space, it’s much easier to figure out what to put there, and concerns like budget are simpler to address.

As a second step, I recommend creating a wish list of potential ideas for your outdoor area and prioritizing it based how much each element will enhance your lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to think big and create a plan that you’re genuinely excited about! If affordability is a concern, remember that your new outdoor space can be created in stages that spread expenses out over time. When you finish is less important than the final result and when you’re done you’ll have a space that you love.


If you’re starting with a blank slate, a deck can be a great addition that can also serve as a kitchen extension. Right now, PVC decking and vinyl railing are the hot trend in decking. These maintenance-free materials offer a look that’s more appealing than pressure-treated wood as well as a lifetime of great performance. Your deck should be as big as an average size room in your house, but if you want it to contain both a dining area and lounge space consider a larger size. You should also plan for traffic flow. Shortening the walkway from the back door to the steps off the deck, for example, will utilize space more effectively. If you like to grill in the winter, place your grilling space in an area that’s easy to shovel. And if you might want to eventually enclose your deck with screens or a sunroom, now’s the time to literally lay the groundwork with foundational elements that meet the engineering specifications such structures require.


Once it’s finished, you’ll want to make your home’s delightful new focal point as welcoming as possible. That means the right furniture. For spaces designed for both dining and relaxing, I recommend a set of comfortable chairs with a large conversation table at the center, which will provide ample functionality for everything from entertaining to quiet afternoons. You’ll also want to consider illumination. I advise my clients to think outside the fuse box and create an inviting atmosphere with warm ambiance, perhaps using a string of LEDs supplemented with outdoor lamps.


Your new deck’s appeal will also be greatly increased if it offers protection from the elements. Retractable and stationary awnings offer excellent shelter from baking sun and light summer rains while creating the feeling of an outdoor room. Offering maximum bang for the buck, awnings are one of the best, most high-value ways to enhance your deck and get more out of it without a huge investment. Learn more about retractable awnings and stationary deck canopies or get inspired with this residential awning design portfolio.


Taking this idea a step further, many families find that they want to keep nature’s whims completely at bay with a three-season patio room or year-round sunroom. These offer the ultimate luxury of a virtual outdoor space that can be used anytime without the nuisance of bugs or bad weather. Fully protected areas also offer more furniture and decorating options, and they can incorporate an open deck as a natural extension of the space and a transition to the rest of your outdoor living areas. Learn more about year-round sunrooms and three-season patio rooms or see some fresh ideas in this sunroom design portfolio.


Exterior living spaces can include an outdoor kitchen or fire pit. Connecting these features to your deck and/or sunroom is essential if you want them to be an integral part of the action. A simple stone path or walkway incorporates your fire pit, and a patio right off the deck is ideal for an outdoor kitchen. If you’re considering these elements, even as part of a long-range plan, it’s best to design for them from the start to get the best traffic flows and the most elegant layout.


If a pool or hot tub is part of your vision it should be central to the design of your outdoor living area, too. A pool, for example, will almost always be a focal point but a hot tub doesn’t have to be, and a separate open deck can create another “room” for the tub. Consider dropping this secondary deck down a step or two to separate it from other outdoor areas and minimize your tub’s visual impact so that it doesn’t distract from your deck’s beauty. Leave enough room around it for a couple chairs and perhaps some storage but not much else—you generally won’t will be lounging or eating here so an oversize deck is unnecessary.


Once you know how you want to use your outdoor living area and you’ve prioritized your project’s elements, the real fun starts! Some pieces can be do-it-yourself, others will require professional help. Reputable contractors and companies will provide free consultations and estimates, and you’ll want to allow enough meeting time to get all your questions answered. Preparing these questions in advance will ensure a more satisfying and efficient process. Remember, however, that a good professional partner should be asking you questions as well, to get a better understanding of your vision for the new space.

The important thing to remember is that rescuing your backyard and creating a new outdoor living area doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply focus on how you want to use the space and the rest will follow. With just a little forethought and some help from an outdoor living professional, you and your family can create a delightful summer paradise that’s as close as your own back door.

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