1. Evaluate the backyard. Do an assessment to see what the space has to offer, taking into account the topography, sun exposure, drainage, and even the pros and cons assessing the view into the neighbor’s yard, says lead designer and partner at Rainbow Valley Design and Construction, and landscape designer Lytton Reid in Eugene, Ore. Try to work with the existing elements, such as an old cedar fence might be dressed up with new planter boxes or an old concrete patio may be salvaged into stepping stones for a path.
2. Create public and private spaces. “There are three basic types of spaces: the private, the semi-private, and the public,” says Reid. “I think all three should be represented in a good outdoor room design.” A public space may include the main entertaining area where people can gather comfortably. A semi-private and private space would provide more shelter from the neighbors and offer plenty of privacy. Use of outdoor structures can help define these spaces, such as an open pergola to define a group dining space. A roof overhang and privacy screen can produce a nook against the house for privacy.
3. Consider drainage and utilities. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t create a problem by having water seeping toward your house and its foundation. “Big mistakes are made when people don’t consider drainage,” says Reid. The designers also take note of the location of utilities, such as plumbing for outdoor sinks, gas for a fireplace, and electricity for lighting.
4. Design for the senses. “What are the views and the sounds and possibly even the smells that come into the space from neighboring spaces?” Reid says. “Sometimes there are smells that you really want to enjoy. And sometimes you can mitigate the bad smells with good smells.” For example, fragrant shrubs or perennials may help alleviate bad odors from, say, the neighbor’s nearby trash cans. Or, the use of a water feature may help mitigate the sound from a nearby roadway.
5. Compliment the home’s style. Take into account the home’s existing architecture when planning the outdoor spaces style. For example, don’t take on ornate colonial-style if the home is a low-slung, mid-century modern home. “I think most people think of the backyard as something separate,” says Dakers. “But I think good design requires that you consider it as an extension of the house.”