Create an Outdoor Party Room

Think your house is too small for entertaining? Expand your horizons, and let guests gather outdoors.
Edwin Marty

Here is a problem that almost every homeowner has faced at some time or another. Laureen Lynn loved her Mobile, Alabama, neighborhood and loved her house, but she just didn't have enough room to entertain the way she wanted. But before marching out into the yard and sticking a "For Sale" sign in the ground, she contacted architect H. Don Bowden to see if there were any alternatives. It was a good call. Don brought in landscape architect Paul Fontenot, and, with their collaborative brainstorming, they soon solved Laureen's problems.

Room To Grow
The idea was simple. Don and Paul proposed creating four outdoor rooms that would give Laureen's guests plenty of space to spread out and enjoy pleasant Southern evenings. These outdoor rooms would flow seamlessly from the inside of the house so that all she had to do was open doors to create more entertaining space. "Each room now leads into the next, inviting guests to continue exploring the yard," says Don. "While all of the outdoor rooms are small, they're partially hidden from one another so that guests naturally want to go see what's beyond the bend."

The key lies in creating an illusion that makes Laureen's backyard look much larger than it actually is. "I've seen lots of yards that feel cramped when they're broken into outdoor rooms," says Paul. "What makes this one work are the vignettes that make you think the yard goes on and on."

Room One--Carport
The first area the group considered was the carport. Laureen had already used the space for overflow dining, so Don just built on the concept. "We added mahogany window frames and a shuttered door for a more finished look, and we put down a woven polyurethane rug to provide a cozy feel while still allowing Laureen to park her car," says Don. "Next, we added clear plastic, roll-down curtains with black Sunbrella panels to cover the carport's large openings and glass inserts for the window frames so she can use the space year-round."

Room Two--Driveway Patio
From the carport dining room, guests can easily stroll to the driveway patio. "We scored and stained the concrete of the driveway to break up the space visually and make it seem more like a patio than a driveway," says Paul. Laureen added wooden outdoor furniture that she can remove to create additional parking.

 
Room Three--Grilling Area
Don designed an arbor that links the outdoor areas to the family room. He placed the arbor directly in line with the double doors leading out of the family room so that when guests walk outside, they look through the arbor to see the yard beyond. This creates the illusion of an ongoing vista, despite the lawn's relatively small size and irregular shape. "The arbor is a good example of how hardscape elements, designed on the right scale, can make a yard look much larger," says Don.

A movable awning covers the gas grill and lounge chairs so that this area can be used in rain or in the middle of a summer day. A nearby sink makes the grilling area complete. "The interaction between the inside and the outside is essential," says Don. "We used large shuttered doors and windows to create a transformable space."

Room Four--Lawn

The last outdoor room the team created was the lawn on the back side of the arbor. "We started with an odd-shaped lot, sort of like a wedge," says Paul. "The lawn fits into this space perfectly and naturally ends at an existing Bradford pear."

To surround the grass, Paul picked plants that help create the sense of space he was looking for and don't require too much maintenance. All the plants he selected are perennials--and for a good reason. "Mobile's growing climate allows an extended season of color from shrubs and perennials," he says. "We don't need a lot of annuals to add accents to a landscape. I think a yard has a bigger impact if these accents come from the bones of the landscape instead." With these flushes of seasonal color, the intriguing series of outdoor rooms, and the smell of fresh fish on the grill, this garden is definitely worth sticking around for.


"Create an Outdoor Party Room" is from the June 2005 issue of Southern Living.