If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then this courtyard is the soul.
Lighting your Courtyard
Gas lighting fixtures from Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights in New Orleans provide the perfect ambient glow for evenings under the stars. BELOW: Daytime views of the entertaining space.
| Credit: Charles Walton IV

You've heard it a million times: It's what's inside that counts. Nestled in the center of a gorgeous WaterSound, Florida, home, this outdoor room definitively proves that statement. Little but luxurious, it's pretty, hardworking, and plays well with others. What more could you ask for?

An Intimate Embrace
The homeowners wanted the space to seem like it was part of the house, not just adjacent to it, and to have a sense of privacy on their small lot. Jeff Dungan of Dungan Nequette Architects responded with a plan that allowed three distinct parts of the house to hug the courtyard. This design opens the entire first floor to the 24- x 28-foot space with large windows and French doors.

"We wanted it to feel instantly accessible at any time," says the homeowner. Because the space is enclosed by the house on three sides, the eye is funneled to the end of the courtyard behind the pool. Trellises with lush vegetation flank a stacked-stone partial wall that acts as a focal point but still allows views of the Gulf beyond. Clever!

Amenities Alfresco
Besides several seating areas, the courtyard offers a fully functional outdoor kitchen with a gas grill, mini-fridge, and ice-maker. "We eat out there year-round and cook out there a lot, particularly in summer to avoid heating up the house," says the homeowner. But when they can't stand the heat, so to speak, the shallow plunge pool offers a great place to cool off.

On axis with the pool and stone wall is a fireplace. Tucked beneath a second-floor balcony that overlooks the courtyard, chairs snuggle near the fire with a bit of overhead protection to increase seasonal versatility.

Fit and Finish
When designing the space Jeff chose materials that would work for the climate and add character. The walls are done in cedar shakes, as is the roof over the outdoor kitchen. "We had the shakes cut a bit thicker than usual so they curve out at the bottom," says Jeff. "It creates a more interesting line as the walls reach ground level."

The fireplace is finished with tabby. Ideally suited for the coastal climate, it also adds texture. This is a theme throughout the entire space. The eye is not jolted by contrasting colors. Rather tones of gray unify the courtyard while tactile details create the interest. It's subtle but sophisticated and helps keep the space calm. A lot of color or pattern in a small area can kill a relaxing mood.

Salvaged limestone pavers were the splurge. "It was a bigger-ticket item," says Jeff, "but nothing beats the patina of age." Put your money where your eyes are. If you are able to factor in a splurge item, make it count by choosing something very visible. The limestone is beautiful with the cedar, and because it's neutral, it will look great if the walls ever change. So it's an investment that will never go out of style.