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Designing Outdoor Living Spaces: Advice From An Interior Designer

Date Added: December 01, 2011 12:12:37 AM
Author: Narelle
Category: Home and garden

As an interior designer in Sarasota, Florida, I am often asked to design living spaces that embrace the outdoors. For much of the year, the climate in Sarasota has balmy breezes and minimal bug-life, and you can spend a great deal of time either in the sun or under cover. Either way there are many ways to enjoy comfort and luxury while enjoying nature's gifts.

One of the ways we like to use the outdoors is an architectural feature often called a "loggia". This is often a terrace with a roof, sometimes part of the structure of a house, sometimes a free-standing pavilion. We often furnish them with handsome teak-framed furniture (from sustainable forests, of course). We love they way this develops a beautiful silvery patina in just a few years. We use loose, thick and luxe cushions on them, covering them with the new indoor/outdoor fabrics. These are made of polyesters which are now being made to look and feel much more like cotton yet hold up against rain and are resistant to mildew. They dry quickly too. They can come in bright weaves and marvelous prints that can be bold and tropical or quiet tones for subtle and quiet rooms.

For many of these spaces, we use them as outdoor living rooms, which they are. When we are using stone floors in an interior, we like to use the same material to carry to the outside, uniting the indoors and the outdoors. This gives a great feel of expansiveness and connection. These floors are stone or tile with a honed or tumbled finish that gives them a more rustic and casual surface. They are cool and easy to walk on in the shade, a lovely relief from the heat in the summer on bare feet!

Walls are as non-existent as possible. The whole point is to welcome the view of the sun, the sea and the sky. We recently completed a home facing the Gulf with one wall being the wall of the home, with expansive openings onto the Loggia and the water beyond. Three sides of the loggia can be closed and secured with a coiling closure that provides protection from storms and security when the owners are not in residence. The closures retract discretely into the ceiling when the house is open. When the closures are up, there is no barrier between the indoors except the furnishings on the loggia - an extension of the living space. One moves effortlessly from the indoors to the outdoors. Outdoor curtains can be another way of "dressing up" a terrace. The draperies can be closed at the most intense moments of the afternoon sun and then opened when the light modulates and welcomes us back. Casual tie-backs can hold the curtains at the corners of the space then, to keep the view clear and expansive.

As much as possible we make these spaces outdoor rooms. Where there are wall surfaces we often hang mirrors, to reflect the view and bring more light to the interior and as a handsome decorative treatment for the walls. We add other furnishings too, like lamps - with heavy ceramic bases, and positioned close to walls so that they are safe from wind and rain. Hurricane lamps on tables adding the soft glow of candlelight at dusk is a wonderful feature as well. If we need to add other decorative lighting we often use surface-mounted fixtures to the ceiling or bold and weather-resistant sconces to the walls. Hanging fixtures can be problematic unless they can be secured against high winds. Ceiling fans however are often designed with short or rigid stems so that they can be used to help stir a breeze and be a decorative element as well.

In addition to loggias, terraces and decks can extend the living space. Terraces off of bedrooms are lovely areas in the early morning and the evening for moments of quiet contemplation and to recover and rejuvenate in a private outdoor space. Once again, comfortable indoor/outdoor furnishings make them feel more like living rooms than just a deck with a hard chair. Amenities can often include a wet bar, an outdoor shower, and a fireplace or firepit. All of these things help extend the time we can spend under the sky or the stars.

Pamela Hughes, the founder and owner of Hughes Design Associates, is well known nationally and internationally. Hughes Design Associates is one of the premier interior design firms known throughout North America for specializing in prestigious custom interiors. In Sarasota, Florida Pamela has completed many exceptional projects including The Ritz-Carlton, The Members' Beach Club, The Tower Residences, and Plaza at Five Points. Her portfolio also includes some of the most luxurious and distinctive residences in Sarasota. Pamelas's work has been published in the best interior design magazines such as Architectural Digest and Veranda, as well as numerous other publications. Also, Home and Garden Television (HGTV) featured her in the program, "Public Places, Private Spaces", showcasing her work on the Four Seasons Hotel, Philadelphia, and a luxurious private home in Chicago. In addition to their work in Sarasota, Pamela and her firm design projects throughout the US, Canada, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Pamela may be reached at her office in Sarasota at 941.922.4767 or her office in Washington, DC at 703-442-3200. Please visit for more information about Hughes Design Associates.

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