Get Out of the House: Create the Perfect Outdoor Space for Your Climate

Solutions to create an outdoor room for wherever you live.


Open to the sun and protected from the wind, the Kipnis family's deck is the perfect place to enjoy an outdoor meal.

Photo By Paul Rung

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You can create an outdoor room that extends your season of al fresco living—wherever you live.


Climate: Temperate and wet


• Six-foot walls for privacy

• Sloped deck collects rainwater

• Clay tile stays cool on hot days

When Janie Lowe and Ginnie Young bought their home in Portland, Oregon, the dining room looked toward an unappealing alley. “We wanted a hot tub and privacy—a room we could live in and a place to sleep on hot summer nights,” says Janie.

They built a clay-tiled deck off the dining area, surrounded by six-foot walls. Janie and Ginnie do earth-friendly decorative finishes through their business, Yolo Paint, so they applied their artistry to the outdoor room by using stained, sealed thinset mortar on Wonderboard over the wood-frame walls and a mosaic of broken, salvaged tile around the hot tub. The deck floor slopes slightly to a gutter, which directs rainwater to their bamboo grove.

Located on the east side of the house, the outdoor room is a sunny, warm, breeze-protected place for coffee on cool mornings, yet it’s shady and cool by evening. “We’re out here almost daily, even in winter,” says Ginnie. “When it’s cold, we sit in the hot tub and look up at the sky. On hot days, we water the plants and the tiles, and that cools the whole space. We only close the French doors to the deck in winter.” With windows open on the other end of the house there’s great summer cross-ventilation, and the awning over the doors deflects winter rain.


Climate: Hot and cold extremes


• Courtyard aligns house with solar cycles

• Front of house shields courtyard from breezes and street noise

• Trellis lets in summer shade, winter sun

Architect Nathan Kipnis designed his house around a courtyard; he wanted his family’s home to function with solar cycles for daylighting, winter warmth, and summer cooling. Working with a west-facing lot in Evanston, Illinois, he devised an L-shaped plan with the street-facing wing protecting a generous, sunny, side yard. The kitchen, dining room, and family room face south onto a deck and the yard beyond.

The portion of deck adjacent to the house is protected by a trellis that’s half solid and half open, admitting sunshine in winter and providing welcome shade in summer. Nathan plans to grow Boston ivy on the trellis, which will create more summer shade and lose its leaves in winter for solar gain.

The house’s front wing shields the courtyard, making it feel like an entirely different world. The deck’s shape allows small seating groups near the house or a dining table in the extended center—a ­perfect party space.

In warm weather, Nathan’s favorite time to hang out on the deck is around sunset. “If it’s hot, the shade from the tree is really nice, and the front wing of the house shades the deck as the sun goes down,” he says. “Everything out there changes dramatically day by day, hour by hour.”

Desert Southwest

Climate: Hot and dry


• Fountain for moisture

• Riparian native plantings for transpiration

• Sycamores for shade

When Susan Raymond and her husband remodeled their Phoenix, Arizona, home, they created a patio that brings their favorite outdoor areas home. “The dining and living rooms have French doors that used to open onto a dead zone on the west side of the house,” says Susan. “It was hot and boring.”

The house is in a flood-irrigated neighborhood, where water flows up through concrete standpipes monthly. So Susan, a landscape architect, designed their patio around a standpipe fountain. “It’s a celebration of having water in the desert,” Susan says, “and a metaphor for abundance and overflowing happiness.” The water spirals around and forms eddies on the surface, recalling Arizona’s riparian areas, then flows over the edge. A shallow area at the pipe’s lip attracts birds.

The plantings, derived from riparian Arizona, cool the hot, dry summer air by transpiration. A fragrant sycamore tree shades both the patio and the house in summer. Native deer grasses and wildflowers grow around the fountain. And there’s just a touch of dichondra between the pavers. “It’s really nice to wiggle your toes in it for a cool, grassy feeling,” notes Susan.

The patio is embraced by a curving concrete bench, or banco; its thermal mass makes it warm in winter, while shade keeps it cool in summer. The patio pavers are broken-up weathered concrete, jack-hammered out of the driveway—a good reuse of construction “waste.”

“The patio is a beautiful place for entertaining under the stars,” says Susan. “And it’s a nice cool space by day. Even when we’re inside, we open the doors onto the patio and hear the cooling sound of the water.”


Climate: Hot and humid


• Open porch for shade and breezes

• Three seating areas for different weather conditions

• Ceiling fans for air movement and mosquito repellent

Louisiana architect Eddie Cazayoux believes a close relationship with the natural environment is central to human well-being, so he designed his own home in Breaux Bridge with a deep, open porch that wraps around two sides, providing shade and breezes. “On the weekends, our family is out there a lot,” says Eddie. “Typically we take our noon meal there. And every evening we sit on that porch and watch the sun set across the pond.”

Facing southeast and southwest, this porch receives prevailing breezes most of the year and is protected from chilly north winds in winter. With three different seating areas, the family can migrate in response to the patterns of shade and breeze.

The porch was also designed to help cool the house by shading the sunniest exposures and acting as an air scoop for ventilation. The porch and the siding are primarily made of cypress, a local material that’s inherently resistant to decay and termites.

“My favorite time to be on the porch is in a downpour,” says Eddie. “It’s wonderful to be in the middle of a storm with rain pouring down, yet be protected.”

East Coast

Climate: Temperate but humid


• Screened porch away from house lets sunshine into home

• “Butterfly” roof collects rainwater

• Four open walls for cross-ventilation

Because summers in the Washington, D.C., area are humid and bug-ridden, Elisa Rapaport and Michael Schoenbaum wanted to add a screened porch and deck off the kitchen of their contemporary colonial house. Architect Rick Harlan Schneider of Inscape Studio pointed out, however, that an attached covered porch would block their indoor sunlight.

Schneider’s approach was to “flip” the deck and porch, pulling the screened porch away from the house. The result is a playful cube with a “butterfly” roof that shades the space and collects rainwater for the garden and slats over the screened walls to provide privacy and welcome breezes.

Each wall of the cube responds to the needs of its exposure. Facing the neighbor’s house, the slats are wider and the spaces between them are smaller for privacy. Toward the yard, the slats are narrow and the spaces wide for greater visual transparency.

The porch is cooled by shade from the roof, an adjacent tree, and the wall slats. Having four open walls allows maximal cross-ventilation, and when a cooling boost is needed, the ceiling fan increases air movement.

The deck and slats are built from sustainably harvested cedar, the framing is environmentally friendly and arsenic-free Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ)-treated lumber, the roof structure is metal tubing, and the canvas roof is acrylic rather than environmentally devastating vinyl.