How to design an outdoor getaway for company or yourself gas out


The Happier Yellow House is about to be stress tested. In a few short weeks, we are going to have — deep breath — 11 human beings here for a week. That’s right: Seven grownups, three youngsters ages 8, 5 and 2, and one baby. Holy Legos and diaper pails.

In anticipation of the relative onslaught, I set to work making sure the upstairs, where they all would stay, was as accommodating and — self-contained — as possible, so the nine people not sharing the downstairs master, would not feel like a clutter of wet cats in a box.

I survey the upstairs: three bedrooms (one still needs decorating), a landing with a rollout sofa and — what’s this? My attention lights on the forgotten, until this moment, unfurnished outdoor terrace just off the landing. If I’m living up here with two kids, a toddler and a baby, I know where I’d be.

I sketch the footprint (a 19-by-9-foot rectangle), the open railing along the far side, and the French doors, which open onto terracotta pavers. I try to envision how to make this the go-to place. I picture the kiddos up at 6 a.m., wanting what kids always want, food and attention. I think of their sleep-deprived parents, not yet ready to come downstairs and make conversation, preferring to sit quietly on the terrace with a cup of coffee.

I pencil in a wall of outdoor cabinets on the right side along one 9-foot wall, which conveniently has a weather-protected electrical outlet. I sketch upper and lower cupboards and drawers for non-breakable dishes, glassware, cups and utensils; a small frig for beverages, simple breakfast foods and snacks; and a coffee station.

To the left of the doors, I rough in two comfortable lounge chairs with ottomans, creating a place to put your feet up and send your cares off to the nearest cloud. I add a small table. All the while I feel like the little boy in “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” the most important book of all time. Draw it and it will be.

“The hardest part of designing an outdoor space is visualizing how the space will function, and layout,” says TK Wismer, spokeswoman for Casual Living Brands, an outdoor furniture company. I share my drawing with her and get her green light. Then I ask what other suggestions she has for furnishing a great outdoor escape.

• Think function, function, function. Don’t just copy a design you’ve seen online or in a magazine. Think through what activities you want the outdoor space to support. Some people want an area to relax poolside, others want a place for family dinners. I wanted an upstairs retreat to serve guests rolling out of bed, who wanted a little time to themselves before mixing with others. I also wanted a place where, maybe, after they’re gone, I could go relax with a good book.

• Draw it out. Use graph paper to make a scaled drawing to see how traffic will flow and furniture will fit. Have furniture measurements handy to be sure pieces won’t block site lines, doors or walkways. Factor in windows, door and gate swings, and other clearances. The standard clearance to walk around furniture is 30 inches, says Wismer.

• Make room for storage. An outdoor space is only as useful as it is convenient. Outdoor cabinetry, which has gotten a lot better in both looks and function, will keep you from running into the house every five minutes for stuff you can store outside.