Adaptable//Sustainable: Programming Outdoor Space

Part 9 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”

Speaking as someone who doesn’t have a yard (and would love the extra space), most yards I see are underutilized. Most people have this expanse of space behind their house that can be used much of the year. By programming outdoor space, we add to the amount of square footage of living area we can enjoy. OK, OK, it’s probably freezing outside right now, but what better time to dream about wonderful outdoor spaces?

The most obvious and ideal solution is to create a glassed-in porch on an existing slab or under an existing roof (bonus is it’s on the south side of the house, in an area like ours). Many activities can spill over to this room. A great solution is to use a sun porch as a combination play room/reading nook/guest room. Yes, guest room. Most of the year, Seattle weather is ideal for sleeping, and the coldest of nights can be aided by an inexpensive space heater. A day bed is ideal for reading or homework during the day and guests at night.
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A day bed can function as a guest bed and reading couch. Next to a dining or card table, it also serves as seating for little ones. Hillsdale House Redding Day Bed and Trundle. 
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One way to spend more time outside is to install a hot tub. Hot tubs can be intimidating because of the maintenance cost, but in climates like ours, this can be worth it, especially considering that they can be used all year long. A hot tub can be a great social draw and a way to get to know neighbors.
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A great outdoor space can be enhanced by a hot tub. Prodigy by the Olympic Hot Tub Company. Read about their commitment to Energy Efficiency. Greg Kossow, a carpenter based in Port Townsend, WA, published an article in Mother Earth News on How to Build a Hot Tub for less than $1,000.
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If you don’t have an existing space to make into a glassed in porch, enclose a space as much as possible to hold in heat, protect from weather, contain noise, and maximize privacy (be sure to comply with any relevant setbacks for your yard, if it’s something permanent). Line the space with a grill, outdoor seating, outdoor furniture, and container plants. Place an outdoor fireplace in the middle. Also, a very simple and inexpensive touch is to add small white Christmas lights. There is something about those little white lights that dress up and define a space, and make any time you spend in your outdoor space feel special. Chili pepper lights also work for a more festive setup.
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Create an outdoor room without an addition: start with a simple shelving unit like the Ikea Expedit. Fill in the shelves with ornamental plants and herbs in pots, baskets of garden supplies and outdoor toys, and large candles.(OK, I know I seem like a paid spokesperson for the Expedit since I feature it so much in the blog. It’s just a very versatile and simple solution that works for many situations)
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In my opinion, the biggest waste of space in our suburban neighborhoods is the front yard. Most of us don’t spend much time there, except when we are working on it. You can get more out of your outdoor square footage by maximizing the outdoor room potential and programmed space in your backyard, and moving the garden to the front yard. Many think that vegetable gardens are not attractive, but they can be easily lined with a rockery, railroad ties, ornamental plants, or containers. If your front yard is small, pots or a rockery will keep passing dogs away from your edibles. But, be careful–front yard gardens may be illegal in your municipality or HOA. For a great overview of the battle over front yard gardens, see the NYT piece “The Battlefront in the Front Yard” and “Fight for the Right to Grow Food: Orlando Man Cited for Illegal Gardening” in Mother Earth News.

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 A cute hutch like this one from JCP Home (Lindale Buffet and Hutch) would be just as comfortable on a porch as a home for garden supplies.
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If you have an outdoor covered porch, why not take advantage of the space for extra storage? You don’t have to look like a hillbilly to do this. Choose attractive cabinets or wardrobes. Look for well built used furniture on Craigslist or used furniture stores. A buffet, credenza, hutch, or china cabinet can be painted bright colors and used to store gardening supplies, camping or other outdoor equipment, sporting goods, or as an outdoor wine cellar. Place ornamental plants on any surfaces and surround the furniture with container plants, so it looks at home in the outdoors.
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Programming outdoor space has the added bonus of taking away the inefficient lawn, eliminating the need for watering, mowing and weed control.