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Wake-up in Mother Nature’s Living Room


Kofukuji Temple, Nara Yokoi

Kofukuji Temple, Nara Yokoi

Outdoor rooms, porches, and pavilions let you come home again to the natural world. Let nature’s elements be your palette and sensory delight your touchstone.

Imagine waking up on a summer morning to a gentle breeze on your face, the chattering of birds, and the scent of flowers opening their petals to the dawn. You lie there, warm under your wool comforter, recalling the bliss of falling asleep with frogs croaking in the nearby pond as you gazed at the stars before closing your eyes. All this, yet indoor plumbing is only a few yards away. This is the joy of outdoor living spaces.

Outdoor rooms, porches, and pavilions are back in style. Tired of being cooped up, people are moving their dining, socializing, sleeping, and sometimes even work spaces outdoors. The success of these spaces depends a lot on understanding some basics about climate and design. If you want your investment in outdoor living to pay off, you’ll want a place that’s comfortable in a range of weather conditions.

Our ancestors, who lived without central heating and cooling, knew a lot about building sleeping porches, gazebos, and summer kitchens. These structures allowed them to escape their hot, stuffy houses in summer. After decades of burning fossil fuels with wild abandon to keep us warm in winter and cool in summer, we’re beginning to realize that these people were on to something. Well-designed outdoor rooms are the epitome of ecological design; they get their heat and light from the sun and their cooling from shade and breezes.

In fact, creating an outdoor space for your home is a great way to increase your grasp of climate-responsive design. It’s an exercise in paying attention to the ecosystems you participate in. By noticing where the prevailing winds come from, and by being aware of the sun’s path across the sky, you can create a garden room that keeps you dry in the rain, unruffled by the wind, cool in summer, and warm in all but the worst of winter without burning a drop of fuel.

Outdoor structures can also expand your home’s living space for much less expense than adding a normal room. And an attached outdoor room can increase your home’s energy efficiency by protecting it from heat, cold, and wind, or even—in the case of a sunspace—by collecting solar heat to be used indoors.

But that’s only the beginning. Outdoor living is also good for your health and well-being. Sunlight, fresh air, and greenery nourish body and soul. The sounds of birds by day and crickets by night, the scent of flowers, the feeling of warm sun and cool breezes on our skin, and the sight of birds, butterflies, and bees nourish our senses and restore our participation in the web of life.

mother nature's living spaces

mother nature's living spaces

Try this at home

If you have even a little bit of outdoor space around your home, you can enjoy these delights, too. Start by sitting in different parts of your yard. Notice which areas are sunny, shady, calm, windy, private, exposed, moist, or dry. Notice which spots have nice views, near or far. Think about access: Do you want to walk easily from your indoor kitchen to an outdoor dining room? From a sleeping porch to the bathroom?

When you select a place for an outdoor room, pay attention to how the natural elements interact with this spot, how they vary with the time of day and season, and which elements you’d like to temper for your comfort. Let’s say you want to build a pavilion in a corner of your backyard, but the prevailing wind comes from the northwest—which is exactly the direction of your favorite view. A glass wall on the northwest side will meet both your needs. Or maybe you want to create a warm spot for chilly evenings. You can build a curved stone wall that defines the space, blocks the breeze, and faces south to soak up the sun; build a stone bench against the wall, and you’ll have a toasty spot for relaxing at the day’s end. Overhead shade will make the same spot comfortably cool in summer.

Finally, consider having flexible elements that extend the usefulness of your outdoor space. Add removable glass to a screened porch to turn it into a sunroom in winter. Use heavy curtains in your pavilion to block breezes, rain, or prying eyes. Hang a seasonal cloth roof over a patio, or grow a deciduous vine on a trellis or arbor.

adapted from Natural Home Magazine, July/August 2004

Japanese Maple Leaves Dial Face, Zen Wake-up Alarm Clock

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