Think about a resort, or how it feels to be in a really nice swimming pool in a really nice hotel. Why shouldn’t you live that way at home?
Even though it’s hot and buggy here, people in Nashville entertain outdoors a lot. It seems everyone wants an outdoor living space now. That could look like one of many things—a front porch or a rooftop, a courtyard or a back patio, or all of the above. Architecturally these spaces can be very significant to the house, but they also contribute to resale value. Pretty recently Bynum Residential Design created a dramatic formal garden for a client with a fountain and a fireplace and a mirror and a chandelier and a swing bed; we’re excited to share those on our blog soon. In the meantime, I’m sharing some of my favorite ideas and thoughts for creating a haven around your own home.
1. Express yourself outdoors as well as in. Communicate your tastes with landscaping, just as you do with your interiors; an outdoor space can feel lonely and haunting, minimalist and chic, or hidden away but bursting with activity, like a secret garden.
2. Think dimensionally. A few years ago, I had an epiphany about outdoor living spaces that has since made creating them so much more fun. I realized that a backyard didn’t have to be just about walking out onto a flat terrace. It could be on levels and incorporate different materials. Not only are these spaces more wonderful while you’re walking around them, but they’re wonderful to view from above.
3. When and when not to err on the side of practicality. In Tennessee, the outdoors take a beating, and the sun is relentless, which means you have to use the right materials and know how to treat them so that they’ll last. For instance, if you use pressure-treated lumber on a deck surface or an arbor, it’s going to look like crap in no time. Instead, use cedar or something that will hold up over a longer period of time, and apply that same thinking to everything. And of course, when it comes to plantings, you can get yourself into a maintenance nightmare if you overdo it, so you have to just really love gardening—or you have to find a gardener. While there are some things that absolutely have to be taken seriously with regards to outdoor living—for instance, you have to be careful about where you place electrical, and fire pits and grills can’t be too close to a house or near an overhang—I also think the outdoor space is the perfect place to play. I’m one who likes lawn grass all the way up to the edge of the pool, and I don’t mind allowing vines to crawl across the entire side of a house. Sure, it may cause damage to siding or brick over time, but in my mind, the charm is worth it. It’s all about the vibe you want to create and how important that is to you
4. Take inspiration from enormous spaces. In Paris all the trees along the Champs Elysees are pruned into squares. There are hundreds and thousands of them, and they look like big ice cubes. They’re stunning. I’m also a huge fan of elaborate hedge mazes. What fun is a maze! It’s elegant and formal. Just because you have a tiny urban backyard does not mean you can’t incorporate grandiose elements from your favorite parks and public spaces. One of my favorite things to do is to cloud prune boxwoods to create big, round, poufy shrubs that add a sculptural touch. And even if you just create a short boxwood maze for kids that you can look down on from an upstairs space, you’ve added so much whimsy and grace.
5. Add shape and texture. Another thing I’m crazy about: topiaries and shapes of all kind in a yard. Beyond plants, I like using concrete balls or squares of concrete to create a Flintstones-inspired floor. For pathways, I prefer a really fine crushed gravel because it’s such a pretty juxtaposition to a manicured lawn or a concrete walk. Plus it adds texture, and it’s always more fun to have different textures and materials and make them relate to one another.
6. Beyond plants, add favorite objects. I love to add old, old elements to a landscape—concrete urns and finials, for instance. A rusty bench. I also love curtains in outdoor spaces. It’s just amazing how you can define a space with objects like these.
7. My favorite plants. I’m funny about plants. I love boxwoods and arborvitaes and hydrangeas, and that’s just about it. Those are my go-tos. A lot of people here use ornamental grasses, but I feel like those don’t really belong in our part of the country. The coolest thing to me about planting is using a combination of deciduous (lose their leaves) and non-deciduous (don’t lose their leaves) shrubs. I like to use them all because some have a wild appearance and some you can shape, as I like to do with those perfectly round boxwood balls in the wintertime. It’s amazing to see the juxtaposition of those formal elements covered in snow next to something that’s twiggy and missing all of its foliage.
8. Embrace Mother Nature’s hand in the design. When choosing what to plant, think about shadows and mist and fallen snow and how the feel and function of your outdoor oasis will change through the seasons. In all seasons the yards with both deciduous and non-deciduous shrubs are the prettiest, as there’s nothing like a snowfall or a hard frost on all those plants. Oh, it’s just magic.
For more outdoor living inspiration, see Bynum Design’s Outdoor Living Pinterest board.