Outdoor living: Functional design key to a successful outdoor plan


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Planning a home’s private outdoor retreat for relaxation and social gatherings involves more than imagining how it will look. Much like interior redesigns, the focus first must be on functionality, and practical logistics like how the space will be used and how many people it should or could accommodate.

The foundation for a successful outdoor plan starts with determining a client’s needs rather than solutions, says Alex Lerner, a Vancouver-based landscape designer. Once those needs are clarified, Lerner says the solutions follow.

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For a recent Vancouver west-side backyard project, the communication unusually came via the builder instead of directly from the client as the house was a new build. Accessibility was a key concern for the couple, so stairs were minimized by changing the grades. They also wanted distinct areas that could serve different functions.

Garden beds and planters feature low-maintenance perennial and evergreen plants.
Garden beds and planters feature low-maintenance perennial and evergreen plants. Photo by christykingphoto.ca

The home’s interior flows out to a dining and grilling area set on concrete pavers that Lerner says fit in well with the rest of the visible concrete used for the home’s construction. It then gently transitions down a few steps to a built-in seating area that incorporates a fire table — a convivial spot imagined for relaxing with a glass of wine while being able to observe the covered swim spa.

Beyond the swim spa is an expanse of faux grass framed by composite decking (ideal for a rainy climate) that is built overtop of the garage. An outdoor shower was also worked into the design.

Serene elements of low-maintenance but lush evergreen and perennial planting material — in both beds and planters — were introduced to warm and soften the distinct zones as does the strategically positioned, ambient nighttime lighting.

“All the spaces are integrated,” Lerner explains. “They’re positioned in a way that you can still keep contact, eye contact. You can interact between those spaces even though they have different functions. There are four different types of spaces in that backyard, which I would say is quite a lot … but they transition nicely together.”

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