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Outer Spaces

Spend time on designing your cabin's exterior.
by Sharon Arkoff
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Rocky Mountain Log Homes Stone Patio

This stone patio, which graces a mountainside home built by Rocky Mountain Log Homes, flows easily as a natural extension of the home. The homeowners carefully planned it to fit into its environs.

However beautiful your cabin, you’re going to want to spend some time outside — ideally through the use of outdoor spaces that are as thoughtfully designed as the rest of your dream residence.

“90 percent of the population enjoys being outdoors and entertaining outdoors,” says Randy Renyer of Missouri-based Outdoor Rooms by Design. “What you want to do is make your outdoor space feels like another room of your house. You gain an extra room without the expense of building a room with four walls.”

Competing head-to-head with Mother Nature on exterior design can be intimidating, but design experts have tips for every lifestyle and every home site, starting with big, open decks that are a part of so many people’s idea of a cabin.

First, size matters. “Decks should be a minimum of about 16 feet wide,” advises Dorie Workman of Appalachian Log Structures. “You want to allow enough room to allow groups of furniture, just like you would for your interior entertainment spaces. In order to do a couple of lounge chairs or a table and chairs, you need to think about the depth of your deck in advance.”

Second, lifestyle matters. Is your home a summer vacation mecca for your extended family, 50 of your kids’ closest friends, and coworkers with whom you’re wildly popular every August? Consider a larger deck. If you’re an empty nester whose deck will see an overflow crowd once or twice a year for holidays but normally only needs to accommodate two adults, keep the deck size modest, and open the doors to interior spaces or transition spaces like covered porches to help manage traffic on the occasional high-occupancy weekend—even a modest deck can accommodate several groups of people at the same time.

“A tiered deck lets you create different areas within the same square footage, just by going down one to three steps,” explains Outdoor Rooms’ Renyer. “If you make a staircase eight or 10 feet wide, you’ve just created a different environment and one that looks very elegant. A lot of times we’ll radius even a small staircase to make it more eye-appealing.”

But don’t let your deck take over the scenery, designers say; let it blend indoors and outdoors.

“The best thing about an open deck, compared to other types of outdoor space, is that it’s connected to the house for convenience but you have the feeling of being right there in the woods or in the mountains, as opposed to having a roof over your head,” notes Bob Dunlap of Granite State Log Homes in New Hampshire.

Dunlap recommends making the most of a deck’s view of the outdoors by considering a glass railing, rather than wood.

“Safety codes generally call for a railing to be 36 inches high, and that’s just about right for blocking your view if you’re sitting down on the deck,” he says.

If a more traditional railing system is preferred, Dunlap recommends building the deck railing so it’s a little higher than required.

“It’s better to look under the railing than to try to look through it,” he says.

Another tip from designers is to consider stepping the deck down a foot or so below the grade of the interior floor, so that when you’re sitting inside your cabin you can look out toward your view without having that view spoiled by deck railings.

Think, too, about whether you’d use your outdoor spaces more if they were covered with a porch roof so the space could be used during inclement weather or on very hot days, or if they were screened in.

“If the home is going to be in an area that has man-eating insects, the first thing that pops into people’s minds when they think of outdoor spaces is, “How do I enjoy the outside and keep myself safe from the bugs?” Dunlap confirms.

Keep screened-in porches no more than about 10 feet deep to prevent the roof pitch from being too flat to shed snow and rain, but at least eight feet deep to accommodate basic functions such as outdoor eating areas.

Also consider the charm of putting on an open farmer’s porch, a 150-year-old tradition that gives you a place to sit and watch the scenery and also creates a protected place to meet and greet guests arriving at your front door.

Once your family and friends do arrive, they’ll probably be hungry — but your outdoor spaces can handle it. Make sure your deck can accommodate the basics of a gas grill (with a gas line for the grill installed as the house is being built) and a work surface on which to place heavy platters of BBQ. Alternatively, go all out and incorporate an outdoor kitchen into your home.

“Outdoor kitchens are great gathering places that let you enjoy fabulous weather,” explains Marni Molinaro ASID, CKD, a designer with Texas-based Kitchen and Bath concepts. “The new trend is to have a kitchen and a whole living area outdoors, covered with a roof or by part of the home’s second story. Everything you could do inside, you can do outside.”

Many manufacturers now offer appliances, cabinets and furniture pieces that look as attractive as high-end interior decor but are designed for outdoor use.

Molinaro recommends that a well-equipped outdoor kitchen includes a gas grill and probably some gas burners to go along with it, an outdoor refrigerator and cabinetry for storing utensils and cooking tools.

“And don’t forget the kitchen sink,” Molinaro says.

“I think a single-bowl sink is better than a double-bowl sink for outdoor kitchens; you’re likely to be entertaining and handling larger bowls and platters that need one big sink, rather than two smaller ones.”

Keep to the same standards as would apply for an indoor kitchen: Maintain 42-inch walkways to ensure good traffic flow and to avoid bumping into other cooks.

If you want to go even more primal than an outdoor kitchen, take advantage of one of the most popular trends in designing outdoor spaces and include a chimney area or a fire pit in your home’s exterior design.

“Your fire pit gives you a more outdoorsy feel, whereas a fireplace indoors is designed to give you a cozy feel,” says Outdoor Rooms’ Renyer. “Keep in mind that a fire pit does eat up a lot of space. It can be a two-foot radius or can be a 60-inch radius; you want to make sure you have a big enough area around it for the fire and for safe seating.”

Attractive layouts for a fire bit, Renyer says, include a tiered deck with a table and chairs on the upper level and the fire pit down at the ground level.

Finally, experts caution, be realistic about your budget when it comes to designing outdoor spaces.

“We’re finding that clients are spending much more time and much more money on exterior spaces, whether it’s wrap-around porches or decking with gazebos and covered walkways complete with log truss systems supporting the roof,” notes Eric Gordon of Maple Island Log Homes. “But sometimes it’s a good idea to start with the minimum outdoor space you think you need, and let those elaborate features wait until you live in the structure for a while and see how you really use it.”

Regardless of the wait for designing your home’s outdoor spaces, they will be terrific in the end. Just remember to be realistic in terms of size, lifestyle and budget, and your outdoor spaces will be some of the most beautiful places from which to admire your dream log home.

Published in Country's Best Cabins
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