Design tips to make outdoor spaces feel like home


Whether a home lies on an expansive estate or has just enough room for a quaint outdoor garden, space for entertaining and at least part-time living outdoors is a must for any luxury property.

The ultimate outdoor hangout need not be complicated or include many bells and whistles. Keeping it simple while adding some relaxing, personal touches are all it takes to create a place that the whole family will love.

“Ideally, we create spaces that make people feel like they’re on vacation,” said Mandy Gregory, one of the cofounders and principals of Hunter Carson Design, a firm that specializes in beach and mountain homes in California and Utah.

“We want our clients to be relaxed, comfortable and happy,” she said.

Making space

The most important thing when designing an outdoor area is that it will actually be used.

“When creating an outdoor space it’s important to think about who is going to be using the area, what they want to do in the space and what is around the space,” Ms. Gregory said.

“Don’t think about what everyone else doing, think about what you and your family want to do in the space,” she said.

According to Luxury Portfolio International’s second installment of the 2022 State of Luxury Real Estate report, the most common outdoor amenities the affluent consumers surveyed say they want are the basics: a patio or terrace, cabana, outdoor bar and sink and a fire feature.  

“People will never stop wanting to be in beautiful places that make them feel comfortable, so we tackle our outdoor spaces with the same focus as indoor environments,” said Lynn Stone, Hunter Carson Design’s other cofounder and principal.

Inside out

“If you want to make your outdoor space feel more luxurious, one of the best places to start is actually the floor,” Ms. Gregory said.

“We love a good tile to elevate an outdoor space,” she said. “If you have hardwood floors inside, mimic the outdoor flooring with tile designed to look like wood planks.”

Ample storage will ensure that blankets, serving pieces and speakers are within easy reach, and elements such as rugs that lend themselves to bare feet and soft, cozy pillows bring a bit of the interiors outside.

Not to be forgotten are low and side tables with room for food and to sit drinks on, “things you don’t necessarily think about unless you’re left holding your wine in one hand, while trying to balance a plate of salami and cheese in another,” Ms. Gregory said.

Music is another must-have for outdoor living.

“Add music, inviting couches and chairs – covered in indoor/outdoor fabric – and you’ve got the makings of a great night,” Ms. Stone said.

A customized surfboard shower is a useful outdoor addition. Design by Hunter Carson Design, photo by Lauren Pressey
Weather or not

Of course, the outdoor temperature cannot be controlled, so weather-related comforts are also key.

“No one likes to be cold, so we are big fans of fire pits, heat lamps and blankets,” Ms. Stone said. “No one loves a good fire pit more than we do. We find that works, no matter where you live.”

Hot tubs heat up any winter day – especially at the Utah ski properties that Hunter Carson Design works on. Umbrellas or canopies are great for shade in the summer.

Whether sunny or snowy, furniture that can withstand being outside is an important consideration.

“In Utah, we tend to find some outdoor pieces that can brave the elements all year long,” Ms. Stone said.

“An example would be an actual chair from a retired ski lift,” she said. “It hangs from the roof on a front porch and is a favorite of kids and adults. In the summer it’s a great spot for rocking and reading.”

It is personal

Matching fun outdoor pieces to their location is a great way to incorporate more personality into an outdoor space and can also make it more usable.

“When you can incorporate something useful into something beautiful, that’s another win,” Ms. Gregory said.

“[A] surfboard outside this Victorian home near the beach is actually an outdoor shower,” she said. “The kids all surf and love using it because it’s a fun design. The parents are all for anything that helps keep the sand outside, where it belongs.”

A customized approach ensures that an outdoor space will be well-used and well-loved.

“We created a happy-hour hangout for one couple, which was literally two comfortable chairs, a beautiful plant and warm blanket,” Ms. Gregory said. “They love that they have this intimate adult space in a house filled with children.”

Hunter Carson Design did the opposite for the 13-year-old of another client who never liked going outside on the porch.

“Now he loves it,” Ms. Stone said. “We incorporated his favorite color orange into the design and choose low, comfortable outdoor chairs kids love. The table is the perfect size to hold a board game and drinks and snacks.

“Any time you can take people to a place in their house they don’t usually use and change it to something they love, that’s a total win in our book,” she said.