“Even a small space feels big when nature is your roommate. I live with a window into my larger home, the fields and forest around my building.”
– Erica R., Nederland, CO
Designing your home with a direct connection to what is outside of your walls is a powerful way to increase the size of your home without adding any square footage. My wife and I lived in a 150 square foot cabin in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado while we were pregnant with our first child. We spent the entire winter in that little space and never went stir crazy. The reason we were able to enjoy the space so much was that it was connected to the outdoors. Our bed, built on a four-foot tall loft, had a window the full length of the mattress. We could lie in bed and watch the coyotes, elk, and deer walk by. It was like a giant TV screen that was always tuned to the nature channels.
That cabin was tiny, but it felt big. It was the connection to nature that gave us that feeling. We spent countless hours outside sunning in our garden chairs, planting and tending our garden, hiking, and entertaining friends. The field, forest, and canyon were our living room, family room, and great room. The cabin itself was only used for sleeping and eating (when the weather was bad). If a home is designed properly and the space is available, there is no real need to include extra space within the home for the occasional use. Instead, utilize the space outside of the home to provide the “extras.”
Use outdoor spaces such as patios, either covered or open, to entertain friends and family. Add large glass windows and doors to invite in the energy of the outdoors and to invite the occupants outside. I recently built a home that had a long hallway full of floor to ceiling windows and doors. The glass acted as a heating system for the home through its passive solar design, but it also connected the occupants to the outdoors. Through the many tall doors, one could access a patio, a small lawn, and a pool. This space was ideal for summer days. The covered section of the patio extended the usage of the space into fall and spring. The gentle rains of those seasons were cooling and enjoyable off in the distance because the roof overhang protected the occupants.
If you live in rainy areas, like the Pacific Northwest, a covered porch is a great way to utilize the outdoors. Such a space is much less expensive to build than a finished section of your house and it will increase your connection to nature, something that I believe has great value. This is also an excellent option in areas of high bug populations. My parents live in Maine, for example, and the seasons are often named after the bugs there: mosquito, black fly, noseum, and so on. A covered porch enables them to enjoy the beautiful seasons without the pesky biting and buzzing.
One of my favorite outdoor spaces is an outdoor kitchen. I love cooking outside. There’s something about the fresh air and the feel of the sun on my back as I cook. This also helps a lot with cleaning I might add. No need to wash down the grease off of my kitchen light fixtures every week or so. (If you cook meat in your home, you know what I’m talking about.) Having an outdoor kitchen also allows you to throw in some cool things like a brick fired pizza oven. This also increases the amount of use you will get out of your outdoor space. After all, not many of us enjoy running in and out of the house to check on the food while our guests are relaxing around the pool! Build the outdoor kitchen, and perhaps a wet-bar as well, where you plan to entertain and you can stay part of the action.
Today there are things like oversized wall glass and fully operable glass walls. With these products, you can open an entire wall to the outside. Imagine having a wall that allows you to walk outside or slide furniture in and out of the house at will. These walls can be almost any size. They are perfect for master suites too. You can slide your bed out in the evenings and sleep under the stars for a night of romance that would otherwise cost you a pretty penny at a five star hotel.
The effects of bringing the outdoors in and the indoors out are many. The overall increase in home size (again, without adding actual finished square footage) is one benefit. Connection to nature is another. Living a life of comfort and style is a third. Take advantage of where you live. After all, you moved there for a reason, and it probably had something to do with how beautiful the area is. Don’t build a house that isolates you from that beauty. Incorporate it into your design.