By Fred Learey
When designing a space for outdoor entertaining there are a few things to consider first. The frequency of events will mandate whether the entertaining accessories and landscape spaces should be permanent fixtures or if alternate means can be used to accommodate guests. A homeowner that has frequent dinner parties will benefit from an outdoor kitchen with built-in appliances, plumbing and electric. Rather than construct an oversized patio, families who host a once-a-year reunion may prefer a lawn area large enough to accommodate a rented tent. Additional seats can be often be created by including a sitting wall or a wide set of steps in a patio design.
The occasion for a gathering will determine elements of the design as well. Those hosting formal parties will want adequate hardscape spaces to accommodate high-heeled shoes and keep elegant clothes clean. Casual events, such as kids’ parties, can often suffice with plenty of lawn space for play. The age of the attendees is an important consideration, since older guests will appreciate access with minimal steps and plenty of room to sit.
Both the season and time of day that you entertain will affect the comfort of guests. If a host entertains year-round or during the cooler seasons they should consider including heaters or a fireplace that can create warmth and ambiance. Events held during summer days should provide relief from the sun. Large shade trees or a pergola are two options that add year-round beauty to the landscape. A covered porch or gazebo will also offer limited protection from inclement weather. Evening parties require lighting for function, safety and beauty.
The number of guests attending an event dictates not only the size of the space, but the furniture that must be accommodated. Before planning an entertaining area, a homeowner should know the quantity, size and function of furniture they would like to include. A landscape designer can use this information to create an appropriately sized area for everyday living and occasional entertaining. Dining tables, chaise lounges and other seating groups require additional space for guests to be able to walk past. A talented designer will arrange furniture to maximize the function of an area. Don’t overlook adequate parking and appropriate access to the backyard.
Finally, consider what activities guests will participate in. Dining, dancing, swimming and lawn games all necessitate different spaces. With all of this in mind, a landscape designer can begin to create outdoor rooms for separate functions and good traffic flow for mingling. The potential for accessorizing outdoor rooms is limited only by the imagination.
Delicious food and drink are essential to any celebration. An outdoor kitchen permits the host to be with their guests while preparing it. Built-in grills can be connected to a supply line so that the fuel never runs out. Amenities such as an outdoor refrigerator and warming drawer allow items to be made in advance of the event and kept at the right temperature until being served. Adequate counter space, a sink, integrated storage and trash receptacles keep the tools for preparation and clean-up close at hand. Counter top space can also be utilized for buffet service or bar-style seating. Other helpful bar accessories include a built-in icemaker, cocktail station and electrical outlets, useful for operating blenders and musical devices.
A swimming pool is the highlight of many summer parties. Consider safety and convenience when including a pool in the landscape for entertaining. Many townships insist that pools be fenced, though the location requirements may vary. Ideally a pool should have convenient access, a way to prohibit unattended children, a clear view for supervision, adequate space for foot traffic and seating for attendants. Swimmers also need a location to use the bathroom, change, shower and store belongings. Access to the home is one option, but if wet footprints through the house are objectionable, consider a pool house that can offer space for all these activities.
The lawn can also play an important role in outdoor entertaining. In addition to providing room for a tent, the lawn can be designed to accommodate a variety of outdoor activities including games, sports and play structures.