Inspirational Ideas for Outdoor Living

Fred Wilson, AIA

Fred Wilson, AIA
Founding Partner at Award Winning Chicago Architects, Morgante Wilson

Sep 8, 2020 - 5 min read

Inspirational Ideas for Outdoor Living

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about having friends and family over for dinner? A year ago, the answer might have been the menu. Today, your biggest concern might be how to entertain safely in the midst of a pandemic. Well, I have three words for you: take it outside.

If you’re a long time reader of our Show & Live Well blog on how to live better through interior design and architecture, you already know about my love for outdoor dining and relaxation. To me, the ability to extend your outdoor living space into nature, whether under a hot summer sun or a full fall moon, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. That’s even truer right now, given the impact COVID-19 continues to have on our daily lives.

Over the last thirty years, the designers and residential architects at Morgante Wilson has designed plenty of outdoor living space. Here are a few of our favorites, along with tips and tricks to create your own backyard oasis:

1. Outdoor Kitchens: Take advantage of a view

You know how people tend to congregate in the kitchen at a dinner party? It’s a natural impulse to keep the cook company – and to enjoy conversation and camaraderie in the process. The same thing happens when kitchens are outdoors. Knowing it would draw people in, we positioned the cooking area of this outdoor kitchen to make the most of spectacular bay views.

2. Plan for versatility

The Atworth at Mellody Farms is a good example of the way you can divide outdoor space into different zones, each facilitating different functions. For example, lounge chairs lined up beside the pool beckon to sun worshippers. If the sun’s not your thing, you can opt to relax under a shade-providing pergola instead. If you’re not into lounging at all, but love to eat your meals al fresco, we’ve got tables and chairs so you can do just that. And if what you enjoy most of all is a good fire on a chilly evening, we’ve provided a cozy area for gathering, with comfy seating and a fire pit that’ll keep you warm long into the night.

3. Or, keep it simple

Nothing says you have to create a resort in your backyard. Maybe a nice round table (the most genial shape, we find) and chairs are all you want and need. Adding an umbrella will provide plenty of versatility; collapse it when you’re craving the sun on your face, and open it when you’d rather have shade (or when it starts to drizzle but you’re not quite ready to head inside). Bonus tip: cover cushions in weather-resistant outdoor fabric so they can stay outside without worry. And when the rain comes to an end, they’ll dry quickly, too!

4. Employ a NanaWall

At MWA, we’re all about connecting indoors and out – it’s one of the things we’re asked most often to do. In our experience, there’s nothing like a NanaWall to make that happen. Glass wall systems that open, they essentially disappear so your indoor and outdoor space can look, live, and feel as one.

5. Embrace intimacy

A pair of chairs facing each other creates intimacy, and encourages conversation – just like at your favorite bar or lounge. This is as true outside as indoors. Make those chairs oversize and enveloping, and it’s not difficult to imagine spending an entire evening in them with a glass of wine and a full heart.

6. Throw shade with Pergolas

The good kind of shade, I mean. For while there’s nothing like a nice sunny day, there are plenty of times the sun can be overpowering. That’s when you’ll be glad you covered your terrace with a pergola. Pergolas allow light in, but temper the intensity. They also go a long way toward creating the feel of a room, even in the great outdoors. An easily retractable sail shade alongside offers additional versatility – open it when the sun’s too much; retract it when shade isn’t necessary.

7. Get away from it all

Make magic in your own backyard by creating a special place “away” from it all. This pergola-covered entertaining pavilion feels like an exciting destination – even though it’s mere steps from the house itself. This type of idea gets our vote any time a client desires outdoor space that’s a little more exotic than a typical deck or patio.

8. Take it outside

Indoor style, that is. We approached this outdoor living area the same way we approached the indoor living spaces, using stylish furniture that’s appropriately scaled, nicely accessorized, and every bit as comfortable as its indoor counterparts. This extends to the architecture, where repeating arches (notice the curve above the fireplace?) echo arches inside the house itself.

9. Have a seat

Inside or out, there’s nothing like a fireplace to gather people ‘round. Here, a dining table and chairs offer seating directly in front of the fire. But that’s not all. The hearth itself is generous and deep, and wraps all the way around the fireplace so plenty of people can sit together and enjoy its warmth.

Visit our website – or follow us on Instagram or Facebook– to see more inspiring ideas for your home, inside and out!

Morgante Wilson Architects provides architectural and interior design services in Chicago, Deerfield, Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Northfield, Ravinia, Wilmette and Winnetka – along with Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Fred Wilson, AIA

Fred Wilson, AIA

Founding Partner at Award Winning Chicago Architects, Morgante Wilson