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The Modern Indoor-Outdoor Connection

The way we want our mountain homes to relate to the outdoors has changed radically in the last 25 years.



Photos courtesy of TKP Architects

Outdoor living is one of the greatest joys of life in the Rocky Mountain West. Custom home architects know that outdoor living space is one of the top requests from their clients, often a higher priority—and certainly evoking more passionate discussion—than indoor living space. 

From simple sun or rain protection to elaborate outdoor living rooms, dining spaces, kitchens and bars, and even indoor-outdoor bedrooms and master baths, the way we want our homes to relate to the outdoors has changed radically in the last 25 years. Blessed with sun, moderate temperatures, and minimal insect life, much of the mountain west has an ideal climate for enjoying outdoor living for part of the year, and with appropriate design and technology, that season can be extended from early spring to late fall.

The primary means of moderating outdoor space for livability is by protecting it from rain, snow, and sun. Simple solid roofs work well for this but cannot be controlled to let in the sun and sky when desired. New multi-functional, controllable pergola structures can open their roof fins to allow sunlight in and form a solid waterproof roof when closed. These products can also incorporate lighting, heat, power, and vertical sunshades in a single sleek package that allows you to completely fine-tune your space for any conditions.

One of the most exciting new indoor-outdoor living products of the last few years are large folding, sliding, or pocketing doors that allow an entire wall to be completely opened to the outdoors. Often used in tropical climates, these doors create visual excitement and are a dynamic design statement in a home. In a mountain climate, however, their use must be carefully considered. How many times will you need to go in and out through them? Will you be carrying food to a barbecue? Can they be screened if you do have some insects? What will happen to your indoor space if there is a sudden gust of wind? How easy are they to operate? Do they interfere with a beautiful view when closed? How will the furnishings in the indoor and outdoor spaces work when they are opened?

Being able to heat outdoor spaces so that they are comfortable in low temperatures has always been a challenge. Indoors, we can heat the air to stay comfortable, but this strategy does not work outside. New developments in radiant heaters have made it possible for people to feel quite comfortable living and eating outdoors in the cold. These devices can be mounted to the ceiling or on moveable stands, and they heat people and objects—not air. The result is a remarkable level of comfort even in temperatures that would be much too cold to tolerate otherwise.

Evolving technology in LED lighting has allowed for subtle lighting of outdoor spaces with hidden light sources that reduce glare and can be easily dimmed to not interfere with the enjoyment of a beautiful, dark evening or a sparkling city view. Linear LED tape lights can be tucked under the edge of a handrail or the nosing of a stair, or they can create a gentle glow on a wood ceiling when mounted on the top of a beam or truss.

Even with all this functional and beautiful technology at our disposal, the biggest draw—the most captivating feature of outdoor mountain living and entertaining—is our oldest and most basic love: fire. Fire features range from large circular firepits reminding us of campfires from our childhood, capable of burning wood or gas logs, to elegant ribbons of multicolored flames winding their way through a river of glass beads in front of a glass handrail. Fire tables, at coffee-table height or sometimes dining height, can offer mobility as well as providing a footrest, drink ledge, or fascinating centerpiece.

In addition to these indoor-outdoor basics, new lines of weatherproof kitchen appliances, televisions, speakers, fabrics, and furniture are allowing us to comfortably do nearly everything outside that we used to have to do inside: exercise equipment may be rolled out to a covered patio through a sliding door; a glass pocket door can open the master shower to a hot tub deck with a mountain view and an outdoor shower head; a bedroom wall can slide away; and an operable roof window above the bed can open to cool air and a view of the stars. It is an exciting time for residential design with so many ways to enjoy the great indoor-outdoor connection!

Karen Keating is a principal at TKP Architects, an award-winning architecture and interior design firm based in Golden, Colorado. View TKP's profile or contact Karen at (303) 278-8840.

Content for this article provided by TKP Architects.

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