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photo by Roger Wade Studios, Jeffrey C. Williams, Architect
photo by Roger Wade Studios, Jeffrey C. Williams, Architect

Rooms in bloom

by Dana Dugan

As the Europeans have long known, dining al fresco is a distinct pleasure, whether it is in the garden at a long table or a vine-draped terrace. These spaces are akin to old fashioned receiving rooms or parlors, places to gather amidst friendly confines.

But is it a garden or part of the home?

Designers today blend a home’s interior with its exterior in one unbroken theme, often using an open-air garden room to make the transition.

These living spaces, sometimes roofed, pick up the carpet, tile, woods or other materials used in the interior to create a gateway to the garden. They offer a transition to the garden theme and create an uninterrupted flow of interior and exterior design elements.

These rooms, serving as an extension of the home’s interior, also have all the comforts of indoor areas such as soft, luxurious seating, fireplaces, grills, refrigerators, wet bars, dining tables and other amenities for entertaining or just enjoying the end of the day relaxing together.

High in the hills of Elkhorn, virtually hidden from the valley floor, is one such room that takes advantage of all these ideas.

“When we started planning the house in 1997, we had a list of things we wanted to do,” Seattle and Sun Valley resident Barbara Thrasher says. “Looking back, what we have is spot-on. We wanted to sit outside in a space with a roof or shade.”

“Most people in the valley want to face the west because that’s where Bald Mountain is and where the sun sets, but the western sun is exceptionally strong,” explains Thrasher, who with her husband Rick Koffey built their house with two outdoor rooms.

The east side room is where they can be found when the sun is up, while the room on west side is where they are likely to invite people to join them for dessert after dining out. Both rooms have built in fireplaces, comfortable, attractive furnishings and roofs. The west-facing room has a marble table, chandelier and curtains in two corners that can block wind and sun as well as provide a roomy cozy hearth area.

photo by Roger Wade Studios, Jeffrey C. Williams, Architect“We’re on it every single night,” says Thrasher. “We wanted really comfy chairs and sofas and the ability to get out of the sun.”

Architect Jeffrey Williams designed their home as well as approximately six others in the valley with outdoor rooms.

“So much a part of the success is the success of the lifestyle,” says Williams. “It’s got to work with the flow of the house.”

Planning, then, is key to the success of these spaces. The space needs elements to give it a structured feel. Proper framework provides divisions, while elements such as wood, masonry, hedging, evergreens, trellises and arbors can enclose the area. Tiling the floor gives a distinct and structured surface.

Café tables, picnic tables or big slouchy chairs, the right type of furniture makes all the difference.

“People more and more are using outdoor spaces as extensions of their homes,” says Claudia Allum of The Open Room in Ketchum. “It’s evidence of the trend. We are asked for more furniture you might see in the living room, for deep seating lounging.”

She has especially seen this in the last year or two.

“All our manufacturers now make deep cushions, have more fabric choices, plusher and with more texture,” she adds. “The filling is a fast-drying polyurethane that doesn’t absorb the water and has UV resistance. It’s all made now to stand up to the elements.”

Many traditional outdoor furniture materials are being improved upon as well. All-weather wicker is now made of a resin weave specifically for the outdoors, Allum says. “It’s comfortable, lighter, gives, and has a warm feeling.”

Garden rooms are enhanced by the use of focal points such as fountains or sculptures. Outdoor fireplaces are very popular for the ambience as well as more practical purposes in the high mountain climate. Other accents include water features, a bird bath and, of course, plantings.

photo by Roger Wade Studios, Jeffrey C. Williams, ArchitectLandscape that begins inside, repeats within the transition area and bursts into full glory in the surrounding garden is ideal. Landscaping enhances not only the garden rooms, but also invites one to continue down the path to the backyard.

The home of Brad and Cyndi DuFur features a garden several steps down from their terrace area. It is surrounded by high brick walls with climbing vines and roses all in a space suitable for their three young children. At the same time, the garden is sophisticated and lovely, a place to entertain as well as relax.

Container planting, flower-filled vases and vines add to the charm, but should be carefully selected.

“Dropmore honeysuckle grows 10 to 12 feet with little pretty orange flowers,” said Trudy McGonigal of Webb Landscape. “It flowers all summer, with a burst in the beginning. It attracts hummingbirds and prefers full sun.”

River Bank grapevines are hardy here as well, have edible fruit and beautiful big leaves. McGonigal also recommended Virginia creeper, which likes more shade.

“This year, we are getting a bunch of new clematis,” McGonigal said of the lovely flowering vine that creates a showy focal point.

Garden rooms need not be physically attached to the house. A flower-lined or architecturally interesting path can visually link the home to a garden sanctuary—a hammock in a quiet corner, wicker chairs under a tree, the place with the best view. •

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