Outdoor Spaces That Work and Play

From swimming pools to spacious patios, today’s homeowners are maximizing their use of outside places.

 Photography by John W. Hession

At the Peterborough home of Bob and Ann Wilkins, the poolside cabana—with its sitting room, fireplace and TV—offers a cozy getaway in all four seasons. The cabana was built by John Stanek Custom Builders in Peterborough; the pool is by Custom Pools in Newington.

With New England’s typically long winters, no wonder homeowners here crave an outdoor living space they can enjoy from the sweet spring to colorful autumn months before the snow flies. And when it comes to creating the outdoor spaces that work for family and friends, there is no one-size-fits-all.  

Choices abound from fieldstone patios with outdoor kitchens, spacious wraparound decks with lake views, to nature-inspired swimming pools and more.

Water play

Brian Short, president and owner of Custom Pools in Newington, says advances in building materials and technology enable extended pool use, minimize maintenance and have improved aesthetics. The company designed and built a freeform pool for Bob and Ann Wilkins in Peterborough. The pool features a separately built rock waterfall feature, and the pool’s shape mimics a natural pond rather than a traditional, rectangular swimming pool. Short says he worked closely with the Wilkinses to integrate their vision for the space. Surrounded by natural plantings—such as native grasses, flowers and maple trees—the pool area includes a four-season cabana and hot tub.

Custom Pools builds its pools with gunite—a mixture of cement, sand and water applied through a pressure hose, producing a dense hard layer that has twice the strength of regular concrete, Short says. “Whether a homeowner wants to go for a natural or formal design, or a mix of the two, with gunite, we can do everything,” he says. For the Wilkinses, the material was mixed with a dark dye that provides a “mirror image” on top of the pool and looks more natural.

When working with homeowners, Short says he considers a number of factors, such as how the pool area will be used, whether the family has young children and the project budget. “We work in what the family wants. For example, if they have toddlers, automatic covers are installed for safety. These are strong enough to walk on,” Short says.

Some clients choose a pool with the same depth at each end to play water volleyball. Short has even installed features such as sleeves for volleyball nets or basketball hoops on pool decking for sports-minded water lovers.

Incorporating inside and out

A spacious deck, with access to a newly designed great room with a hot tub and family room, was always in the plan for architect Tom Samyn of Samyn D’Elia Architects in Ashland who designed an addition and outdoor space for his clients in Waterville Valley.

South-facing decks were built on both the home’s lower level and main floor that look out to the Mad River. The newly built patio was a logical use for the space between the back of the house and the newly built addition.

Accessibility comes in to play when designing an outdoor space. In this case, Samyn and his clients needed to make the great room and hot tub accessible from the outside, so the team created a patio.

“There was a lot of earth-moving,” Samyn says of the extensive site work involved. An outdoor kitchen, beautiful deck furniture and fiber-optic lighting are some highlights of the lower-level deck.

The upper-level deck expands the outdoor living space on the main level of the house.

A spacious, personality-packed patio

On Union Street in Manchester, the historic renovated home of Kathy and Bill Gillett lacks a pool, but it’s swimming in elegance. Landscape architect and designer Mark Rynearson of The Rynearson Company in Goffstown worked with TMS Architects in Portsmouth to create an outdoor space to fill the couple’s needs. Since the Gilletts entertain a lot, the outdoor space had to function well and accommodate guests and family.

The kitchen door opens up to a expansive patio that features a step-down terrace with a fourteen-foot-high fireplace, an outdoor kitchen positioned so it’s not the center of attention, a hot tub, and lots of areas for seating, eating and socializing.

From a practical standpoint, Rynearson says one of the first things to consider is how to maintain easy access points to the house. Bluestone and granite were the primary materials used for this patio, with some brick pavers integrated in the walkways to pull in the look of the home’s whitewashed brick exterior.

Gardens galore

For Monadnock region homeowner, avid gardener and wildlife photo-grapher Eleanor Briggs, outdoor
space is all about the gardens. Briggs’s gardens surround her 1776 Cape home and barn.

Landscape architect Diane McGuire of McGuire & Watson in Rhode Island planned and restored the gardens—which include vegetable and cutting gardens, as well as woodlands—and installed a koi pond next to the house.

To further enjoy the gardens from the inside out, Briggs asked Daniel Scully of Daniel V. Scully/Architects in Keene, who had renovated her kitchen and garden room, to create a screened porch. Scully designed a separate porch connected by a covered breezeway supported by a stainless-steel frame. Scully says the separate porch set apart from the house creates a “magic carpet” to enjoy views of the gardens.

With all the options available today, homeowners and their designers prove there is no reason to hibernate—even in New England. Enjoy the outdoors! 

Categories: Architecture and Interiors, Gardening & Landscape, Outdoor Spaces