Court­yards — the orig­i­nal ‘out­door rooms’ — get a new look

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - LIVING - By Melissa Kossler Dutton

The trend to­ward out­door liv­ing, which uses comfy seat­ing, bright rugs and weath­er­proof art to ex­tend the al fresco season at home, is bring­ing new at­ten­tion to a cen­turies-old ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture: the court­yard.

“It’s the orig­i­nal out­door room,” said Philip Wed­dle, prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect of Wed­dle Gil­more Black Rock Stu­dio in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona. “Court­yards are as much about en­rich­ing the in­door spaces as cre­at­ing amaz­ing out­door spaces. That blur­ring of the bound­ary be­tween in­doors and out makes the ex­pe­ri­ence of each space richer.”

Court­yards — a sta­ple in Ro­man, Mid­dle East­ern and an­cient Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture — are be­com­ing pop­u­lar in homes through­out the United States, builders and ar­chi­tects say.

As they have for thou­sands of years, court­yards of­fer a safe and pri­vate area for fam­i­lies and guests to gather. In ur­ban ar­eas, es­pe­cially, such se­cluded out­door space is rare. Court­yards in­crease the amount of liv­ing space in a home. And when de­signed right, they can cre­ate a cool­ing re­treat in warm cli­mates.

Im­prove­ments in re­tractable glass walls and slid­ing doors have helped make them more fea­si­ble.

“That tech­nol­ogy has re­ally im­proved over the last decade,” Wed­dle said. “It re­ally does al­low you to open in­te­rior space to a court­yard more eas­ily.”

Peo­ple are ac­cess­ing that out­door space to cook, dine, en­ter­tain or just re­lax, Wed­dle said. He’s de­signed small court­yards that con­nect to a mas­ter bath and in­clude an out­door shower. “Court­yards come in all shapes and sizes,” he said.

Builder Ni­lay Bhatt, pres­i­dent of Dani Homes in Colum­bus, Ohio, also sees more Mid­west­ern cus­tomers choos­ing court­yards: “It’s an el­e­ment of out­door liv­ing,” he said.

And in older sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods in At­lanta, Ed Cas­tro Land­scape has helped clients add court­yards to ex­ist­ing homes, said Han­nah Seaton, a se­nior land­scape de­sign con­sul­tant with the firm. “They’re try­ing to turn an area of their prop­erty into a pri­vate place,” she said.

Luck­ily, the foot­prints of many older homes in­clude nooks and hid­den spots that lend them­selves to court­yards, Seaton said.

In other places, home­own­ers are cre­at­ing court­yards in front of houses by adding plant­ings and paving stones. That can in­crease curb ap­peal, re­duce the amount of wa­ter-guz­zling lawn, and show­case a wa­ter fea­ture or piece of sculp­ture, said Tanya Wilson of Bon­ick Land­scap­ing in Irv­ing, Texas.

Front-yard court­yards can be ca­sual (benches and gravel walk­ways) or for­mal (stat­ues, fancy light­ing and foun­tains). The key, Wilson said, is se­lect­ing a look that matches the house’s ar­chi­tec­ture.

“It’s a nice tran­si­tion from the street to the front door,” she said. “It can feel more wel­com­ing.”

But the ap­peal of a court­yard doesn’t stop at the door, said Missy Hen­rik­sen, vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic af­fairs for the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Land­scape Pro­fes­sion­als in Hern­don, Vir­ginia. The court­yard’s pur­pose is to con­nect the home’s in­te­rior with the out­doors, she said.

“Most land­scape fea­tures bring the in­doors out. With the pop­u­lar­ity of out­door liv­ing, we think of land­scapes as ex­ten­sions of our

homes,” she said. “Court­yards are unique in that they flip this idea by in­stead bring­ing the out­doors in­side the home, al­low­ing the beauty of the court­yard to be seen from sev­eral ar­eas of the home.”

Court­yards are all about the sight lines from in­side the home, agreed Tracy Schi­ef­ferle , in­terim di­rec­tor of the Build­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Cen­tral Ohio. Sev­eral builders in re­cent years have in­cluded front court­yards in homes for the as­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nual Pa­rade of Homes, which show­cases trends. “We’re def­i­nitely see­ing more at­ten­tion to the front of the house,” she said.

Front court­yards make sense in neigh­bor­hoods try­ing to build community, she said. They mix well with walk­ing trails, bike paths and other ameni­ties de­signed to help home­own­ers stay ac­tive, Schi­ef­ferle said: “It re­flects how peo­ple want to be con­nected to their neigh­bor­hood.”


This photo pro­vided by Bon­ick Land­scap­ing shows a front gravel court­yard with a boul­der wa­ter fea­ture by Bon­ick Land­scap­ing in Dal­las, Texas.


This un­dated photo pro­vided by Ed Cas­tro Land­scape, Inc. shows the court­yard out­side a home in At­lanta, Ga.


This photo pro­vided by Bon­ick Land­scap­ing shows a con­tem­po­rary court­yard land­scape by Bon­ick Land­scap­ing in Dal­las, Texas.


This photo pro­vided by Wed­dle Gil­more black rock stu­dio shows the en­try court­yard of a res­i­dence lo­cated in Par­adise Val­ley, Ariz.

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