3 Tips for Creating Outdoor Living Spaces


It’s no secret that outdoor living spaces are among the amenities that help attract and maintain apartment residents. Cooking under the stars in a quaint outdoor kitchen or easy conversation surrounding a fire pit are the perfect dining and living room extensions beyond the four walls of a resident’s indoor living space.

If created with a little landscape licensing, one or several outdoor amenities can create a community within itself, turning a grassy flat spot into the heart and soul of an apartment community. The key is blending the amenities so that each has its own sense of purpose without interfering with the other. In other words, you don’t want to have a game of touch football going on within a few feet of an outdoor barbecue.

While space limitations may actually place that game close to the cooking pavilion, effective landscaping can segregate the areas so that the players stay within their own boundaries. In effect, the large area that appears to include a place for exercise and food becomes two separate, distinguishable amenities, discouraging unwanted intervention.

Here are three tips to help you uncover more outdoor living amenities for your apartment community:

1. Use Demographics to Determine Outdoor Living Options

There are a number of kinds of outdoor amenities that property owners can utilize to create outdoor interest. Among the more popular are outdoor kitchens, dog parks and dog washing stations, sand volleyball courts, seating areas surrounding a fire pit or big screen TV, water features and walking trails.

Deciding how many and what kind of outdoor amenities should be incorporated depends largely on your apartment makeup. A younger group of residents may prefer a sand volleyball court, whereas communities composed of older citizens may be more interested in an herb or vegetable garden. An apartment with a lot of families should have common picnic areas, but an adult community probably would like a cozy outdoor kitchen.

Look at your resident profile to best determine a plan of action.

2. Divide Available Space to Create Resident Satisfaction

Once the amenities are determined, properties should decide how to cordon off the areas. Simply, create borders or “hallways,” like the inside of the home, which distinguishes one “room” from the next. This can be done by using a number of subtle techniques that won’t give the area the look of a maze.

The idea is to not have a big open area with four different things to do, but have four separate areas that each make sense and function on their own, yet retain a nice flow between them. It’s not so different from a house that has a large living area – the back of a couch may serve as a discreet divider between the den and the kitchen.

A properly planned outdoor area can have those same dividers in the form of structural accoutrements – like a short fence – or plantings that outline or identify a given area. Essentially, the hallways and pathways typical in a house are created outdoors to move people from one area to the next. At the same time, the resident feels that he or she is solely experiencing the area or activity that they choose without the risk of blending in with the others, and without walking through a labyrinth.

3. Get Creative with Outdoor Living Dividers

Decomposed granite pathways, plantings and fencing are common ways to define and separate areas. Hedgerows, stone borders or a planting bed that goes along one edge or all areas with exits and entries are good ways to cordon off amenities.

There is no limit on types of separators that can be used, so long as they make visual sense to the area.

Cost Effective Outdoor Design Can Increase Resident Retention

An effectively installed outdoor amenity area not only gives residents a place to frequent but with considerably less cost. Older apartments and those limited on space, that don’t have room for a fancy gym or movie theatre, are perfect candidates for turning flat land into additional living areas.

Absent are the heavy capital costs of building a separate structure for a specific amenity that could become outdated in a few years. With it comes the flexibility to easily replace the outdoor amenity, should it become outdated, with another one. If worse comes to worse, the area can always revert back to open space.

It’s important to have a plan, and not create a willy-nilly outdoor experience. A well-conceived design enables an apartment community to keep pace with its competitors in the fight to attract and retain residents through amenities while embracing the concept of outdoor living. Your residents will enjoy a personal experience without the interference of a Hail Mary pass.



President, Earthworks

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Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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