Stepping Outside with Interior Designers

When walking from indoors to out, there should be continuity. It should be in some way similar in character to what’s happening indoors.

As landscape architects much of our landscape design process involves defining use areas –or- outdoor rooms. We map out paths that lead the eye (and the body) through a series of transitions to different kinds of places in the outdoor environments we create. We carefully consider how various outdoor spaces interact with each other and how they relate to the home. We frame views to and from the home.

We were curious to know how interior designers think about landscape design in terms of the relationship between indoor and outdoor space. Do they consider views and connections to the outdoors when they create interior spaces?

So we asked. We spoke with three top Washington DC metro area interior designers. As it turns out, they had a lot to say about the intersections of landscape design and interior design.

What should be the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces?

lorn gross interior designLorna Gross-Bryant | Lorna Gross Interior Design, Bethesda: There should be continuity. Indoor and outdoor spaces should relate the way rooms on the interior relate to each other through a series of transitions. So when you go from one space to another you shouldn’t be surprised—in a bad way.

Sroka Design Skip SrokaSkip Sroka | Sroka Design, Georgetown: You want to have flow and ease. On a practical level, for example, you need to have the right sized doors to go from the kitchen to an outdoor space so you can carry trays. And it is really important to have a visual context. So, if you are in your dining room overlooking the terrace, that view actually draws you outside. On a beautiful day, why would you not go outside?

barbara hawthorn interiorsBarbara Hawthorn | Barbara Hawthorn Interiors, McLean: I think indoor and outdoor spaces should be integrated and flow one into the other. Frank Lloyd Wright was a great advocate of that concept. You can see that locally at the Pope-Leighey house in Alexandria.

It isn’t only about how you get in and out, but how the home is positioned. That determines where you want your windows, what kind of light you get, and what you are going to be looking at from the exterior of the house in addition to the views from the interior.

We are always looking at the relationship between inside and outside for both night and day in terms of what we do with lighting.

hawthorn interiors contemporary porch
Barbara Hawthorn’s suspended bubble chairs face a twilight landscape. PHOTO: Kenneth Wyner

Skip: I think the most pleasant rooms have a sense of view. I love seeing a little bit of sky. Here’s an example: In my library, you cannot go outside, but there is a bay window that brings in a lot of light. What I love about it is I can sit in the bay on a big sofa and look out to our front garden and courtyard. And you feel very engaged. It gets this great eastern light, so we usually have morning coffee in the library.

Barbara: When I am involved in the initial planning and building of the space, the outdoors is always part of the indoor plan. That was the entire concept of the Potomac cabin (see photos) I worked on. We used Nanawalls (glass wall systems) that opened up so completely there was virtually no barrier. There was no division between the inside and outside spaces with the exception of the roof. As designers we need to break through that intellectual barrier of inside vs outside.

How do exterior views or lighting play in your design?

contemporary porch at dawn
As light changes outside, the room changes.

Lorna: I make note of windows and most importantly the direction they face. That will determine the amount and quality of sunlight that’s going to impact the room. On north and eastern facing rooms, I am always looking to make sure they don’t come across as too cool and sterile. I’ll balance them with some warm colors to offset that cool light. On the west and south I balance with cool colors.

Barbara: You need different types of lighting for different hours of the day. I like a lighting plan to use layers of light of different qualities to set the mood within a room. We also suggest exterior lighting for highlighting features at night. Instead of having the windows frame a cold black void, you are looking at the beautiful lines and shadows of a gorgeous tree.

Skip: You light for mood. For evenings outdoors you would want lower level lighting for reading or relaxing. Generally, you don’t want any direct light in the eyes. You light pathways or light objects to create silhouettes. The other way to light is for entertaining—so you’ll want a lot of sparkle and a lot of fun. You’ll use LED, some incandescent or lanterns and candle light.

When designing rooms outdoors do you feel more creative freedom?

open porch interior by lorna gross
Porch interior and suspended day bed by Lorna Gross. PHOTO: Geoffrey Hodgdon

Skip: I really enjoy popping up the color outside. I do consider plantings and blooms in the surroundings to play off of. When you have really great light you can use really intense colors. Whereas, really subtle colors that work exquisitely on an interior—they just won’t come across. Also, on the interior you may not be able to get large stone objects to work, but outdoors they do quite well.
Lorna: I end up incorporating more whimsical patterning when I’m designing outdoor spaces. For example: I am probably not going use fabric covered with dragonflies and butterflies in my client’s living room. But I might do that in an outdoor space. I like to incorporate pieces that are personal to the client and the activities they enjoy. This year I designed a swinging day bed (see photo) for one of my clients and Bill Gardner fabricated it for me.
Barbara: People come to us because they want something totally creative that hasn’t been done before. That’s one of our specialties—to introduce materials that people aren’t expecting. Right now, we are doing an office building but we are bringing in outdoor natural elements. We are bringing in coconut shell wall paneling. We’re using materials that replicate honeycomb. We are bringing in natural materials that create a sense of the outdoors in the office interiors.

You want the synergy of creative minds producing ideas together. I think a smart client will bring all the designers together at the beginning

When you work with a landscape designer, how do your areas of expertise intersect?

sroka loggia open porch design
Loggia interior by Skip Sroka. PHOTO: Geoffrey Hodgdon

Lorna: The yard is beyond my expertise. But for a patio where I know I want foliage, I will spec the planters, containers, furniture and furnishings. And I am working in concert with the landscape designer to decide what kind of foliage makes best sense on the patio. Are we going to do a lemon tree? Or is it going to be more of a hedge type bush or ivy? Or a palm? I talk to the landscaper about the feel of the home interior. For example, I did a home in Chevy Chase that has a tropical feel on the interior. I’ll communicate that to the landscaper and ask them to incorporate that into their design plan.
Barbara: It really is a team effort and we make sure everybody has a voice for their special area of expertise. The ideal result is an integration of all the best perspectives. We always want to make sure there is a collaborative dialogue that ensures the end result is exactly what we believe the client’s vision is for the space.
Skip: You want the synergy of creative minds producing ideas together. I am excited to hear those ideas and to figure out how it will all work together. It takes the whole process further. I think a smart client will bring all the designers together at the beginning. That is absolutely positively the best way to save money because everything is coordinated from day one. I think outcome is far better.

Landscape Design & Interior Design Share the Same Language

sroka dining pavilion & outdoor fireplace
Outdoor dining pavilion design by Skip Sroka. PHOTO: Geoffrey Hodgdon

All three designers indicated that collaboration during the planning and design phase is desirable to them and a great benefit to the homeowner. That makes sense because principles of landscape design and interior design overlap in some key areas

  • Using light (natural and artificial) with sensitivity as to how light fixes color, defines objects and affects mood
  • Refining and balancing the vast palette of color and textures available in the materials used
  • Framing views and planning movement that naturally leads from one environment to another

Where the interior designer leaves off, the landscape designer picks up. The designers interact directly in the transitional areas near the thresholds of a home. Designing rooms, whether indoor or out, the designers share the overall goal of “finishing” a home, defining it’s character and most of all making it a place of personal comfort and enrichment for the homeowner.

At Surrounds we believe that ‘home’ is a place–not just a house. And we love to see people get the most enjoyment possible from their home–inside and outside. If you’d like to see some possibilities for creating different types of outdoor spaces for your home, take a look at our landscape design portfolio. Then call to speak with one of our landscape architects.

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