“People are happier when they can experience nature,” says Scott Welch, AIA, a certified passive house designer, LEED green associate, and principal with Washington, D.C.based–Torti Gallas + Partners.
Even though happiness can be an intangible benefit of exceptional design, a recent scientific review of hundreds of research papers identified 227 pathways of how nature can affect humans and found 86.3% providing positive contributions. Beyond tangible benefits like food and raw materials, nature offers experiential rewards like recreation, leisure, spiritual fulfillment, and aesthetics.
With the Cleveland Clinic reporting that more than one-third of Americans rate their current mental health as being average or low, and with just as many not regularly spending time outdoors, a little daily boost of nature-inducing happiness through the indoor-outdoor room can be well-received and well-needed. Plus, about 3 in 4 architects report that covered outdoor spaces are popular home features and 59% of architects report that blended indoor-outdoor rooms that open to the outdoors or have a glass wall are popular, according to The American Institute of Architects’ 2022 Home Design Trends Survey.
“It is critical for inhabitants to have a connection to the outdoors whether through views or physical connection,” says Jody Sergi, AIA, architect with Houston-based Kirksey Architecture. “I think, overall, it is really a look at mental health and how you feel in the space, and that is becoming more and more a priority in the design of spaces for living, work, and play.”
Create comfortable indoor-outdoor rooms.
Just as athleisure-wear has infiltrated seemingly every aspect of daily life, from work and play to sleep and celebrations, comfort has become a priority in every room in a home, even in outdoor rooms. According to Fixr.com, comfortable furniture is the most popular outdoor feature for 69% of homeowners, and 56% of home experts say that creating indoor spaces outside is also a top trend for homeowners.
Traditional indoor-outdoor spaces like porches, patios, and decks used to include simple, functional, and easy-to-clean elements in wicker, cast iron, aluminum, or stainless steel with woven or plastic seating. But, today’s outdoor rooms look more like indoor living rooms transplanted outside with ceiling fans, home decor, rugs, smart home features, and luxurious fabrics made to withstand weathering. Fire features are also popular with two-thirds of home design experts, and AIA’s Home Design Trends Survey reports that 51% of architects say that outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are popular.
A cozy fireplace or outdoor kitchen—with a companion pizza oven or grill—and comfortable well-appointed seating may provide the visual appeal of an indoor-outdoor room that can be used throughout most of the year in many locales, but there are other factors that are crucial to creating outdoor built environments that are truly comfortable for clients.
“For us, in Texas—and everyone really moving forward—the biggest challenge is temperature,” Sergi says. “Will the space be usable? We use resources to analyze wind flow, direction, shading, and more to make sure that the outside space will be comfortable.”
Optimize scenic views and natural ventilation.
“We often talk about the front porch on a townhouse or single-family home as an indoor-outdoor room,” Welch says. “I mean, why do people love sitting on their front porch? They’re sheltered. They have a roof over their heads…and at the same time, they are outside with views out to the landscape.”
While some indoor-outdoor rooms have a separate roof covering like a gazebo, porch, or covered patio, others are transitional interior spaces with moving glass panels so they can either be a blended indoor-outdoor space or indoors with expansive views. When designing with nature as a fundamental priority, it is essential to strategically design the indoor-outdoor room with the view in mind in order to reap the benefits of nature.
“Homeowners want views out to nature from the inside and fresh air and natural light to the inside,” Welch says. “Of course, balconies are a huge selling point for an apartment dweller, where they can quickly step out of their home and experience the outdoors. And providing natural ventilation into spaces reduces energy loads because code-required return air doesn’t have to be mechanically provided into those spaces.”
And Sergi agrees: “The most requested element is more glazing. Everyone wants as much natural light as possible, but we make sure we address glare, temperature, and other factors.”
It might seem like it’s just the glazing companies that are key to creating the indoor-outdoor room, but there’s also Heat & Glo’s indoor-outdoor fireplace that offers the transparency of an expansive window but with the bonus of fire that can be enjoyed both inside and out. These types of indoor-outdoor fireplaces are specifically designed for the function of bringing the ambiance of fire simultaneously to two spaces: one indoors and one outside.
With styles ranging from traditional to modern, indoor-outdoor fireplaces can be paired with other fenestrations to ensure the view and landscape take precedence on a project during daylight hours while adding the warming element of fire to a project.
Whether it’s for an outdoor room, interior space, or transitional indoor-outdoor area, the benefits of orienting the built environment to nature go beyond just the well-being and health of the client and occupants. When people feel happy inside a building, they tend to tell their friends about it.
For more information about creating a fire feature in a wellness retreat, head over to Heat & Glo.