Rooms We Love: 11 Lush Outdoor Spaces

The outdoor room. It’s a dreamy, romantic concept, since it’s really not a room at all. With no walls to speak of (save stonework or shrubbery) and a ceiling that can be the laciest vine-covered trellis, an interlocking network of branches or simply the star-filled sky, these spaces uniquely combine the comforts of home with proximity to nature, particularly in summer. As the following 11 enchanting examples demonstrate, whether topping a Manhattan high-rise or set amid an allée of olive trees in California’s Napa Valley, they’re the perfect havens in which to lounge, dine, entertain or just dream away the long summer days.

Jeremiah Brent

Los Angeles

For designer Jeremiah Brent, the heart of his home lies beyond the interiors of the 1928 Spanish Colonial he shares with his husband, decorator Nate Berkus, and their young children, Poppy and Oskar. This light-dappled pergola, set on the pool deck amid gardenias, olive trees and a 200-year-old live oak, serves as a restful retreat for the family. “Nate and I wanted to create a space for reflection,” Brent says of the lush alcove, which he and Berkus outfitted with wraparound seating, plenty of pillows and vintage wickers chairs that epitomize California comfort and style. “We love that the pergola is nestled under the tree and provides a place for our family to sit and enjoy the yard.” Photo by Christopher Dibble

Studio Shamshiri

Los Angeles

California creative Pam Shamshiri, principal of Studio Shamshiri (and founding member of Commune), renovated a 1922 Spanish Colonial for a Los Angeles family to include this dreamy new courtyard, which blends Moroccan elegance with bohemian charm. Shamshiri continued the simple archways and geometric tiles she used in the interiors out into the garden, in elements ranging from its floor pattern to the apogee fountain crowned with ivy and rose vines. She then layered in a mix of furnishings — wrought-iron garden chairs, a stone-top trestle table, streamlined all-weather dining chairs — that feels considered rather than precious or overly decorated. Photo by Lisa Romerein

Cliff Fong

Santa Barbara

In crafting a Hollywood couple’s Santa Barbara home, designer Cliff Fong, of Matt Blacke Inc., created an alfresco dining area of palatial scale. “It’s in the middle of a grove of olive trees, so it’s surrounded by these beautiful trees but is still close to the house,” says Fong. Within this setting, Fong positioned a salvaged work table with vintage chairs by Russel Woodard along with a 19th-century gueridon stone-top table. Photo by William Abranowicz

Kemble Interiors

Palm Beach

Classic Palm Beach relaxed elegance define this Florida hideaway designed by celebrated decorator Mimi McMakin, of Kemble Interiors. “The outdoor lattice pavilion, created in conjunction with landscape designers Nievera Williams, provides a lovely shaded place to sit and gaze at the tropical landscape or enjoy an afternoon cocktail after a dip in the pool,” McMakin says. The white metal furnishings and crisp blue-and-white palette highlight the lush colors of the pavilion’s surroundings — from the palms and ficus plantings to the hot pink bougainvillea vines. “If you are lucky enough to sit here, you will also catch the scent of a fragrant white gardenia tree,” says McMakin. Photo by Kemble Interiors

Sofía Aspe

Mexico City

In transforming a luxury vacation home high above Acapulco Bay, Mexican designer Sofía Aspe, known for creating bold and unexpected spaces, reimagined this private terrace as the embodiment of oceanside ease. “We brought tons of sand to cover the floors to give the illusion of a beach resort, even though the house is built on a hilltop,” says Aspe, adding that “the local palm trees were planted along with other tropical plants.” To achieve the beach bungalow atmosphere she envisioned, she deployed a coastal mix that included fringed hammocks custom made in Nicaragua and rattan-and-rope chairs. The result is a space that seamlessly bridges land and sea. Photo by Alfonso de Bejar


Los Angeles

The entry veranda that designer Michael Boyd created for this modernist Malibu home evokes the linear simplicity of Case Study structures in postwar Southern California. Using glass walls and doors, Boyd sought to balance transparency and privacy throughout the spaces. “The plants and outdoor spaces are part of the living room, and vice versa,” he says. “The serenity of the interiors engages the outdoor spaces.” The furnishings include a pair of painted steel and cane chairs along with tables made of teak, stone and aluminum from Boyd’s company, Planefurniture. “Since I’m an architectural modernist,” he explains, “I believe in the honesty of materials.” Photo by Richard Powers

Michael S. Smith Inc.

Los Angeles

Renowned designer Michael S. Smith brought his classic West Coast comfort and sophistication to this sun-soaked patio. Part of his renovation of actor James Belushi’s California villa, the outdoor living room exemplifies his masterful fusion of high style with function. He imbued this outdoor room with a sense of laid-back comfort, opting for a wicker suite dressed with traditional florals and stripes in welcoming rustic hues and placing the pieces around a stone fireplace that provides a touch of indoor warmth. Photo by Scott Frances

Steven Harris Architects / Rees Roberts & Partners

New York City

Abundant greenery gives a vibrant focus to this outdoor terrace behind a sleek New York City townhouse designed by David Kelly, of Steven Harris Architecture. “We wanted something that was both modern and lushly planted,” says Kelly. He brought in Rees Roberts & Partners to oversee the landscape design, which includes a two-story vertical garden of evergreen ivy, along with plantings of hellebore, ostrich fern and magnolia. Against this stunning backdrop, Kelly set concrete benches, modern bistro chairs and a Saarinen table, conjuring up a lavish garden room that can be, he says, “enjoyed intimately by two people or used for large alfresco gatherings.” Photo by Scott Frances / OTTO

Martyn Lawrence Bullard Design

Los Angeles

“Our vision was of a secret garden that would capture the romantic essence of a Moroccan courtyard,” Martyn Lawrence Bullard says, describing his approach to the beguiling outdoor oasis behind his own Los Angeles home. The plantings, ranging from agave and succulents to bamboo, bougainvillea and gardenias, are grouped with his signature glamorous global mix of furnishings, including lanterns discovered in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, a custom table and seating of his design and black-leather ottomans picked up from Mosaik, one of his favorite sources in Los Angeles. Photo by Tim Street-Porter

De la Torre Design Studio

New York City

The homeowner tasked designer Ernest de la Torre with establishing an enveloping structure for this large penthouse terrace affording impressive views of Manhattan. “The client wanted comfort more than grandeur, so I set a plan to create a cocoon at the center of this expansive space,” says de la Torre, who constructed a pergola with an outdoor fireplace to function as a central lounging area. To further emphasize indoor comfort, he custom designed outdoor lounge chairs that allow for easy entertaining and TV viewing. “As the owner of a sports team, the client wanted to be able to watch the games outdoors,” he says. Photo by Peter Murdock

Fisher Weisman

San Francisco

San Francisco designer Jeffry Weisman, of Fisher Weisman, set a spectacular stage for open-air affairs in an allée of Italian olive trees on a Napa Valley estate that had been a winery in the 19th century. “The property had a mature olive orchard flanking the walkway from the street to the house, but it was designed to walk past rather than to enter,” says Weisman. “We adjusted the planting to open up the space.” He then brought in a vintage limestone table and elegant outdoor dining chairs to transform the quiet corner into an haven for sophisticated entertaining. “The orchard has become the homeowners’ favorite spot for lunch and dinner,” says Weisman. Photo by Grey Crawford 

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