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Interior Designers Perspective - How to Design an outdoor space

March 16, 2023

Donna M. Skolnick

Donna M. Skolnick

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Interior Designers Perspective - How to Design an outdoor space

As an interior designer, designing an outdoor space can be challenging. However, with the right knowledge and tools, it can be a rewarding experience. To help you achieve this, we have gathered insights from top universities with majors in landscape architecture to guide you on how to design an outdoor space.

Firstly, when designing an outdoor space, it is important to understand the purpose and functionality of the space. Whether it's a patio, garden, or terrace, understanding how the space will be used is essential in creating an effective design. According to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, "successful design responds to both the practical and aesthetic needs of users."

Once the purpose and functionality have been determined, it's time to consider the elements that will make up the design. A good starting point is to consider the natural elements of the area, such as the topography, vegetation, and climate. This will provide a foundation for the design and ensure that it is harmonious with the surrounding environment.

When considering vegetation, it is essential to choose plants that are appropriate for the climate and soil type. The University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources recommends selecting plants that are native to the area, as they are better adapted to the local climate and require less maintenance. Additionally, selecting a variety of plants with different textures and colors can add depth and interest to the design.

In addition to vegetation, hardscaping elements such as walkways, patios, and walls can also add to the overall design. When choosing materials for hardscaping, it is important to consider both aesthetic and practical factors. According to the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, "the choice of materials can affect the appearance, durability, cost, and environmental impact of a project." For example, materials such as concrete and natural stone are durable and long-lasting, while wood and composite materials require more maintenance.

Another important element to consider when designing an outdoor space is lighting. Lighting can add ambiance and functionality to the space, making it usable at all times of the day. The University of Georgia's College of Environment and Design suggests using a combination of task lighting, ambient lighting, and accent lighting to create a balanced and inviting atmosphere.

When designing an outdoor space, it's also important to consider the principles of design. Just as in interior design, the principles of design can be applied to outdoor spaces to create a cohesive and visually appealing design. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Department of Landscape Architecture recommends using the principles of balance, unity, proportion, and rhythm in outdoor design.

When designing an outdoor space, it's important to consider sustainability and environmental impact. According to the University of Minnesota's Department of Landscape Architecture, "sustainable design minimizes negative impact on the environment while maximizing the economic, social, and ecological benefits." This can be achieved by incorporating sustainable materials, using rainwater harvesting and irrigation systems, and designing with the natural environment in mind.

Designing an outdoor space requires careful consideration of the purpose and functionality of the space, as well as the natural elements and principles of design.

By selecting appropriate vegetation and materials, incorporating lighting, and considering sustainability, an outdoor space can be transformed into a beautiful and functional extension of any interior space. With these insights from top universities with majors in landscape architecture, interior designers can confidently design outdoor spaces that are both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally responsible.


Harvard Graduate School of Design. (n.d.). Landscape Architecture. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/academic-programs/landscape-architecture/

University of California. (2020, June 18). Selecting and Planting Trees, Shrubs, and Flowers. Retrieved March 11,

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