Outdoor Space: Never an Afterthought

The outdoor living spaces of this NeMo — or New Modern — house in Winter Park, Fla., are hardly afterthoughts. Nor was the house planned merely to accommodate the outdoor living spaces. Rather, the interior and exterior living spaces were conceived as an integral whole.

The outside space was designed into the architecture, explains Phil Kean of Phil Kean Designs in Winter Park, Fla. “I think that outside and inside are extensions of my design; they’re planned from the beginning on how to bring them together in the best way possible.”

For Kean, designing outdoor living space is not about a tacked-on deck or porch. “It’s a whole process in which we design walls of glass that disappear into the walls of the house. Often the floors are the same on the outside and the inside, and we’ll use the same colors on the exterior walls that are brought into the inside walls. Ceilings will be lined up on the inside and the outside,” he says.

The architecture is inspired by the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s mid-century modern period, Kean says. “It’s as though you interpreted what architects of that period would do with today’s technologies. What might Frank Lloyd Wright have done with Fallingwater if he were doing it today? How would it be different? I tried to interpret the sensibility and the thinking of that period with today, so that is why we call it New Modern instead of modern,” he explains.

The outdoor living space — other than the pool and its surrounding landscaping — is largely contained within the footprint of the main structure, making for a smooth transition between the two living areas.

Further, the outdoor living spaces are defined by the lot and its views and topography. “The site dictates the architecture, and the architecture and the outside space really should be congruous,” Kean says.

A pass-through above the kitchen sink allows the homeowner to feel like he or she is outside, making the kitchen a sort of summer kitchen — even though there are cooking facilities for barbecuing on the porch as well. “It allows you to be in your kitchen and be outside as well,” Kean says. A counter area on the outside of the pass-through allows guests to pull up stools and visit with the person in the kitchen.

“It’s really a nice space — one of people’s favorite features,” he says.

Another feature is several 90-degree turns in the sliding glass door panels that separate the inside from the outside. “I think when you put glass on a corner, it pulls you outside better than just having a wall or putting a structure in the corner,” Kean says. “It was something that Frank Lloyd Wright used a lot. He would do butt glass corners. Although you couldn’t get out the corner, you could look through it.”

In Kean’s design, the corner sliders actually allow occupants to walk out the corners, so one really feels part of the outside when the sliders are open. The master bath and spa room have corner glass as well.

The home’s outdoor living space isn’t confined to the ground level; A deck exists off the second-floor game/media room. Kean describes the second floor as a secondary entertaining space. Guest bedrooms are also located on this floor. The deck is ipe, which is carried through onto the game room floor, making a smooth transition between indoors and outdoors — a technique Kean uses throughout the house.

Likewise, travertine marble is used on the lower level, both indoors and out. “I tried to pick materials that would hold up outside and look good inside,” Kean says.

Access to the outside is a key design element throughout the house. The house has an office with a small private porch off the side, and the family room, kitchen, master bedroom and game room have outdoor access.

Asked if there should be a minimum number of interior spaces accessible to the outside, Kean says, “I think it really depends on the design and the purpose. Is there too much access? I guess if you need a lot of privacy, then there could be too much, and if you have a lot of public spaces, maybe that’s not appropriate. It just depends on what you’re trying to achieve. It depends on the taste of the owner.

“Some people want to have a little private space outside just for the master suite. For other people that’s not an issue; they want to feel connected to everything,” he continues. “Yet as a designer and builder we try to create some sense of privacy even if there is fairly public access. Maybe the bedrooms are tucked to the side, yet they can access an outside space.”

Kean admits that he’d likely rethink the house if he were building it in Connecticut or another more severe climate. It’s really based on climate, he says, and reminds us that Florida provides eight or nine months of nice weather.
The backyard of the home is private, thanks in large part to generous use of trees and shrubs. At night, the effect is enhanced by an elaborate lighting design. “I put lights in soffits that will trickle down walls, knowing that we’re going to have some great plants there that will be lit at night. I have other plants that I light from underneath; I put lights in trees,” Kean says.

“I think that lighting is a whole other dimension of design. Houses have different personalities in the daytime than in the evening,” Kean explains. He observes lighting is particularly important because, other than on weekends, evenings are the most common time for homeowners to enjoy their outdoor living spaces.

Phil Kean Designs
Winter Park, Fla.

Decking: Ipe wood and travertine tile
Lighting: Kichler
Fireplaces: EcoSmart
Grill: Dacor
Wine storage: Dacor
Screens: Phantom