Meticulously designing the interior of a home is important, but so is thoughtfully planning its outdoor spaces. Texans—and Park Cities residents—spend a lot of time outside in the summer, and well-executed outdoor living spaces can elevate the entire home. For landscape architecture design + build firm AquaTerra Outdoors, beautiful outdoor spaces are not an afterthought. They are the main event.
“We create personalized environments for families passionate about outdoor living,” says CEO and Principal Designer Tal Thevenot, who was drawn to the outdoors at a young age while growing up on a Midwest farm. “Our niche is simply creating beautiful outdoor experiences, and our purpose is changing lives, growing people, and building relationships.”
AquaTerra designs plenty of outdoor projects alongside a home architect while it’s being built, but the firm also expands many existing outdoor living areas to be more functional and inviting, especially during the summer months. For Dallas homeowners wanting to spend time outside in the heat, water features and shade are essential. “Most of our projects actually start around a pool environment and then grow from there,” Thevenot says. “We’re starting to build a lot of pool houses. We try to always make sure we have plenty of shade, fans, or misting systems to help cool down an outdoor patio space.”
But outdoor living spaces are much more than a pool and a few chairs. There are many things to consider when conceiving the design for such a space—from selecting the best plant species and type of grass for dynamic Texas soils to understanding hydraulics to installing a built-in trash can and sealed storage to using energy-efficient landscape lighting—and that’s why working with a professional design firm to expand outside living areas is invaluable.
“We are constantly exposing our clients to new types of finishes,” Thevenot says. “One of the things we’re most known for is our creative designs and creative use of materials. We really try to stay on the cutting edge of new materials coming out, not only for aesthetics but for function and durability. How is it going to last in the elements?”
When it comes to the look and feel of an outdoor space, it’s important to carry over design elements from the home so the final product is cohesive. According to Thevenot, minimizing some of the separation between the two, with big expanses of glass, can help: “As a landscape architect, we pick up on that, and through design details, sight lines, circulation, and flow, we can continue the inside outdoors.”
One issue that Thevenot and his team frequently see when expanding outdoor living spaces is that the furniture was not accounted for during planning. A space will feature a fire pit, but the surrounding space is not large enough for the furniture a client wants. A wraparound sofa requires different dimensions than a lounge chair.
“On the opposite end of that spectrum, you may have a large backyard, and some of the patio spaces are too large for the furniture you put in there and it feels cold and like something’s missing,” Thevenot says. “I like to explain to clients that when you’re designing an outdoor environment, you really need to look at it like you would a home. We need to define space and have a purpose for that space. It’s like having hallways between rooms so you don’t have one expansive room.”
AquaTerra’s most important objective, Thevenot says, is to create an experience for clients through designing or expanding an outdoor space. They keep in mind whether parents will be having friends over or if they’ll entertain frequently or if the kids will want a space to be active or simply relax. “We can really create an experience for them to enjoy with their friends and family,” he says.
For those looking to spend their summer months in the great outdoors, the future is bright.
5 Tips for Outdoor Living
1. When designing an outdoor space, look for opportunities to minimize boundaries between the interior and exterior. Try to pull the outdoors in and indoors out.
2. Expand your outdoor living spaces to be functional.
3. Extract influence from the site, home architecture, and interior architecture. Carry over some of the elements of the house so it feels cohesive.
4. Space plan for the furniture you would like to incorporate into your outdoors. Too many times, I see people thinking about furnishings after a project is designed and built. It should be considered early in the design process so the patio and gathering spaces are designed to an appropriate scale.
5. Maintain your outdoors similarly to your indoors. Everything is exposed to the elements and needs to regularly be cleaned. Some maintenance services offer this, as well as some house cleaning services. Wiping down furniture weekly and keeping it clean makes it more inviting.
“We really try to stay on the cutting edge of new materials coming out, not only for aesthetics but for function and durability. How is it going to last in the elements?”