Soften the Transition
The relationship between indoor and outdoor space is improved if the transition is gradual rather than abrupt. This can be achieved by designing the building with an irregular form, so instead of being rectangular and monolithic, there are various wings, outcrops, roof overhangs, outbuildings and walls projecting out. Each help to break up the building’s perimeter, whilst also forming a series of outdoor courtyards, walkways or niches, some of which can be linked and covered to form intermediate spaces — spaces that are neither inside or out. This will again soften the transition.
Ideas for ‘transitional spaces’ include projecting the roof out to create a cantilevered overhang, or introducing an overhanging roof supported by columns forming a cloistered walkway, or a covered passageway — known as a breezeway. More traditional options include an extended porch area, or a veranda or loggia. The materials and design details used for such spaces need to correspond to the architectural language and themes used elsewhere. Roofs may be pitched or flat, or made from slatted louvers or a timber pergola with planting to improve cover and form yet another shared element.
Using the same materials and details inside and out, and especially projecting ‘through’ the glazing and into the landscaped area, will add to the ambiguity of the boundaries and confines of the space, drawing the eye outside, diverting attention from the glazing, so it almost vanishes.
Flooring is the most important material to continue from inside to out. Options include limestone, sandstone, granite and slate, porcelain tiles, timber and concrete. Care needs to be taken to choose non-slip materials, so stone and tiles should be specified accordingly and it may be that a subtly different finish – flamed, honed, acid-etched or sand-blasted – is specified for external use. Timber floorboards used internally can be echoed outside using timber decking of the same width and laid in the same direction.
Another confining element that can extend outside to great effect is the ceilings, which can form the underside of a roof overhang (soffit).
Internal walls can also extend out beyond the glazing to form boundary walls, outdoor rooms, or screens to frame a view and create privacy, or blinker less-appealing aspects. The key is to maintain exactly the same plane and identical materials. It is necessary, therefore, to choose walling materials that work equally well inside and out, such as natural stone, brick, tiles, render, polished plaster or even pebbledash.
The same floor level should be used inside and out with a level threshold through doorways — a raised threshold presents a barrier. The running track for sliding or bi-fold doors can be recessed into the floor. Conventional doors and French doors can be fitted with level thresholds and a retractable magnetic door strip rebated into the bottom rail of the door to form a weather seal.
A level threshold requires careful detailing of ground drainage around the perimeter of the building to prevent water ingress and to make sure rainfall is drained quickly. The floor around the building should be sloped away and drained.
A linear subfloor drainage channel needs to be incorporated with a slatted strip to cover it in a suitable material, such as stainless steel. An alternative to having a visible drainage channel is to conceal the channel beneath decking or paving slabs with the joints left open and ungrouted to form a drainage slot.
Plant Inside and Out
Taking materials, textures and colours from the landscaping into the building is another way to successfully blur boundaries. Plants and trees can be used in both environments and the rhythm in which they are planted or displayed can continue unbroken, possibly in the same pots or planters.
Use planting in beds against the building and climbing plants on the building to help link it with the landscape.
Large windows and glazed doors are key to creating the relationship between inside and out, minimising visual obstruction at the building’s perimeter. The less frame and structural support visible the better, so slimline metal-framed windows and doors are a good option, or alternatively frameless windows and doors. Popular door options include huge frameless sliding doors, and folding sliding doors, which stack to the side, allowing an almost clear opening.
Another option is the pivot door, a single large door that swings on a pivot hinge positioned to one side of the opening.
As well as floor-to-ceiling windows, long horizontal low- or high-level windows can be very effective, as can introducing light from above via rooflights.
With so much glazing, overheating can be a problem. With south-facing units it is relatively easy to fit a brise soleil, a series of horizontal slatted louvres that shield the sun’s rays when it is at its highest and hottest.
Draw the Eye Outside
Features that draw the eye beyond the glass to the outside will help add to the illusion of boundless space. A pond and fountain or waterfall can work well, and could be mirrored both inside and out. Lighting can be used to enhance this effect at night. A successful scheme will both highlight outdoor features and provide ambient lighting to extend use of the outdoor space into the evening when it is sufficiently warm — whilst also looking spectacular when the space is not in use on colder, darker evenings.