Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Designing the outdoor living space at the cottage

Designing your waterfront cottage: Outdoor living space

So you’ve built a new cottage in beautiful cottage country or bought and renovated an older place and now you’re wondering what to do with the outside space.

Your first thoughts are probably “what do I care about the outside, I just spend months and months paying for the inside spaces of the cottage.” What you need to realize is that the reason that you bought the property in the first place is to enjoy the outdoors, why else would travel all the way to cottage country if not to enjoy the outdoors.

To properly enjoy the outdoors you want to give people an excuse to go outside. When you live in the big city you get use to doing everything in doors whether it is in the winter or the summer. Houses that are on top of each other do not lend themselves to a lot of privacy, when you are short on privacy you tend to do more things indoors. In cottage country because of the overall size of the lots, the trees and rocks that are between the properties you end up with a lot of privacy created naturally.

With the privacy will also come the willingness to be outside as often as possible.

In cottage country people get used to doing everything outside, from relaxing to eating to sleeping. Cottage country is the perfect place to enjoy nature and to do that you need to be ready to do everything outside and have the facilities to accommodate it.

When deciding on what you want to build outside you must take into consideration that the seasons change in cottage country from spring to summer to fall. To get the most out of that outdoor space you will need to make sure that any planning helps and not hinders it. That requires you to think about all the things that you need to make using the outdoors more comfortable to enjoy;

Bug Control

One of the biggest annoyances about being outside in cottage country in a large part of the spring/summer is the bugs. Black flies and mosquitoes can make it most un-enjoyable to be outside at anytime of the day.

Later on in the summer the biting bugs are more prevalent at night when you want to sit and listen to the quiet sounds of cottage country. There are ways to minimize the biting bugs such as gazebos with bug netting or outdoor pavilions with bug netting. You must make sure that when installing bug netting that it is placed underneath any floor if it is built as a deck surface because the bugs can come through between the gaps in the deck boards.

You can use bug zappers or mosquito repellent machines that help clear the area of the unwanted, with some of these systems you will need electricity to plug them in so you will have to take that into consideration when laying out the space with your electrician.

 If you plan any kind of outdoor water features you will have to make sure that it has the ability to keep the water moving or mosquitoes will breed in the stagnant water. Electricity will need to be allocated for that area as well.


Since cottage country has so many activities to do during the day, nights are usually spent relaxing or recovering from the day’s events. There is nothing more relaxing then reading a good book or entertaining friends and family outside in the quiet of the cottage night air. To do this you will require lighting because cottage country is extremely dark at night. When planning your outdoor space you should be doing a proper lighting layout with your contractor. There are many ways to do lighting outside;

You can have solar lights that can be installed in the decking, patio or in the ground around paths; they will come on as the sun goes down and go out when the sun comes back up.They do not require you to run electricity to them.

Lighting fixtures placed in buildings, gazebos or around barbecues help you control the amount of light that you require. They also work as an added safety feature so that people know where they’re walking and where the elevation changes are located.

Step lights are very popular these days, allowing light to wash over decks and steps without the problem of people or animals knocking them over during the day. Snow does not hurt them and they do not have to be removed at the end of the season. They help with the safety at night showing the elevation changes to people that might need a little more light in their later years.


Cottage country is a wonderful place outside at night, but in the early spring and into the fall the nights become increasingly colder. To help extend your stay outdoors think about adding heating to the space. There are several different types of heat you can use to achieve this depending on what and where they are to be placed;

Stand alone heating towers run on either electricity or propane, they can be placed around the deck or patio area to warm up the immediate area.

In outdoor buildings that have the ability to be closed up for the winter you can have an electric or gas fireplace installed to warm them up when you are relaxing outside.

If you have the ability masonry built fireplaces can be used outside to warm up a large area and if they are built into an outdoor kitchen then they can also be your main source of cooking.

In buildings that have the ability to be enclosed you can add any number of different heaters from baseboard to forced air heaters. This kind of building can be warmed up even in the winter to be used if you want too.


Outdoor kitchens have become extremely popular, why would you want to be the only one stuck inside on a beautiful cottage summer night when everyone else is outside. Outdoor kitchens allow you to be with your friends and family the whole time. As long as the kitchen is properly planned out and made out of the appropriate materials you should have little problem cooking and eating outside.

An exterior kitchen becomes a gathering point for people and can be used after dinner for serving drinks. With the right heat source the cooking area can also be used to keep everyone warm and create a natural gathering point.

Remember that when planning your outdoor kitchen it does not have to be fancy like the ones inside, function and sustainability is more important than the fashion of it.


When planning that outdoor space don’t get too wrapped up in what each exact spot outside will become, plan some of the space to be used as a multi-functional space. These spaces will take on a life of their own as people use them. Since cottage weather changes so much so will the use of these spaces, it’s better to plan them to be adaptable then to fix them into a finite role.


You will want some where to have a fire outside. Depending on what you want to do with the fire will determine where and how much space to leave for it.

If the fire is for cooking then containing the fire in some sort of masonry built unit is the best way and the safest way. This will allow you to have a fire closer to other outdoor entertaining without endangering other structures or the actual cottage.

If the fire is too be used to sit around like a bonfire then you will want to give the fire more room around it. You will also want to keep the fire away from any buildings, that includes the cottage; it’s not only for the fire safety but also for the smoke that a bonfire creates. There is nothing worse than having the bonfire fill your cottage full of wood smoke because the wind shifted. Here are a few more tips on locating your bonfire;

Give yourself enough room around the bonfire so that people can sit on all sides of it. You will want to use seating that will allow people to move around as the wind changes direction to get out of the smoke.

Enclose the fire. A ring of rocks, bricks, concrete blocks or poured concrete is the best way to accomplish this; you want an and all organic material removed from inside the bonfire burning area and the seating area directly around it.

Dig a pit. You need to dig a pit to place the fire in, this is the safest way to control a fire, and it allows the fire to burn and also allows the ashes to cool while out of the wind.

You should have a water source nearby. Either the lake with a pail or a tap to fill up buckets or attach a garden hose too. Bonfires can get out of control very quickly especially in windy conditions.

Never place the bonfire under the trees. Sparks from burning wood have a tendency to rise up into the air. Make sure that the bonfire is placed where sparks have the ability to rise and cool safely.

Anything of wood like decking or seating should be kept well away from a bonfire location, people often forget about dosing the flames late at night when they go to bed and you don’t want the potential of burning your cottage down.

Flat space

You should work into your outdoor living space a flat area where you can play any number of games. You want to give kids and adults every excuse to stay outside. Playing games like horseshoes, volleyball, croquette, soccer, football and badminton require a flat surface. The surface doesn’t have to be grass; it can be sand or even packed earth as long as it’s fairly smooth and level. This can also be a place where you can set up a portable gazebo, lawn furniture or tents when the kids want to sleep outside.

Whatever you decide to do outside around your cottage make sure that you take the time to plan it out and have drawings created so that you know what it’s going to look like beforehand. Hiring professionals to do the work is a great way for you to be able to enjoy the outdoors quicker. They can help design the space so that it is built in a way that keeps the maintenance of the area down, allowing you to concentrate on relaxing and not worrying about working outside every weekend.

Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village Builders Inc.

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