Front yards create first impressions. But despite their polished curb appeal, most residential front yards are transitional spaces homeowners pass through as they come and go. There are signs that trend might be changing, says Harrell Remodeling’s certified landscape designer Lisa Parramore, APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers). Since we’ve been Sheltering in Place, some homeowners are discovering that their front yards can be a place of connection and community.
Front gardens are, by their very nature, more public. They offer a way to connect with our community as we enjoy people watching and engage in impromptu chats with neighbors.
In the current COVID-19 environment, Lisa explains that going into one another’s homes, even to access a backyard for a socially separated chat, is something some people may not feel comfortable doing. As a result, front yards have gained popularity as the prime location for physically distanced gatherings with friends and family.
“Front yards are full of opportunities to connect and create a sense of community,” Lisa enthuses. Here are a few ideas on how to design inviting conversation and physically distanced socializing spaces. Each of these can be used alone or mixed and matched if your yard has enough space.
By their very design, courtyards are more private. These areas create an intimate setting, especially if they are behind a tall enclosure. Shorter walls define the space while inviting others to join, and the wall itself can serve as additional seating. “Seating walls also offer an opportunity for illumination by incorporating outdoor lighting,” suggests Lisa. The flooring can be brick, concrete, wood, or pavers, while the material chosen for the wall can be stucco, brick, wood, or even privacy hedges. Matching the architectural aesthetic of your home should be taken into account when deciding upon materials.
Extend a Porch
Many homes in Silicon Valley and the mid-Peninsula have small front porches that are extensions of the foundation. Reimagining these often narrow and nonfunctional spaces can be achieved by removing foundational shrubbery and expanding the porch into the yard. The addition of purposeful trellises or arbors creates a more intimate space. Again, if code and lot size allow, designing an extended covered structure provides ample room for small, socially distanced gatherings.
The purpose of a gathering area is to foster social interaction. They can be large or small, and, if the size of the yard allows, there can be multiple areas of varying dimensions.
Identify locations in your yard, preferably those with shade during the prime times you plan to use them. For example, if you enjoy connecting over coffee in the morning, choose a place that receives shade early. For those who prefer sharing a cocktail and conversation in the afternoon or evening, a site that takes advantage of a well-placed tree will offer much-need shade.
Carve gathering areas out of a lawn, beneath a tree, or tucked in an unused corner. Gravel and decomposed granite enclosed by edging are quick, easy, and inexpensive ways to create such a space. The organic, natural appearance of ¾-inch gravel offers a backdrop for the seating to take center stage. Pavers, natural stone, or brick are more permanent materials to consider.
Maximize a Porch
There is something so welcoming about sitting on a front porch, sipping a drink while waving at passers-by. If you are one of the fortunate homeowners to have this architectural element, now is the time to embrace its inviting vibe. Add homey touches like colorful throw pillows, a porch swing, a rocking chair or two, and maybe a bistro table. For warm days or evenings, install a ceiling fan or have retro fans at the ready. Create a few sitting areas that allow family groups to enjoy connecting and conversing while also providing that all-important six to ten feet of distance.
Essential elements of a welcoming outdoor area include comfort, some level of intimacy, and a specific purpose.
To achieve comfort, consider a variety of seating options such as:
- Adirondack chairs
- Bistro tables
- Seating walls
- Porch swings
- Outdoor sofas or sectionals
- Rocking chairs
- Boulders with a flat top
Since front yards are so public, having gathering areas that offer some privacy is essential. Lisa shares her appreciation of Eichler homes and how they incorporate private yet inviting front yard space. “One of the things I love about Eichler homes is the courtyard atrium. These enclosed outdoor areas possess a welcoming yet serene atmosphere ideal for small gatherings.”
Achieve this inviting intimacy in your front gardens by using the following:
- Soft plantings about waist to chest height
- Arbors with climbing vines
- Panels — wood, glass, metal, Lumicor or other material
- Location, such as tucked away beneath a large shade tree
- Low fencing
- Walls, such as low seating or higher courtyard walls
Add a focal point
A focal point in a garden serves the same purpose as inside a home or in a work of art – it directs our eye on where to look first. In a garden setting, a focal point provides a sense of orientation, visual interest, inspiration, and drama. This can be through color, design, size, or a number of other aspects. Focal points to consider include:
- Water features
- Bird baths
- Statement pieces of furniture, possibly in a bold color
Whatever the size, most front yards possess connection potential. A few well-placed Adirondack chairs beneath a shade tree, a spacious courtyard, or a cozy patio can transform your yard into an enjoyable and attractive gathering place.
Need some inspiration on creating a front yard that invites connection? To explore the social potential of your front yard, we invite you to reach out to one of our talented designers for a complimentary consultation.
Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling Inc. has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.