The Indoor-Outdoor Relationship

New American Home 2013 Outdoor Bedroom

The indoor-outdoor relationship is on full display at The New American Home 2013 in Henderson, Nevada.

From the time he first laid line to paper when designing this home, architect Michael Gardner of Blue Heron says he was thinking holistically, blurring the lines between indoors and out.

New American Home 2013 Outdoor Loft Bar

Outdoor Loft Bar

This is a common philosophy for Blue Heron, who built the 2013 New American Home, and whose specialty is desert contemporary. Blue Heron co-founder Tyler Jones says, “We focus on indoor and outdoor relationships, designing the in and the out at the same time.” Their approach is to treat the exterior of the home like the interior from the very start of planning, which means it’s an integrated team of architect, landscape architect and interior designer working closely together to bring the joint vision to fruition.

The blurring of lines that Gardner speaks of begins at the home’s main front exterior entrance between the two garages. In this area, you’re moving from public space to exterior private space; although it almost feels as though you’re inside, you’re not completely sure. Gardner explains that when you’re in the true front entrance, the northern part of the space is public, and the southern side is private, which allows you to leave that entry area completely open, while maintaining privacy and security. There are two sets of doors on each side that allow you to easily go back into conditioned space, which Gardner says makes the home “very livable.”

When Boundaries Disappear

New American Home 2013 Sunken Patio

Outdoor Living Space

Almost all of the rooms in the home have some direct access to outside, and architectural features are used to seamlessly blend outside and inside, such as pocket doors and sliding doors, which are all automated for easy use. “The purpose of these features,” says Gardner, “is to allow a line of sight and visual connection from inside to outside.” The kitchen/ great room area’s use of corner pocket doors allows for indoor/outdoor living possibly at its finest: when the doors are open you can experience this “wow” factor by literally sitting in the living room while dangling your feet in the pool.

The master bath is another area that highlights the seamless blending of indoor/outdoor. Cabinetry was suspended between two walls, so as you approach the sinks from the entrance of the master bath, you’re looking into a private master courtyard with an exterior shower. “Standing at the sink,” explains Jones, “you can look straight through to the courtyard because the mirrors are seamlessly integrated into the walls.” When needed, the mirrors swing out, and then can be tucked back in place so as not to disrupt the clean visual to outside.

Organic Materials Fit Right In

In plain view from the master bedroom is the outdoor bedroom, which includes an outdoor daybed with nightstands on both sides. Also in this area is a rejuvenation room, which opens to the outdoors on three sides like a spa.

New American Home 2013 Master Bedroom

Master Bedroom

New American Home 2013 Master Suite Hallway

Master Suite Hallway

Interior Designer on the home, Lyndsay Janssen of Blue Heron, says that the use of a lot of organic materials, such as stone and wood, helped to create the seamless indoor/outdoor experience. Gabions—manmade wire supports filled with rock—were used in both interior and exterior applications, including the master suite along interior and exterior walls. Stone was produced by Environmental Stoneworks in panels that replicate a dry river bed, its horizontal lines fitting well with the architecture. “The stone is unique and totally novel,” says Jones, “so it fits right in.”

Wood also played a large role in multiple areas of the home, primarily through the use of Resysta, which is a sustainable product made from recycled rice husks and polymers, but it looks like wood planking. This product was used inside and outside, and was a large part of the design, according to Jones and Gardner. They especially liked Resysta for its versatility because it could be sanded, stained and applied in ways to give them the clean look they wanted, and also because of its sustainable properties and wearability in exterior applications.

While the use of so much wood and stone could be harsh, designer Janssen explains the plan of warming it up through the color palette, which is also borrowed from nature. The majority of the color palette in the upper levels is warmer brown tones, with pops of color here and there “to add an element of surprise.” Downstairs, a gray/white/blonde palette is used, along with a silver limestone pattern. Janssen says of the entire house, “None of the spaces make you feel like you can’t touch anything. It’s warm, and it invites you to sit down and relax.”

She also notes that greenery is used in a big way, both inside and out. “Because you can see straight through the home, and from inside to outside in so many places, even the backdrop of the home ties into the interior spaces.” She says that the team likes it when someone in the home has to stop and think, “Am I inside or outside?”

A Peaceful, Easy Feeling

New American Home 2013 Dining Room

Dining Room

Far from leaving a visitor disoriented, this seamless blending of indoor/outdoor leaves one feeling peaceful, says architect Gardner. He explains this is accomplished by creating different focal points. “When you’re in any space within this home, and you turn 360 degrees, you see into different interior spaces, as well as outside, but we’ve designed it so that you always have one focal point up close, and then something farther away.” One example of this is in the dining room, where the intimate visual focal point is the wall mural, while pocket doors allow you to look across the courtyard and down into the Zen garden.

Gardner describes having this series of vignettes as a way for the architecture, the landscape—everything—to work together. Jones adds that there are “a lot of architectural design elements that bridge space and connect one area to the next,” describing the relationship of some of the elevations and the water elements from this standpoint. “The interior and exterior spaces of the basement are particularly dynamic. Three spaces relate to a very large exterior space. The subterranean courtyard relates strongly to the first and second floor as well.” Much of what ties this all together is the water features that actually “spill” from one level to the next. Fire features are used throughout—inside and out—as another key crossover element.

Gardner believes that the indoors and outdoors truly do work hand in hand, and this has to be taken into account throughout the whole process. “We notice the hierarchy of the plants and the landscape to the architecture. You can see this in the organization of the elements. It’s a series of views. It’s not chaotic. It’s soothing and calming.” By paying such close attention to the indoor/ outdoor relationships, and by approaching it as a total, integrated space, Gardner says it expands people’s vision of what indoor/outdoor can be, and it enhances the home’s livability. “What you end up with is a home that feels and lives like it’s a luscious estate.”

The Climate Is Right

Admittedly, Jones and Gardner say that indoor/outdoor relationships are easier to do in Las Vegas than in some other areas. But indoor/outdoor living is a trend that is being seen not only on the coasts or in warmer climates, and there has been more consumer awareness and demand for these features in recent years.

New American Home 2013 Casita


The part of this home in regard to indoor/outdoor that builders in other parts of the country can take away, says Jones, “is the integration of the design, the blending of interior and exterior materials.” Architect Gardner agrees that there are elements employed here that are translatable to other climates, and he says the trick is to approach it through “regionally responsive design.” In this home, he says they used tactics to get light in without exposing it to too much heat, such as placing linear slit windows on the south facing side. “Everywhere in the country you have to deal with south facing or west facing glass,” says Gardner. He recommends examining solar orientation, overhangs, and using doors versus smaller broken up windows to invite the outdoor space in. “Think of it holistically as part of the design process. You can do this anywhere, and it doesn’t cost more.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 13, Issue 1 (January 2013) of Portfolio Magazine.
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