When The Living is Easy – Outside

By Steven V. Philips –

On the vast Philips estate we retain a duo of lads, though not exactly dynamic, to keep our pool from trending towards swampy. Lads? It is to snicker. A retired pizza chef and faux red-neck are our pool boys. Their work ethic is, let’s say, evenly paced.

Weekly, or more accurately weakly, they skim possibly four small oak leaves off the top and seventy-two minuscule air-borne seeds off the bottom. Perfect for their personalities, but why so little work? Well, our pool dwells in a bug-free, raccoon-free screened-in area, which also enlarges our living space in warm weather. In the world of outdoor-living design, caged pools are trending down and will soon be out of fashion entirely. But, not at my house. The cage keeps the bugs, leaves and dirt on the other side of the screen. So, I’m not trendy.

Whether you have an enclosed simple room-like pool area (if you’re lucky) but usually not, I’m seeing many new “outdoor” garden spaces getting less complex. That means casual, peaceful and low-care. Think, a living space seating area surrounded by plants, which need no dusting, with an up/down stairs not inside, but out. (Julian King/designer). Great textured floor surfaces that absorb spills. A cozy fireplace corner but no ceiling! (Rochelle Grayer/designer)

No pool? OK, possibly a focal water-source, but in a most nontraditional container? (Mosaic Gardens/Eugene, Or.) Next, lights, lights, lighting. Overhead for a festive look (RH) and up-lights behind plantings for drama. Light from an indirect source so your space is viewable at night, but with “un-viewable” bulbs. Use trained lightening bugs if necessary, but get light out there for a visual, if not physical, use of your own paradise.

Also kids, in your “living” space, use slow growing evergreens (for no dropping leaves), succulents that require little water and elevated beds for vegetables and decorative plants. (MinifarmBox cedar planter) And put your flowering annuals in pots. Again, low-maintenance. No bending over to weed and easily switched out if mites bite. These hot-spot-pots add highlights of colors!

I also see that curved pools are now passé, as square or rectangular shapes seem to be doing a 1970s encore! But no diving boards or call my lawyer. Faux waterfalls, with the faux rocks and real plants dropping leaves and dirt into the pool? Not so much either. But a pool with pool entry, where you wade in? Hope that idea is staying.

Finally, outdoor kitchens are becoming simpler and smaller. You really want your guests see you pick their burger off the deck? Or worse, such as after the dawg licks it? More surfaces to clean?

For me, outdoor kitchens are a reminder of Mrs. Giadorno. In my Italian neighborhood, houses had two kitchens. Upstairs for “show time” and downstairs for “do time.” When you were invited for pasta, eau de sauce was in the air, but the show kitchen was spotless. YOU think Mrs G. (Queen of home-made pasta draped all over) wanted YOU to see her work place? Mama-mia! So unless you really know what you’re doing, a simple cooking surface and a water source outside are enough.


  • Cover that seating area with a canvas fly tent for shade.
  • No grass. Nowhere. In no way.
  • Raise your plantings up to define spaces.
  • Always use a water feature somehow, and splashing water is even better.
  • With or without a pool but keep your space near the house but framed by vegetation.
  • Invite me over for tea.



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