Ask any interior designer or architect about the trends most in demand with home buyers these days and you'll likely hear about indoor/outdoor connections. "Today's freshest layouts incorporate outdoor living into the design of the home, rather than just tacking on a front porch and back patio," says Aurora Zeledon, content manager of the house plans group at Hanley Wood, BUILDER's parent company.
Las Vegas–based design/build firm Blue Heron is known for taking this focus on al fresco spaces to the extreme. In most of its homes, visitors can't tell where the interiors stop and the outdoors begin thanks to plentiful glazing, sliding doors that disappear into walls, and inviting decks, patios, and courtyards.
In what may seem a contradiction, Blue Heron's practically open-air homes also meet the highest levels of energy efficiency. The key, says Blue Heron founder/owner Tyler Jones, is in smart passive solar design. "It's all about strategies using the architecture and orientation of the house to control the sun and keep it off the glass," he says.
The company does this by specing overhangs of up to 5 feet, aluminum louvers, and vertical sun blocking on the south and west sides of its houses that inhibit direct heat gain but facilitate sunlight and views. Design software helps with this task to ensure the interventions look as good as they function, and designers carefully consider window and door placement and opportunities for cross ventilation and humidification from water features. The multipronged approach is effective: Clients often are able to turn off their A/C for several months of the year.
Blue Heron's commitment to indoor/outdoor living is embodied in the 2013 New American Home, located in a gated community near Las Vegas. The LEED Platinum, multilevel show home is a model for energy efficiency as well as envelope-pushing design, and almost every room has an outdoor connection. Project planners integrated and alternated outdoor spaces with protected, shady interiors to provide relief from wind and heat. The project also includes a pool and water features interwoven among covered and uncovered porches, patios, terraces, and a striking sunken living room.
"People in any market like to have these connections to the outdoors," Jones says. "We're lucky because we can take it more to the extreme because we have such a great climate."