The star attraction at any backyard gathering is the pool and spa, but outdoor rooms of every kind—kitchens with a pizza over, dining areas, rooms with a fire pit for late-night gatherings, and quiet garden structures—are winning accolades from pool owners and appreciative party guests alike.

“It’s not just about the pool anymore, but rather about the entire backyard,”
said John C. Migliaccio, CPO, CBP, president of the Northeast Spa & Pool Association (NESPA). “When you add an outdoor room to the pool setting — especially an outdoor kitchen with bar – you create a focal point — a natural gathering place for food, fun and refreshment. The outdoor kitchen is the place to entertain friends, and it is also the perfect setting for a quiet evening with the family or a romantic alfresco dinner for two.”

The outdoor room can enhance the value of a home, it is the perfect gathering place and it is just plain fun, noted Scott Cohen, a garden designer and author of Patio Covers, Pergolas, and Pavilions; The Outdoor Kitchen Design Workbook; and other books. “In some areas of the country, the outdoor kitchen has become an expected amenity for a comfortable home. In still others, an outdoor kitchen is a standout feature, offering a valuable edge in any housing market.

Cohen explained that the creative possibilities of the outdoor room are literally endless. If you are planning an outdoor kitchen, for example, he suggested making room not only for cooking and dining, but also for fun. “The grill itself is often the central attraction,” he said.  “Make sure there’s plenty of space nearby for several people to sit and watch the action. ‘Nearby’ doesn’t mean ‘next to.’ Your guests shouldn’t feel like they’re risking singed eyebrows when they're supervising the cook.

In addition to spaces at a bar or counter, many outdoor  kitchens include areas for dining and relaxing. Don’t think you need a space big enough to accommodate all your guests in one large expanse, explained Cohen, “Instead, take a ‘zone’ approach. Think about human party behavior and observe it at the next get-together you attend. Instead of gathering in one big ‘herd,’ people at a larger party will naturally group together in small conversational clusters. Design your dining and mingling areas around this tendency by providing several outdoor rooms to accommodate small groups. A series of interconnected spaces is a better fit for many yards and also creates a more inviting atmosphere.”

Cohen recommended providing destinations in the garden as well, which is called “wayfinding,” by connecting these gathering spots with welcoming pathways. Use focal points such as seat walls, fountains, ponds, arbors, pergolas, gazebos and fragrant plantings to create interest at different locations and draw guests out into the yard space.