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As homes have needed to be more utilitarian - being used more as offices, classrooms, gyms, etc. - the need to expand the living space has increased.  Outdoor spaces at home have emerged as an essential design element that expands the livable space into yards.  

What is a Social Front Yard?

Homes in the United States generally use backyards for private gathering spaces, while keeping front yards strictly decorative.  A social front yard is designed not just for aesthetics, but also but also as an oasis for socializing.  As a natural area for neighbors to interact, front yards lend themselves as a more social space, and makes neighborhoods more friendly and walkable. And the improvements will make a home more useful, beautiful, and valuable. 

Using outdoor space also helps save money and energy.  The energy used for cooling and lighting are less, and if grills or other cooking appliances are incorporated into the design there are savings there, as well. 

Key Elements for a Social Friendly Front Yard

Outdoor Rooms

Social front yards are meant to be functional living areas. If the designed area is not used, it’s not a success. The best designs make social and functional spaces feel like integral parts of the entire front yard, rather than disconnected fragments. This can be accomplished by arranging potted plants and planters to frame out separate areas to give the effect of a room or designated function space while keeping the yard connected.  Be mindful to keep the edges of the yard free of obstacles that would otherwise impede sightlines. 

Various and Changeable Seating Areas

In design, it is common to create smaller living spaces in a larger space by making seating areas like fire pits, eating areas such a picnic tables or bistro sets, specialized seating like rocking chairs or porch swings, and general lounge areas. Consider moveable seating that can easily be moved around for multiple functions.  Reserve an adults seating area with easy sightlines to children’s play areas. 

Fencing to Keep Kids and Pets Safe

While it’s nice for kids and pets to be able to play in the front yard, it also poses the risk of the street, so fencing may be needed to keep kids safe. Consider semi-transparent waist-high fences with moderate gaps to keep children and pets safe. 

Sightlines From Street to Yard

. Paths should appear welcoming so planting should allow views from the street to create an inviting feel. Possibly the most important thing to consider here is ensuring the home doesn’t feel closed-off or imposing. Remove barriers between the outdoor living space and the street like tall hedges.

However, social front yards don’t need to be completely exposed.  Instead, they are actually best when some semi-private aspects built into the design.  When it comes to creating a bit of privacy, consider planting natural barriers rather than structural ones.  Every region and climate will have varying planting needs and restrictions, but there are some general planting rules of thumb.

  • Use short plantings near the edges for long, unimpeded sight lines, to create the illusion of a larger yard.
  • Make use of smaller canopy trees or tall ornamental shrubs like redbuds, dogwoods, or desert willow to punctuate the edges of social spaces.
  • Use smaller, light, airy plants.  Tall grasses, with their height and airy texture, are excellent for partially obscuring views to create semi-private zones that still feel welcoming to passers-by.
  • Try to use low-water native or climate-adapted species, especially in areas experiencing drought conditions. Such plants are an excellent choice, both for the superior habitat value they offer to local ecosystems, and for minimal maintenance requirements.  Xeriscaping is an exceptional idea.