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Outdoor spaces at home have come into their own, having grown from a wish list item to an essential design element that has expanded the livable space of homes and transformed once-underutilized yards into oases for relaxing, gathering, and simply living – especially in the summer.

What is a Social Front Yard?

As the name indicates, a social front yard is a front yard designed not just for aesthetics, but also but also for socializing.  Front yards are a natural area for neighbors to interact. By making front yards a more social space, neighborhoods are more friendly and walkable.

Homes in the United States generally use backyards for private gathering spaces, while keeping front yards strictly decorative.  But this has put a lot of pressure on backyards, so the emerging trend has had some of the social functions of outdoor living spaces expanding into the front yard, as well.

As homes are used more as offices, classrooms, gyms, and living spaces, they can feel quite cramped very quickly. Expanding the amount of living space to outdoor areas can be make a positive impact on mental health 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 typically stress function such as play, rest, and entertaining. 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 keeping the edges of the yard with limited obstacles that would impede sightlines. It is also possible to create outdoor "rooms" by clustering potted plants and larger planters to frame out separate seating areas to give the effect of a room or designated function space while keeping the yard connected.

Various and Variable Seating Areas

As with a backyard (or interior project, for that matter), oftentimes the intention is to create vignettes and living spaces within a larger space. This can take the form of seating areas like fire pits, bistro tables for casual eating, porch swings, and general lounge areas. Also, consider prefabricated seating rather than built-in custom seating, as they can easily be moved around for multiple functions and are much less expensive. Locating adult seating areas adjacent to children’s play areas, with easy sightlines for adults, and from the kid’s perspective, creates a seamless, integrated relationship between family and their children at play.

Fencing to Keep Kids and Pets Safe

While it’s nice for kids 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 options like waist-high fences with moderate gaps.

Sightlines From Street to Yard

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

Yet, 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 plantings near the edges to encourage long, unimpeded sight lines, which 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 light, airy plants and avoid massive shrubs in smaller yards as they tend to use up limited space.  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.