“Courtyard.” Just saying the word brings to life a vivid image of warmth, a peaceful frame of mind, closeness to one’s surrounding interior spaces, and a connection to nature and the outdoors. While what you envision when you think of a courtyard may vary, most people associate a courtyard with strong positive sentiments about a place that is bright, temperate and intimate.
Courtyard houses have been designed and built for millennia, first making an appearance around 6400 BC in the central Jordan Valley. This courtyard home design style has been utilized across the centuries and across the globe, including in ancient Rome (where houses were built around an atrium), early dynastic China, in the British Isles during the Iron Age, and also by the Inca in the pre-Columbian period.
Architectural styles may have changed across the centuries, and some of the motivations for including a courtyard in your home today are new, but many of the reasons for the popularity of courtyard homes remain as true today as they were centuries ago.
In a world of planned obsolescence, it’s hard to imagine something sticking around for hundreds, even thousands of years. But courtyard homes have managed to do just that! So, what features make courtyards so appealing that they have managed to stand the test of time?
One of the primary appeals of a courtyard house plan is the ability to connect to nature. No matter the season or your city’s climate, a courtyard allows you to enjoy a view and easy access to the outdoors which provides fresh air, and a grounding backdrop that enriches everyday living and your experience of interior spaces.
Not only do courtyard house plans provide a great connection to the outdoors generally, but they can also serve as a means to create a visual focal point. Where a property offers expansive, stunning views a wall of floor to ceiling windows may be the way to go. However, other properties benefit from creating a visual focus on a particular vignette within or adjacent to the property, and a courtyard is an excellent tool to create this visual focus.
While some people enjoy the luxury of large lots or rural living, more and more people live in urban settings and in increasing urban density. While living an urban lifestyle does provide benefits which many enjoy, it can mean that privacy is hard to come by. In particular, it can be difficult to find a private space with a strong connection to the outdoors as an urban dweller. Both front porches and backyards are not as private as we might like, but a courtyard provides a space that truly is.
Courtyard house designs offer solutions that allow for urban living with the privacy (and connection to nature) that many crave. A courtyard can be planted and furnished to provide an outdoor living space for entertainment and quiet relaxation which is both visually and acoustically separated from nearby dwellings or busy roads. These types of spaces can be few and far between in densely populated areas.
It’s not surprising that courtyard design first found its place in humanity’s earliest cities.
As a design tool, courtyard house plans offer a unique opportunity to organize space and to meet homeowners’ needs. Courtyards can create distance in a floor plan to provide a sense of privacy within your home (as distinct from the type of privacy from the outside world we’ve touched on above), without sacrificing space or natural light.
The scale of this type of privacy can be tuned (significantly or subtlety) by using the courtyard to physically increase the distance between interior spaces, by playing with the sense of space, and by controlling the orientation and/or amount of windows or doors facing onto a courtyard.
Using courtyards your modern home plan to to create this type of spatial distancing and internal privacy is especially useful for spaces that are meant to feel separate, like home offices, guest rooms, fitness spaces, home studios, or in multigenerational house plans – among others.
One of the key benefits of introducing a courtyard into your home plan is that a courtyard with large windows allows for an abundance of daylight. This can be especially helpful in a deep floor plan (a floor plan where much of the space is not adjacent to a window). Access to natural daylight contributes to well-being in many ways, and also just makes a space more pleasant to be in.
At My Modern Home, we utilize enclosed courtyards, inlet courtyards and forecourts to allow space planning opportunities that would be otherwise unavailable. The introduction of windows, doors and daylight onto these courtyards allow us to organize space in new ways that create rich environments and experiences.
We’ve already noted how courtyard house plans can create spatial separations. Interestingly, courtyards can also do the opposite, and create both physical and visual connections between spaces. Particularly where a courtyard is enclosed in glass (as opposed to solid walls), the rooms adjoining it are visually connected.
Creating visual connecting between spaces in this way can be especially advantageous in a small modern home plan where a courtyard can serve an organizing function, preventing many smaller rooms from taking on a maze-like feeling.
Courtyards functionally expand the size of each room that they adjoin. That is, the courtyard space feels like a part of each neighboring room.
This flexibility and connection allows the courtyard to be used by each room, not only as a backdrop but as an active extension of the room that can be used for daily life – think yoga in the morning, children at play in the afternoon, and refreshing beverages in the evening.
Home designs that incorporate this type of flexibility not only allow homeowners to enjoy their home more day-to-day, but also allow homeowners to change how they use rooms in their home across time as their needs and lifestyle changes.
Courtyard houses are often some of the most comfortable housing types to live in. Passive ventilation typically allows cross breezes to expel unwanted heat, and the building form itself can shade internal windows further reducing solar heat gain.
It’s no wonder that courtyards featured so popularly in hot climates before the advent of air conditioning, and that they continue to do so today. In a time where energy efficiency is an important consideration in home design, courtyard homes continue to be a great option to lower energy consumption without sacrificing functional or aesthetic design considerations.
If you are a Talking Heads fan, you may already have picked up on our reference to the song lyrics to Once in a Lifetime - a song about the modern angst that comes from being disconnected from our lived experience. Many of us can relate to this sentiment from time to time, for multiple reasons - increased screen time, longer work days, longer commutes, to name a few.
In response, many people are looking for ways that their lived environment can help to improve mental and physical well-being with minimal effort and maximum impact. Courtyard house plans can help to meet this need.
One of the trends that has emerged in an effort to counter the disconnection that comes from spending more of our time and consciousness in a digital environment revolves around creating opportunities for physical connection with the lived environment. Forest bathing is an example of this type of wellness trend.
Studies show that fostering connections to nature and the physical world can significantly improve mood, and a sense of well-being. Harvard Health Publishing recently published an article noting that “for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use”.
Courtyard homes have the ability to create easy access to an outdoor space, even in extreme climates. Courtyards are sheltered in cold or windy weather, and provide protection from extreme heat and sun in summer months. By creating a sheltered space, a courtyard creates an opportunity to enjoy activities outdoors, such as gardening, yoga, or reading for weeks or months longer in your yard compared to homes without such a space.
Courtyard homes also bring the outdoors into an indoor space. You can enjoy the spaces in your home through an outdoor space. Courtyard gardens can be planted to suit your region’s climate needs and can also be designed to create microclimates where vegetation that might not otherwise be found in your climatic zone can grow and flourish.
While the design and functional aspects that have made courtyard homes popular for millennia remain the same, courtyard designs are particularly well placed to respond to physical and mental health challenges that are unique to the 21st century, and to foster and encourage wellness in everyday life.
At My Modern Home, we believe that a well-designed home can elevate everyday living. One of the reasons that we founded My Modern Home was to make architect-designed homes that focus on functionality, beauty, and versatility attainable and affordable for more homeowners than ever before. We’ve redesigned the way that you can engage with an architect to get the same quality at a fraction of the cost.
We also happen to love courtyard design - the reasons why are fairly clear if you’ve read this blog. Check out some of our courtyard home plans by clicking on the links below.
We also offer custom design services to our clients, and tailor our scope of services to fit your needs just right.
We know that for most people, building a home is a Once in a Lifetime undertaking, and we’re here to help you build a home that you love now, and continue to love through all of life’s many stages.
That’s ok! One of our in-house architects can work with you to customize one of our plans to make it “just right”.
we’re always happy to help.