Photography by Reed Brown and Alyssa Rosenheck

A life outside is one worth living — that’s the philosophy Alan Looney and his team at Castle Homes have fully embraced in recent years as more homeowners incorporate the great outdoors into their families’ daily routines.

Creating an at-home oasis appeals to families with younger kids who love being able to host their friends. Then when the parents get older, they have appealing places that their college-bound kiddos actually want to come home to. Meanwhile, empty nesters and couples without kids have a place to reflect and recharge that doesn’t involve airports and luggage.

“People want to spend more time enjoying their homes, and obviously enjoying the outdoor space,” says Looney, who says about 60 percent of the homes they construct these days have a backyard pool.

A big key to making that happen is the privacy provided by thoughtful residential landscaping, which can use large, mature plantings to create a secluded backyard haven, even if there are neighbors close by. Professionals often have new ideas and creative solutions.

“When we design plans with our preferred landscape architect, we make sure that the plants are the right plants,” Looney says. “It’s not overdone, but they’re all large-scale so you don’t have to wait years to have privacy and nice landscaping.”

All-inclusive spaces

Looney’s own home features a pool house with a workout room. It has a spa he wasn’t sold on at first, but that now is one of his favorite and most-used spaces. The pool was something his children insisted on, and now he can’t imagine being without it.

“It’s beautiful,” he says. “It has a fountain feature, and sometimes in the mornings I will sit out there and eat breakfast. Something about the water feature is so calming. I go outside and I feel like I’m in a resort.”

Having an outdoor cooking area is in high demand, too. It can be as basic as a bricked-in grill stand or as elaborate as a full-on kitchen with sink, refrigerator, pizza oven, beer keg and more.

Most weekends Looney enjoys having people over, where they grill, swim and reconnect with loved ones in a relaxing way. The kids play, the adults chat and it’s a way to create those lasting memories that make a house a home.

“Everybody wants a nice outdoor space,” Looney says. “From the very beginning we’re keeping all that in mind.” Especially for the numbers of people who are coming to Middle Tennessee from all over the country to soak in the state’s signature beauty.

The homeowner of a recently finished Castle home wanted his backyard to be a true oasis, his special getaway. Castle accommodated him with an amazing pool and spa, an outdoor cooking area and a pool pavilion with a kitchenette. The whole thing is connected by an arbor to another small building with a changing room and shower.

“People coming here from the West Coast are used to having swimming pools and outdoor spaces, and they’re wanting the same things here,” he says.

Cold-weather essentials

When the evenings start to get chilly, you have to have a heat source to stay cozy outside. There are several ways to approach it, from radiant heaters mounted in the ceiling of a porch to an outdoor fireplace. Clear plastic or vinyl panels around a porch help contain the heat when needed, and they can be removed easily in warmer months. Electronic, retractable screens are also an option.

“We just finished a home where we put really huge sliding doors that completely pocket away and disappear into the wall,” Looney says. “They create this really large opening, and in the wintertime they just close those doors and it becomes a heated space that’s part of the living area.”

And the absolute must-have is the actual porch itself, large and covered. From there, the space can flow to media rooms, kitchens and other family hang-out spaces. It’s the new way of designing that reduces the number rooms people don’t use anymore — formal dining, formal sitting — and makes everything more livable.

The only downside is being disappointed when vacation accommodations don’t measure up to what’s waiting back home.

“They want to get home and just relax,” Looney says.