Modernizing the ancient courtyard

Phantom Screens / June 23, 2016

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Outdoor living spaces come in a variety of designs that change with housing trends, but classic courtyards will never go out of style. They’ve been around since ancient times and are still popular today. The best part is that they are a simple look that’s also easy to achieve. Add more livable and comfortable room to your yard by designing a courtyard as part of your next home remodeling project.

Courtyards of the past

Courtyards have been a staple of home design throughout antiquity and into the modern world. They offer outdoor living space while maintaining the feel of a private room. Ancient homes of wealthy Chinese families featured courtyards since the Yuan Dynasty (late 1200’s to the mid-1300’s). Private lots were enclosed by a wall. Inside that wall were often several buildings: a main house, halls, guest rooms and cooking areas.

Ancient Greeks and Romans also lived in courtyard homes. The houses were often divided into a men’s area and a women’s area. Children stayed in the women’s part of the house and were allowed to play in the courtyard, which was considered a safe place.

Courtyards were common in Great Britain’s monasteries during the Middle Ages. As time wore on, wealthy families built courtyards to use for outdoor seating and contemplation. Later, guests were entertained outside and gardens became a main feature of English courtyards.

Creating a modern courtyard

Your home’s outdoor living spaces can feature many of the ancient functions of a courtyard. The elements you decide to add to your yard will depend on what you’ll use the space for. For example, if you love to entertain, then you may consider incorporating large spaces with ample seating. You can design a more private area by planting gardens with winding paths. No matter what you choose, you should start by planning.

Designing the space

Start your courtyard building plans by assessing your yard space. You’ll need to know how much room you have (in square footage) and the shape of the area. Planning might be easier if you sketch a rough outline of your yard. Next, add the various features you would like to include, such as a small pond, gardens, covered outdoor spaces, a fireplace and more. Consider hiring a landscape architect or designer to help you create a beautiful design that fits your lifestyle.


The way in which you arrange your furniture and outdoor features is vitally important for creating the perfect courtyard. The whole point of these areas is that they are enclosed and private. If you have open areas of your yard, such as a perimeter without a fence, then you’ll want to create walls. You can do this by building a fence, an actual wall or by planting tall shrubs. Some homeowners choose to do a combination of these options.

Once your perimeters are built, then you can install the features of your courtyard. Consider placing some of the larger components on the outskirts of the area to further promote the idea of an enclosed space. The fireplace may go against one outdoor wall while a covered deck sits against another. Leave the center of your courtyard open and airy to really nail the classic design.

Indoor/outdoor flow

Ancient Chinese homes often had large openings that led into the courtyard, rather than the doors you see today. You can modernize the style by building large openings in your home that lead to the courtyard. Whether you use rotating panels, sliding doors or stacking doors, you can open your home to the elements to promote flow, natural ventilation and movement in the space.

Though you may want some of the elements coming in, such as a nice breeze, bugs aren’t so welcome in your house. Keep them out by installing retractable screens for large openings.