Designing a Landscape From the Inside Out (and Vice Versa)

Pink azaleas in full Spring bloom outside of my living room window (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

What happens when a garden designer doesn’t take into account the view and colors of the garden from the windows inside the house? What does your home interior look like when the green leaves arrive on the trees or your crimson red and hot pink azaleas are in full bloom outside the windows? Do your wall colors “change” when the seasons change? Designing a landscape from the inside out is just as important as just designing only from the outside.

Close-up of pink azalea flower
Close-up of pink azalea flower

Recently, I was at my local Home Depot buying custom paint for a bathroom remodeling project when a casually-dressed gentleman was complaining about paint colors. He’d hired an interior designer to update his living room decor. He mentioned that the “cream” paint color selected by the designer was “too yellow” for his taste.

So, I started asking a few questions. “What’s outside your living room window?” I asked. “The neighbor’s house and some small evergreen shrubs,” he responded. “What color is the exterior of your neighbor’s house?” I queried. He said, “It’s a mustard gold color.” I said, “Yes, that’s your yellow hue — the color of the neighbor’s house is reflecting on your interior walls.

The gentleman stood there, perplexed. Then he remarked, “I should have hired YOU to select my colors. My designer didn’t even mention outdoor colors reflecting into the house!” Well, I do happen to see things that others don’t see readily, like how color combos might work together, or how plant textures work together.

Outside my living room windows live my very old original pink azaleas that were likely planted when our home was built. I love their little flowers, far unlike the giant flowers of some other azalea bushes in my landscape. For whatever reason, these azaleas are not usually browsed by deer which makes them even more valuable to me. When my pink azaleas are in bloom in early Spring, their color reflects into my living room as a lovely pinkish hue on the warm cafe latte walls. It’s pleasing. Previously, my walls were a cool light taupe which didn’t take cool reflective colors very well. That delicate cool pink splash seemed even colder in the room. Unless you live in a hot climate, you won’t likely want a cool room to seem colder. Since I changed the wall color in the living room to a lovely warm cafe latte color, it’s come alive with vibrance! A can of paint in the right color and hue can change the personality and atmosphere of a room — as well as what’s planted outside the windows.

Pink azaleas in full Spring bloom outside of my living room window (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pink azaleas in full Spring bloom outside of my living room window (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Exterior Pink Hue from Azaleas on Interior Cafe Latte colored wall (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Exterior Pink Hue from Azaleas on Interior Cafe Latte colored wall (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

My bloodgood maple is in its full deep scarlet red splendor for Spring. Its leaves change across the seasons from this wonderful deep red in Spring, to a bright emerald green in summer to a gorgeous warm apricot in fall. Our master bedroom is most affected by this magnificent tree’s reflective colors. I painted the master bedroom walls a French vanilla color which is warm and takes the red, green, and apricot hues well. The walls had been a light lavender taupe color which didn’t bode well with the apricot. French Vanilla and Apricot go well together in recipes, why not on the wall?

Our beautiful Bloodgood Maple in front of the house.
Our beautiful Bloodgood Maple in front of the house turns deep red in Spring.
My gorgeous Bloodgood Maple in its apricot hue
My gorgeous Bloodgood Maple in its autumn apricot hue

Think about what part of your house that you use most. Is it your living room? A home office? A sitting room? Perhaps an enclosed patio? That’s where you should concentrate on designing your landscaping from the inside out. Sit inside your room of choice, take a look at the light (sunny, dappled shade or shady) and think what would compliment your wall color. If you have a big picture window, make that view your ever-changing outdoor TV!

Summer generally brings greenish hues inside the majority of my rooms. I’ve selected interior wall colors that compliment the outside colors that Mother Nature is reflecting inside.

The back woods reflect mostly greenish hues.
The back woods reflect mostly greenish hues.

Now, it’s sort of the opposite when decorating a home that fronts the ocean. Think about it. The ocean water reflects all sorts of hues into the windows from sunrise to sunset. Those ocean views shouldn’t be cluttered. Since you won’t likely be changing your ocean view…so go with it and select colors and hues the compliment the ocean reflections. In your exterior garden design, it’s a bit easier to change the hues coming in from the outside than changing an ocean or mountain view. Work with what Mother Nature has given you, and start from there.

The City of San Francisco in California also offers a challenge for the home interior designer. The crisp clear blue sky days can be interrupted quickly by a thick fog that rolls in without notice and totally changes your home’s interior colors and hues. Gorgeous mountain skies in Colorado generally reflect a blue hue into the rooms of homes. The warm sand colors of the desert can cast a bright beige hue inside.

Colors and hues also affect how you feel when sitting in a room. A few years ago, I worked in an office in a high-rise building in the middle of a cold concrete landscape in outer Washington, DC Suburbia. Sure, a field of emerald green grass sparkled outside on the hill, but certainly was not pleasing “landscaping”. The corporate offices were painted white with a gray-blue accent wall and dark blue-gray carpeting. The heavy sunshade tinting on the windows cast a dark glaze into the already cool walls. I commented once that it seemed to be “cold” in the offices due to the interior color scheme. The corporate facilities director, who had selected the colors, was taken aback. “Many studies have been done on employee productivity based on the wall colors in the workplace,” she said. “We selected the color that tested as most productive.” Maybe the correct “color” was selected…but was it a warm hue or a cool hue? I prefer warmer colors myself. I was happy to leave that cold office space when I moved to another position in the company. (It’s funny how my nicest offices equated to the jobs that I enjoyed least, but that’s another story….)

Paint Chips can help you decide what colors and hues work well together (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Paint Chips can help you decide what colors and hues work well together (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Look for interior wall colors that compliment the reflections on your walls from outdoors (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Look for interior wall colors that compliment the reflections on your walls from outdoors (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

For greater harmony, try to plan your exterior garden and landscape colors to compliment the interior wall colors of your home. Most of us will have a green cast to our walls until the winter season, so select a wall color that doesn’t already have too much green in it.

A Canadian Goose family enjoys the Lake at The Boars Head Inn  (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A Canadian Goose family enjoys the Lake at The Boars Head Inn (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Take care in what you plant directly outside windows. Be sure that the color hues are complimentary to your interior wall colors. Or, if you can’t change the outside landscaping, think about changing your wall colors/hues inside. Additionally, note the changing colors over the seasons. A true red Christmas theme might be better than an orange-red theme.

You may wonder when I first started thinking about designing a landscape from the inside out — and what prompted my thoughts. When I was selecting both interior and exterior colors to update our current home, I read a lot of articles and books on interior design. We were changing our deteriorating front door that I’d painted a bright red, and then softened with an antique-style rubbing of dark brown stain.

My antiqued red door with shiny brass hardware (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
My antiqued red door with shiny brass hardware (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

I loved that antique red door, but it didn’t bode well with the pink azaleas or the rest of the plantings outside. Our shutters were originally a dark brown which I had changed to a deep forest green after we moved in. Red and green. “Christmas” all year round…..

My red door didn't go well with the hot pink azalea blooms (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
My red door didn’t go well with the hot pink azalea blooms (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

With the arrival of this new front door which was a mahogany brown stain with a gorgeous black wrought iron window insert, I knew that I needed to change the color of the shutters. I loved the neighbors’ house with their deep red shutters. Let me tell you, red shutters looked horrible with our beautiful new brown door and the blooming pink azaleas, and I quickly knew the shutters needed to be changed.

Our gorgeous new front door with black hardware (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Our gorgeous new front door with black hardware (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

I selected a medium grey with a slight green hue — a cool color to go with the cool whitish brick, the cool green-gray roof shingles and the low-growing deep forest green Otto Luyken Laurel bushes also planted in front. Let the hot pink flowers work with the cool green-gray exterior. Working with the different colors and hues outside caused me to realize the same had to be applied to color and hue selection inside…..

Now our home’s exterior colors compliment the surrounding plantings. It’s important to have harmony in the garden and home — inside and out.

What are your thoughts about designing a landscape from the inside out? What are your likes and dislikes for exterior color reflections inside? Leave a comment and let everyone know!

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