Bring the Indoors Outside: the California Room Trend

If you are house-hunting and find yourself looking at new or recently developed homes in the Bay Area, you may have seen properties advertised to have a “California Room,” but what exactly is a California room?

California room or luxury porch image from Pixabay
Image by andre casti from Pixabay

What is a California Room?

Sometimes when a house has beautiful views, large sunny windows, and plenty of access to outdoor spaces we might promote it as “bringing the outdoors in.” With the popular trend of California Rooms, however, Bay Area new homes are bringing the indoors outside!

Outdoor living features are as old as the art of architecture itself. The California room is very similar to the classical loggia. It is a living and entertaining space open to the outdoors on at least one side and always covered by a roof. More protected than a lanai, not fully enclosed like a sunroom, and more multi-purpose than a patio, the California room is a luxury space that can be described as a hybrid between a porch and a room.

… Easier to Describe What it’s Not

A California room is not technically a room because it is not enclosed on all sides. It is classified as an outdoor space or feature. This means that when a home’s square footage is measured the California room, like a deck, porch, or covered patio, is not counted within the household footprint. In design, however, the California room mimics an indoors room more closely than a porch or deck.

That said, a California room is more than just another name for a porch or patio. While California rooms are sometimes referred to as Florida rooms, and vica versa, these are not always interchangeable. The name Florida room is also used to describe an enclosed porch, which may also be called an Arizona room or a sunroom among other names. But a California Room is never a fully enclosed porch!

While a California room must be open on at least one side, sometimes the open sides are not permanently open. In some designs, the open wall or walls are composed of nano doors, also called accordion doors, stacking doors, or another glass door system that opens much wider than the standard garden door. These are usually left open but can be closed to insulate the house against extreme heat or cold, or protect a dinner party when the night air gets chilly.

Depending on who you talk to, there is still disagreement about the finer aspects of what defines a California room. Some assert that a California room is a perfect extension of the house, the roofline is an unbroken line continuing seamlessly from the main structure through the California room, as are the walls and other structural features, which can be part of the ground floor or an upper floor of the residence (from Mercury News). Others declare that a California Room does not need to be attached to the house and can be a standalone structure in the yard, that the flow of the roofline is not necessary to qualify as a California room, and that a covered porch can be converted into a California room with the addition of certain amenities (from SF Gate).

In either case the essence of a California Room remains the same. It is a transitional, multi-functional, luxury outdoor living and entertaining space protected by a roof and at least one wall, but usually enclosed on all but one or two sides.

California room or luxury porch image from Pixabay
Image by bedrck from Pixabay

What Does a California Room Look Like?

As a transitional space, California rooms have a broad range of design options. It might be fully carpeted or have a floor of slab concrete, it may have painted walls or rough brick or stone. Elements of both indoor and outdoor design are usually included.

As an entertaining space, California rooms can be customized in many different ways. They regularly include any assortment of the following: a fireplace (one of the most popular features), a full kitchen or kitchenette, a decorative fountain, a spa, a built-in barbecue, TV or audio system, a full bar, a pizza oven, ceiling fans, and plants and hardscaping.

Furnishing and décor resemble a room more than a porch with space for entertaining outfitted with cushioned sofas, chairs, ottomans, dining tables, and area rugs. A California room is a completely finished room, in design resembling an indoor space more than an outdoor one.

No matter the size, style, or function, a California room is always a luxury space that gives off the feel of a private retreat or open-air resort living.

Should I Get a California Room?

California Rooms seem to be at peak popularity for home designs right now. There is a reason California rooms are found in many current housing developments here in California and across the sun belt – they are comfortable, functional outdoor spaces. In hot areas, they provide shaded space in the summer and a buffer against sun and heat entering the main house. Where it is cooler and breezy, California rooms act as a private shelter. In temperate regions they allow homeowners to enjoy the outdoors all year long, bringing indoor amenities outside to better make use of the good climate.

While protected outdoor spaces can be well enjoyed all year round in our climate, remember these luxury rooms require more maintenance than indoor spaces! Especially the more luxury amenities you bring to them. Although they are well protected, California Rooms are still open to the elements. This means more dirt, more water, and more critters. No one wants a soggy carpet or a dusty couch! And while that brand-new outdoor space looks very appealing right now, if it isn’t well maintained it can become another obstacle to resale down the road.

Thinking of it as an investment? You might want to consult a Realtor first! If your neighborhood has a number of homes with California rooms, it might improve your home value to have one. However, much like your beloved wet bar, buyers don’t care anywhere near as much about those extra amenities (the outdoor TV and the pizza oven) as you do. If your California room is well built, well maintained, and suits the yard and neighborhood, it may improve the worth of your house, but maybe not as much as you would think.