Room to linger

Circular seating area creates an outdoor family room
DEBRA LEE BALDWIN

On summer evenings, Karen Gardner and John Phillips and their two children like to linger on their patio in Elfin Forest, in north San Diego County. The reason they find this part of their backyard especially inviting is the circular sitting area, which combines the ambience of a campfire with the comfort of a living room.

Though the area is open to the sky, its low walls provide a sense of enclosure. Built-in benches, seating up to 12 people, curve around the hearth. Saltillo tiles are pleasantly smooth underfoot. At night, candles flicker on the mantle, and the glow of the fire bathes the white stucco walls in gold.

Red and blue ceramic tiles set into the stucco inspired the accessories and plants. Gardner added cobalt blue cushions and yellow throw pillows to the benches ― all upholstered in waterproof fabrics that resist fading in the sun. Potted geraniums provide another splash of vibrant red.

Fringing the swimming pool, yellow daylilies, blue agapanthus, and lipstick red geraniums carry out the primary-color theme. A deep green sago palm fans out against the patio's low stucco wall, adding a tropical touch.

"This is our favorite place," Gardner says. "We build a fire, watch the moon rise, and count the constellations."