Elements of home design might come to mind first in this realm—say, keeping your television in a room that's far from your kitchen to prevent mindless snacking or keeping a big bowl out on the counter to remind you to fill it with fresh fruits and vegetables. But according to Buettner, author of the forthcoming book The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons From the Healthiest Places on Earth and host of Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, optimizing your space for longevity can (and should) include the area just outside your home—that is, your front yard.
- Amy Chaffman, certified horticulturalist and master gardener, landscape and garden designer with more than 27 years of experience, and owner of The Pampered Garden
- Catherine Lippincott, director of global expansion at Premier Outdoor Living
- Dan Buettner, Blue Zones expert and author of The Blue Zones Secrets for Longer Living
- Kim Lewis, interior designer and owner and founder of Kim Lewis Designs
- Sean Collinsru, owner of outdoor landscape and design firm Premier Outdoor Living
In particular, Buettner recommends creating a "social front yard" (or stoop or doorway, depending on your space). This recent design trend involves amplifying the social power of that space, so it facilitates easy connections with your neighbors, friends, and other passersby; think: a front yard replete with seating and yard games, or a stoop lined with pretty plants. This way, your home environment will also gently push you toward a key pillar of longevity common in the Blue Zones, or regions home to the longest-living people on Earth: maintaining a fulfilling social life.
The longevity benefits of a social front yard
A social front yard can foster new connections with members of your community and deepen your existing relationships—both of which can support overall well-being and longevity.
Yes, even the kinds of brief, casual interactions that a social-friendly yard area might facilitate can bring on those benefits. A 2014 study on the effects of social interactions with loose acquaintances (termed "weak ties")—like the local barista you see on occasion, or your neighbor who walks their dog by your apartment—found that those low-stakes interactions had a significant positive impact on subjective well-being; and a separate prior study also found that even connecting with a nearby stranger can leave you feeling happier than if you ignored them.
Having more of these happenstance conversations while spending time in front of your home can also help diversify the types of people with whom you're interacting on any given day (that is, beyond just a partner or coworker). And expanding the "relational diversity" of your social network in this way has been associated with greater happiness.
“Many friendships begin as spontaneous interactions, so the more random meetings you have, the greater the chance you’ll surround yourself with a solid circle of friends.” —Dan Buettner, longevity expert
It's also totally possible for these fringe connections to blossom into something more, says Buettner. “Many friendships begin as spontaneous interactions, so the more random meetings you have, the greater the chance you’ll surround yourself with a solid circle of friends,” he says. So goes the ripple effect of a social front yard.
Maintaining such a strong social circle can be a major boon for longevity, particularly by helping stave off loneliness, which has reached epidemic levels in the United States and increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, anxiety, and yes, premature death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “people with stronger social bonds have a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those who have fewer social connections.”
How a longevity expert has turned his front yard into a space for socializing
Buettner has created his own social front yard at his lakefront home in Minnesota. “I carved out a little section of my front yard and put two very comfortable teak chairs at a little table, where people can come sit down and enjoy the lake,” he says. “On the other side of the sidewalk [leading up to my house], I put in a chess table with a bench, and all day long, people are sitting and enjoying the view. Every once in a while, I’ll come out and take their drink orders.”
On nights when Buettner feels like he could use some company himself, he'll sit in his front yard with a bottle of wine and wait for passersby. “Neighbors walk by, and there have been nights where that's erupted into an impromptu party of a dozen or so [people] just standing around and talking,” he says.
In this way, making your front yard or entryway space a social one does require a certain degree of generosity and willingness to host others—but that doesn't mean you have to skimp on security or turn your yard into a public park. Even small adjustments can create a welcoming vibe that facilitates longevity-boosting connections.
10 ways to make your front door, stoop, or yard a haven for social connection
1. Choose low landscaping, if you have a yard
One surefire way to keep people out is to install tall hedges (or a high or opaque fence) in your yard. Amy Chaffman, landscape designer, horticulturist, and owner of The Pampered Garden, has spent more than 27 years in landscaping and says that swapping these kind of tall items for shorter options (like smaller shrubs or succulents) is her number-one tip for creating a space that's inviting rather than imposing. And if you do have a fence or gate, she suggests leaving it open during the day when you're home and willing to socialize.
2. Consider the lighting
A setting sun shouldn't be the thing to put an end to the social potential of your stoop, yard, or porch. Be sure you have adequate lighting set up in case a hangout extends past nightfall.
Beyond offering key functionality, lighting is important for a space’s overall ambience and vibe. “A well-lit yard is a more welcoming one,” says interior designer Kim Lewis, founder of Kim Lewis Designs. She particularly likes the look of some lanterns or string lights hanging from "a focal tree."
3. Add a seating or dining area, if there's room
A mishmash of patio furniture doesn't an inviting space make. To avoid that plight, envision your front-yard space as if it was an "outdoor room," says Sean Collinsgru, owner of landscaping and design firm Premier Outdoor Living. That means considering the layout of furniture like you would in your dining or living room, if you have that kind of yard space available.
Lewis recommends setting up a seating area that consists of at least a couple chairs and a small bistro table to facilitate conversations; if a table won't fit, an Adirondack chair or two will do the trick, giving you a spot to post up with your morning coffee and wave to anyone who passes by. “We’re so used to seeing outdoor furniture and dining settings in backyards, but I’ve seen people doing it in the front yard, and it just creates a warm impact on the community,” says Lewis.
4. Build in points for community connection
Certain front-yard features, in particular, can entice people who may be walking by to pause, gather, and chat. One example from Collinsgru? A Little Free Library, or freestanding public bookcase that you fill with books for people to take and return. Toss in a pad and pen for people to leave their book reviews and suggestions, too, he adds.
You can also put out a bowl of water and a few treats for neighborhood dogs, so long as you can regularly check on and refresh these items; if you suspect pests may be a problem with this kind of set-up, consider self-filling and closed-lid options. "Even having a little sign nearby that says, 'Dog treats here!' is a fun idea," says Chaffman.
Lewis says she’s also seen people set up a small station on their porch or stoop with water and snacks for delivery drivers and mail carriers to take as they go along their routes. You can set out a few water bottles along with bags of chips or granola bars in a shady spot to provide a welcome reprieve during what may be someone's long, tiring shift.
5. Hang a sign to let others know you're open to chatting
To make sure people know you're willing to socialize, Chaffman recommends putting up a sign that says so. People might think they're disturbing you if they say hello while you're reading outside, for example, so she recommends posting a small sign (much like an "Open" or "Closed" sign on a business's front door, or a, "The doctor is in" sign) to avoid that misconception.
6. Set out some yard games, if you can fit them
Buettner has his chess table in his front yard—and that's certainly an idea you can copy. But it may be even easier to set up a few yard games in front of your place, like cornhole or ring toss, in order to encourage neighbors to hang out there.
7. Add a fire pit, if you have a yard
You might associate a fire pit with a backyard, but Lewis says adding one to your front yard can be a fun way to bring others into your dinners or celebrations. “We have a fire pit in our yard at our tiny house in Austin, and it’s so interactive,” she says. “You can have neighbors over for s'mores after dinner, or sit and enjoy a glass of wine, and strike up a conversation with someone walking by.”
Just be sure to check your city and county regulations for the size and type of fire pit you're allowed to install before you do so; there are great wood-burning, propane, and natural-gas options available.
8. Incorporate plants
Even just a touch of nature can go a long way toward adding fun and personality to your front-door, stoop, or yard setup. "The one thing that every front door could use is a couple of pots flanking it," says Chaffman, who suggests filling the pots with seasonal flowers and plants, like dahlias and geraniums for summer; tulips for spring; mums, gourds, and pumpkins for fall; and evergreens or poinsettias for the holidays. You can also opt for small shrubs or even fragrant herbs like lavender or rosemary, she adds.
If you have a yard, positioning trees and beds of flowers around it will turn it into a brighter, cheerier space. Adding a small container garden or planting bed out front can also encourage neighbors to pause and check out what you're growing. Plus, Chaffman points out that you’ll have to be out there maintaining it regularly, which means you’ll actually be in your yard and ready to chat with those who pass by and (hopefully) compliment your work.
9. Decorate for the holidays
There's something warm and welcoming about holiday decor, as a signifier of a season that often brings people together. Consider adorning your porch with hay bales and baskets filled with colorful corn for fall, and if you have a fence, gate, or staircase in your yard, wrap it in ribbons or garlands for the holidays. Another idea? Hang a wreath to correspond with the season. "These items are cheap and easy to set up, and give off a friendly vibe," says Collinsgru.
If an inflatable Santa Claus or that 10-foot Home Depot skeleton is more your jam, go for it—Chaffman says that can be a fun talking point among passersby.
You might also connect with a passionate community of local decorators by showing off your holiday spirit. Some neighborhoods and town councils organize walking tours or coordinated displays for gardens and holiday decorations; getting your yard added to one of these itineraries could be a way to make new neighbor friends.
10. Paint your front door a bright color
A colorful front door creates a striking, fun statement that can draw others to your house and become yet another topic of conversation should a neighbor walk by and take notice, says Catherine Lippincott, director of global expansion for Premiere Outdoor Living.
Color theory might help point you toward your pick; yellow is often associated with warmth and happiness, while green is connected to renewal and abundance, for example. But in any case, a bright and saturated color can really say, "We're happy here," adds Lippincott. The important thing is to choose a hue that evokes positive emotions for you—one that lifts your spirit when you see it upon arriving home, and that might do the same for anyone passing by.
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