What Is a Lanai? A Room Originating From Hawaii

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Dwell Aware

When the weather warms up and the sun is shining, there are few places we'd rather spend an afternoon than a lovely indoor-outdoor transitional area. You already know what a screened-in porch or a patio is, but if you're from a colder climate, you may be unfamiliar with a lanai.

If you've been looking for a way to bring the outdoors in or a place to host your friends and family, this Hawaiian architectural staple might be a great addition to your home. Read on to learn about the history of the lanai and how to embrace this type of room in your own home.

Meet the Expert

Tammy Weir is the owner of Lanai Guy, a family-owned and operated, full-service screen company in the Tampa Bay Area providing quality screened-in lanais, screen rooms, and enclosures making for a comfortable outdoor space for your home.

What Is a Lanai?

Screened in porch

Lucky Ti Lanai


Originating in Hawaii, the term dates back to the 19th century and describes "a rear porch where the existing roofline of the house extends over a foundation typically made of concrete, stone, or pavers," explains Tammy Weir of Lanai Guy. Commonly seen in both commercial and residential architecture in Hawaii, it's no surprise that residents of a tropical climate have fully embraced lanais. Typically, though a lanai has walls, at least one side is open to the elements (or can be opened when the weather is inviting).

What Is a Lanai?

A traditional Hawaiian structure, a lanai is a private space attached to an apartment, house, or hotel and typically features at least one wall open to the elements. It can act as a second living room and is typically found in warmer climates.

If you're confused about how to differentiate between a lanai and other indoor-outdoor structures, it's important to note the key features of each.

  • A porch: A covered outdoor area at the entrance of a building. Though covered, it's very much an outdoor space, with no screens, windows, or walls of any sort. A "screened-in" porch is the most similar to a lanai.
  • A patio: An outdoor area that is typically paved and may—or may not—be elevated by steps and does not have a covering or roof.
  • A veranda: Much like a patio, a veranda is typically only partially covered. It's somewhat of a hybrid between a porch and a patio, falling slightly larger than a porch in order to accommodate more furniture, though isn't quite a separate "room" like a patio is categorized as.

A lanai is different from all of the above in that it's kind of all of them at the same time. It's covered, like a porch or veranda, And, though a lanai can be elevated, like a balcony, it's most often found on the ground floor of a house. It's private, but not necessarily due to the fact that it's above entry-level. Often it features concrete or a cement floor, but it can be made of any material.

Lanais can vary dramatically in style, size, and purpose, but most will have enough space for furniture and act as a second living room.

Why Add a Lanai to Your Home?

"The real benefit of a screened lanai, screen room, or enclosure provides an outdoor living space great for entertaining or relaxing in an outdoor environment," explains Weir.

In Hawaii, the lanai has long been associated with sitting back and enjoying life in communion with nature. As international architecture continues to reflect an array of global influences, many designers, architects, and design enthusiasts have fallen in love with the effortless charm of the contemporary lanai. In traditional Hawaiian culture, the lanai is most often utilized at the beginning and the end of the day, encouraging a sense of relaxation and peace with the natural world.

Even if you live at the other end of the earth from Hawaii, or a completely different climate altogether, everyone can appreciate the desire to carve out a space for yourself that reflects the intentions of a more traditional Hawaiian lanai.

Even if you don't live in a tropical climate, the year-round nature of a lanai means you can embrace the outdoors for many months out of the year. Fill it with plants, suggests Weir, and you can create your own tropical oasis.

How to Make the Most of Your Lanai

Whether you're already in a home with a lanai (or a screened-in porch) or you're hunting for a home with one, there's a handful of reasons to love a lanai. Here are some of our favorite ways to use a lanai and get the most out of it.

  • Start an outdoor garden. Especially suited to plants that thrive with partial sunlight, a lanai is easily transformed into a space for herbs, flowers, and more. Even if you only have enough room for a single table and chair in your lanai, consider making it feel as lush as possible to evoke a calming feel. Weir even suggests an "indoor water feature" for extra relaxation.
  • Create an outdoor meditation den. In keeping with the purpose of connecting to nature, add some candles and comfortable poufs to make your lanai the perfect meditation space. While you might want to have some comfortable floor pillows on hand to bring out with you when the weather is nice, you might consider outdoor options that are water-resistant.
  • Enjoy your lanai year-round. For those who live in less tropical climes, one or two well-placed outdoor heaters or a fire pit (if yours is open to the elements) can transform a lanai into a cozy spot to appreciate nature, even during colder months.
Originally written by
Mandy Zee

Mandy Zee is a former contributor for MyDomaine. She's also written for lifestyle sites like Byrdie and Who What Wear.

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