Betsy and Joe Parker of Des Moines had been mulling over the idea of a gazebo in their backyard, but when COVID arrived, they concentrated on creating an additional living space steps away from their three-bedroom home.
At first, they considered constructing a tiny house out of a grain bin, but the thought of hot Iowa summers changed their minds. "We decided that we would find little comfort in a building made out of steel with no ventilation," said Betsy Parker, 40, a manager for an integrated marketing agency serving nonprofits.
An internet search led them to a $700, 16½-foot-diameter four-season tent with a built-in ventilation pocket for the pipe of a small wood burning stove, which they purchased for about $200 to heat the tent.
Starting last October, they spent two nights a week sleeping outdoors until the seasonal chill eclipsed the stove's capabilities. But as soon as March rolled around, they returned to sleeping in their outdoor bedroom.
"Sleeping outside has been a wonderful addition to our lives that we didn't realize we were missing," Betsy Parker said.
Adopting fresh air spaces for rest has proven health benefits. Studies show it can boost the immune system and reset the body's circadian rhythm, which can be easily disrupted by stress and the blue light emitted by electronic screens.
"One of the treatments which may restore our baseline circadian rhythm is early morning bright light such as natural sunlight which occurs with outdoor sleeping or camping," said Richard Friedenheim, medical director at the Sleep Disorders Center for Abington Hospital Jefferson Health in Abington, Pa.
Designers extol the benefits of back-to-nature design, too.
"A sleeping porch oriented to take in prevailing breezes, the path of the sun and the sounds of nature has great power to restore and reinvigorate," said Arthur Andersson of Andersson/Wise, an architecture and design studio in Austin, Texas.
To Michelle Fries, an interior designer based in Minneapolis, sleeping porches provide a special sense of nostalgia for many, and their ability to harmonize with nature makes them the unsung heroes of rooms.
"In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it's one way to make the most of summer rainstorms," she said.
Before the invention of air conditioning, sleeping porches were ubiquitous.
"A sleeping porch is not that different from a sunroom or an enclosed porch," said Richard Bubnowski, an architect in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. "If you're planning on using it most of the year, make sure there's sun exposure so there's passive heating coming in over winter, and in the dead of summer you might want lots of trees around it for privacy and shading."
David Hertz, a California architect, has been a longtime loyalist to the tenets of indoor-outdoor living. Last year, he outfitted a temporary cluster of tents on his 99-acre property in the Santa Monica mountains of Malibu.
The encampment, which Hertz and his wife, Laura Doss-Hertz, dubbed "Farside," consists of Lotus Belle canvas tents in assorted sizes, whose playful shapes emulate Hershey's Kisses.
The tents were staged for extended family and friends seeking to escape into nature in the pandemic year, said Hertz, 60.
Hertz and his wife, who is a photographer, often joined guests at the camp, which sleeps up to eight people, and is half a mile from the 1920s Adirondack-style hunting lodge they primarily call home. Within Farside, two stretch tents are combined to create a large outdoor living space, decked out with Turkish rugs, Moroccan pillows, end tables and lanterns.
Electricity is no problem for the campers, who plug devices into mobile solar-powered battery chargers, which also supply energy to the tent's light sources. Heated outdoor showers and self-contained Porta Potties are additional amenities for guests.
Beyond the tent fabric's alluring translucency, Hertz appreciates the transitory nature and portability of tents — if you have the space, you can move your location and your views.
Their favorite campouts were on nights with full moons.
"There's something about the intimacy of the tent, like a boat gives you a sense of a shelter," Hertz said. "It feels like a cocoon in a way, and that's really welcoming."