Homeowners are discovering that their outdoor space is the perfect spot to entertain, celebrate, and have fun-filled days with family and friends.
By Patti Plummer
The great outdoors is quickly becoming the go-to place for homeowners seeking much needed leisure space. They are adding decks, pools, outdoor kitchens, tennis courts, putting greens, outdoor rooms, and a variety of other backyard additions to blur the lines between their in-home game rooms and outdoor play areas.
For years, the home’s inside had all of the fun: home theaters, gourmet kitchens, and even rooms whose sole purpose was to accommodate all of the equipment ardent gamers needed. But that is changing: people are gravitating to their outdoor spaces and turning them into all-season at-home getaways.
Photo courtesy of Fine Landscapes, Ltd.; Photography by Yodeling Goat Media
Landscape architects and designers are at the forefront of a new way of thinking about the backyard. When a homeowner determines that more space is needed, often an outdoor room is suggested. Large or small, enclosed in four walls or left open, these settings have all the comforts of home, including incredible pieces of furniture, decorative items, high-tech sound and entertainment systems, and fireplaces or firepits, as well as dramatic lightscaping and sophisticated hardscaping.
Outdoor rooms can be anything you want and anywhere you desire—and they don’t have to a have a roof overhead. Many homeowners group sofas and chairs in an outdoor area that they want to make welcoming to guests. Often this spot is on a deck, next to the pool, or in a private area surrounded by lush landscaping. Other homeowners place their rooms under a pergola or tent, in a gazebo, or even enclosed in a screened lanai. The options are as many and as varied as a homeowner’s budget and requirements.
More elaborate outdoor rooms are perfect for families that need the added space for weekend parties, special occasions, or entertaining on a regular basis. These are usually designed by an architect and are either attached to the home or built separately. Fully covered or left open to breezes, these rooms are constructed to match the home’s architecture, so don’t be afraid to let your decorative side come out—you can imitate any indoor room you want, right down to the paintings on the wall!
Photo courtesy of Summer Classics
Along with outdoor rooms, many homeowners are adding outdoor kitchens to their backyard living spaces—and like their indoor counterparts, outdoor kitchens become the hub of every event held outside. After an afternoon of splashing in the pool or improving your putting skills on the backyard green, gathering together with your guests for a snack or full-blown barbecue is the logical next step. What is not logical is transferring all of the food and beverages from the inside to the outside—or inviting your guests in, wet bathing suits and all. Homeowners see the value of adding a second kitchen outdoors, which is why this backyard enhancement is one of the fastest growing home improvements.
Some kitchens are simple units that consist of a well-equipped grill and a sink, while others have everything a foodie can imagine, including a pizza oven, wine chiller, multiple ovens, stove tops with all types of burners, refrigerators and freezers, an ice maker, warming drawers, and a flattop grill. But no matter the simplicity or complexity of the arrangement, the result is the same: a place for the homeowner to prepare good food for good times with family and friends.
Eating al fresco is one of life’s little delights, and to accommodate homeowners’ desire to dine on something a little more elegant than an old time picnic bench, designers are creating amazing outdoor dining sets that take backyard feasting to a whole new level of sophistication.
Made of teak, cypress, and other luxurious yet durable materials, dining sets are made for romantic entertaining under the stars or hosting a multi-generational reunion by the pool. There are a number of styles, including intimate bistro sets for two, tables for four, and large dining sets that can handle 12 hungry guests. It’s a good idea to plan for a few extra guests as this is one area where you don’t want to fall short.
Tableware is another consideration. A beautiful table setting can set a mood faster than anything else. Vases with gorgeous blooms, candles of varying sizes and shapes, colorful platters, dishes, and drinkware all enrich your party and give your guests a reason to tarry a bit. But, because this is all happening outside, everything needs to be safe. Pieces made of melamine are shatterproof and are thus perfect for poolside dining—and can survive even the most exuberant of children!
Photo courtesy of Walnut Hill Landscape Company; LandmarksPhotography.com
Outdoor Furniture and Decorative Items
It is human nature to stick with the tried and true when attempting something new. This was certainly the case for the first homeowners who thought to bring the indoors out: they started by surrounding themselves with things from inside the home that made them comfortable: cozy, warm seating areas complete with a fireplace, comfy chairs and sofas, and plush pillows. Technology and design soon caught up and weather-resistant rugs, tables, lamps, artwork, and a host of other decorative objects were developed for use in all types of environments and weather. Today, manufacturers are creating more items than ever for outdoor settings. The differences between indoor and outdoor furniture are virtually negligible—especially in style. Outdoor furniture designers are definitely thinking outside the box, and they are discovering that nothing is impossible.
Designers use rich wood like teak because it resists weathering, rot, and insects—and it looks fabulous. Wicker, both real and synthetic, is a fashionable choice—it practically defines outdoor living. Aluminum and wrought iron are also perfect outdoor furniture options—they are sturdy yet luxurious, and they have a charm and beauty all of their own. Composites such as recycled plastic and acrylic-based products are also popular because they can be molded into whatever is envisioned and both are hard-wearing.
Another element of indoor living that does exceptionally well outdoors is the softening of the hard edges. In the backyard, exquisite, boldly colored fabrics are the top choices for weather-safe pillows and cushions. Vibrant hues are popular, with turquoise, oranges, yellows, and greens taking the lead. And best of all, these fabrics can readily handle rain, wind, sun, and pool chemicals without losing their brilliance.
Many outdoor rooms are wall-less, but that doesn’t mean a homeowner must forgo room-enhancing items. Manufacturers are filling the need for beautifying outdoor spaces by including planters made of stone, wood, and ceramic, wrought iron stands, multihued rugs, vases, classic floor lamps, and soothing tabletop fountains. Arranged to mimic an indoor room, these outdoor settings can be anything from casual to formal—and everything in between.
Photo courtesy of Hearst Brand Development
Sports Courts and Recreation
In addition to the swimming pool and all of the fun and games it can host, personal volleyball and basketball courts, putting greens, and tennis courts are just a few of the backyard dreams that more homeowners are turning into reality. Once existing only on luxury properties, these activity centers are now available for universal enjoyment as more backyards are transformed into resort-like amusement parks.
Many homes include a variety of playground features like zip line kits, elaborate swing sets, jungle gyms, slides (both on-ground and in-water), rock walls, even life-size chess boards! Again, only your budget and your imagination can stop you from creating your ultimate backyard playground.
Photo courtesy of Azul-Verde Design Group, Inc.
After swimming in the pool or playing volleyball, basketball, tennis, or any number of other athletic games, you and your guests would probably enjoy an hour or two of relaxation while viewing the latest blockbuster. Technology is advancing quickly and large-screen weatherproof TVs are becoming more available. These TVs are easily installed in an outdoor room or on a wall alongside a pool and can be connected to a cable box, DVD/blu-ray player, gaming system, or a laptop. All you need to do is pop some popcorn and offer a variety of chilled beverages.
In addition to a TV, many homeowners like to include a high-tech sound system so they can pump in the tunes they love. Nothing increases the excitement or the romance of a special occasion like music in the background. Don’t want your guests to see the wiring? There are a variety of speaker styles which can be hidden throughout the space, especially those designed to look like faux rocks or planters.
There are various types of lighting for the outdoors, including accent, path, wall, deck and patio, hardscape, and landscape lighting. But all of them have one thing in common: they create ambiance. A professional lightscaping expert knows how to use each kind to create a mood by studying an area’s components and determining what is needed for both safety and beauty.
From uplighting points of interest throughout the setting to imaginatively utilizing LED lights submersed in the pool and spa, a lighting designer can craft a variety of different atmospheres so a homeowner can change the vibe whenever needed. For instance, bright lights are lit for nighttime parties that include games and movement around the backyard, while softer lights are used to create a more intimate feeling for dinner parties by the pool.
Another way to set the tone for your after-dark fun is to include candles and other fire features as accent pieces. There is something about the fascinating warmth that comes from candles, fire bowls, and a firepit or fireplace that draws people together to chat, dine, or simply relax.
After you have put all the pieces together and have made your outdoor space as lovely and personal as the inside of your home, you can sit back and take stock of your surroundings. Feel free to tweak the results of your labor and imagination—there is always room for one more pillow.
Photo courtesy of CLC Landscape Design; Photography by Richard R. Cording