“New products are enhancing the outdoor ‘gathering story’ – pizza ovens, fire pits, outdoor movies, games, scenes,” according to a new study just published in May by the National Kitchen & Bath Association. The latest outdoor living spaces go far beyond great grilling centers to creating true outdoor rooms. “People changed how they entertained at home. They want to be outdoors. The focus is on the experience now,” according to the study. Homeowners have many more resources for doing so today than past eras of watching parents and grandparents dragging couches onto the porch!
Outdoor furniture today rivals the style and comfort of its indoor counterparts, but it must also stand up to the demands of the natural environment. “Luxury is in the ease, the finishes, and the fixtures, that let a homey inside experience spill outside,” the NKBA study notes, with outside being the operative word. It “looks elegant, but designed to be easy to clean, ready to hose down,” it elaborates.
The same quality level is applicable for outdoor electronics, which must withstand even the harshest elements. “All the comforts, outside: The big TV, bar, ice maker, refrigerator, nice seating, infrared heating,” the study declares.
The heater makes the area comfortable on chilly nights. Fans, overhead coverings and misters do the same for sunny days. So do the designers, appliance professionals, technology integrators, builders and contractors who team up to create what has evolved into the must-have amenity for luxury homes and a prized feature for everyone else’s.
The outdoor living room must also be strongly tied to the indoor rooms that open onto it – often kitchen, dining area and living or great room. Finishes, colors, materials and, probably most important of all, glass panels — patio doors on steroids! — that open wide to make indoor-outdoor living seamless.
Kimberly Kerl of Kustom Home Design in Greenville, South Carolina creates these spaces for her clients’ custom homes, in tandem with outdoor kitchens. They include spaces to entertain guests with all of the bells and whistles, from retracting bug screens to big screen TVs to heating, as well as private spaces for homeowners and their households to enjoy on their own or relax in. She shared her insights on these outdoor living areas in an email.
“I see greenhouses and conservatories gaining in popularity and doubling as a relaxation space or entertaining area,” the designer wrote. “There seems to be renewed interest in growing plants, flowers, vegetables, etc. at home in a controlled environment. Most likely due to people wanting more control over what they eat and how it is grown,” she theorized. “Outdoor gardens are very popular as well for the same reasons. Gardening workstations are common,” the designer added.
The homeowner’s suite may also outdoors in a more private way. Kerl has designed decks and balconies connected to the primary bedroom, she said, often coupled with a coffee station, as well as showers that extend to the outdoors for a rainforest-inspired experience. There may also be a screened-in sleeping porch for guests and kids – a throwback to summer nights in the pre-air conditioning era.
Along with couches being dragged onto porches, past decades saw indoor TVs carried out or, worse, installed on outside walls. The early generations of outdoor-rated TVs weren’t much better, mused Ian Bryant, operations manager for Jackson, Wyoming-based Premiere SAV technology integration firm, in an email. The new models have greatly improved their ability to handle glare for quality daytime viewing, he observed.
“What were once very thick, heavy and unattractive outdoor TVs that cost thousands and didn’t perform well are now nearly as thin as your indoor TVs and just as bright,” commented Bryant. Today’s big game can be watched on a big screen on the deck as easily as it can on a living room wall. In fact, many a party shows it on both TVs, so going inside to catch up with friends there won’t make you miss a touchdown or home run.
Some clients take it to the next level and install an outdoor screen, hidden projector and landscape speakers for what the technology pro characterized as “an immersive movie watching experience under the stars.” (Think of it as a drive-in movie without the drive – or the static and buzz from those tinny speakers that hooked onto your car window.)
Your musical experience is going to be much better too, with hidden speakers serenading guests with indoor-quality sound. And you can adjust your lighting hues to mirror the mood of the music with colorful accents, or tie into a smart system to adjust on its own from perfection for day shifting to dusk, then darkness.
Technology is also available to manage your outdoor living area’s climate for heating, cooling, shading and keeping out insects. All of these capabilities can also be tied into smart home systems and automated so the host can focus on relaxing or having fun with guests.
Jessica Petrino Ball, editorial director at online appliance and fixtures retailer AjMadison, sees homeowners and their design teams specifying the same types of appliances for indoor entertaining areas for their outdoor areas too. Pizza ovens, both built-in and freestanding, are not just about cooking, but also about the pizza party experience, with guests customizing their toppings and handling their own pies.
The bar area may have a wine refrigerator (or two, for reds and whites), premium clear ice maker for gourmet style cubes, beer kegerator and, of course, seating and outdoor wine glass storage.
This is a sequel to last week’s article on outdoor kitchen ideas and trends.
Contributors Ball, Bryant and Kerl also participated in a Clubhouse conversation on outdoor kitchens and living areas. You can hear the recording via Clubhouse Replays here or the Gold Notes design blog here as of Wednesday, May 24.