Take it Outside

It was inevitable. Treating the outdoors as an extension of the living room began years ago and the trend has gained traction. Remember when you bought a kettle grill and set it up on the grass? Life was good, so you probably added a concrete patio and chairs to the mix. Then came the deck to keep everyone off the grass just before concrete pavers took over. Now you’re spending even more time (and money) outside until well after the sun goes down.

Interior designers have often stressed the importance and appeal of bringing the outdoors inside with natural fabrics, plants and trees, skylights, fountains and even swimming pools. But over the last decade, there’s also been focus on the reverse. Homeowners are furnishing patios, decks and balconies as comfortably and artfully as they do their interiors. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association says the outdoor leisure lifestyle category is a $6.2 billion a year industry, and using outdoor space for living, cooking and entertaining is in vogue like never before.

People are creating full-fledged living rooms, dining areas, kitchens and even spas in their open air spaces. Add televisions and sound systems specifically designed for outdoor use and there’s hardly a reason to go indoors. Some amenities—like fireplaces, chimenea and heating lamps—allow you to use the space well into the fall months.

Several outdoor design specialists offered their insights about the latest trends—from the basics to the decidedly opulent—to get you thinking about your life in the great outdoors. A word of caution: “We tell people regardless of their budget to get a professional to help you to design your outdoor oasis and find the best people to build it,” says Adam Myles, president of Topaz Design Group in Oceanside. “This way, you’re dealing with one person who can coordinate everything for you and make sure it all comes together the way you want.” Orchestrating your own projects can often end up compromising safety and cost more money in the long run, Adam warns.

Long Islanders want to make the most of their space. In a smaller house, extending the living area outside is a great way to accommodate and entertain more guests. When budget and space allows, theater amenities like a flat screen tv and wet bar have become increasingly common.

Outdoor furniture has come a long way from the days of plastic lawn chairs, too. “There’s a wide variety of weatherproof furniture available at all price points,” Myles says. “Pieces created from teak, composite resins or rattans not only look great, but are designed to withstand an array of weather conditions. Many chairs, sofas and ottomans feature comfortable oversized cushions made from Sunbrella-like fabrics, which are fade and mold resistant.”

imageStylish rugs that withstand the elements are popular embellishments. Thanks to advancements in fiber technology, this new generation is truly durable. Myles says the latest trends are rugs made from patterned stone and also permanent concrete inlays designed to look like area rugs.

Outdoor cooking is more than just a grill. Much of what you see in the best-appointed indoor kitchens can be reproduced outside, says Ken Kelly, a certified kitchen and bath designer and remodeler who heads Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly in Williston Park and Sag Harbor. Newer cook centers feature high-end appliances including cast-iron woks, griddles, pizza ovens and rotisserie systems. Weather-tight cabinetry, sinks, icemakers, refrigeration and cooking appliances allow for endless design possibilities, creating a kitchen that’s just as functional as a traditional indoor one. Some of Kelly’s clients include televisions, speakers and sound systems. Many electronics are designed specifically with protective casings and can be built right into masonry. “However, there are no traditional wall ovens designed for outdoor use—at least not yet,” Kelly says. A must-have item for outdoor kitchens? “A sink is really ideal to have, though it requires some extra plumbing.”

Homeowners also want a place to congregate, keep the chef company or situate full-fledged dining rooms with a table and chairs. Building a bar is another option. “Guests always hang out by the food and drinks,” Kelly says. “We see this indoors as well as outdoors.”

Granite is the most ubiquitous material for countertops. Concrete fashioned to look like bluestone is a solid alternative. “You need something durable enough for outdoor wear, so materials like wood aren’t used,” Kelly says. The practicality of long-term storage space also has its limits. “Unless you use the highest quality products, stored items will be affected by dirt and rain on a week to week basis.”

Incorporating elements of both fire and water adds beauty and drama to the landscape. “We encourage our clients to add fireplaces or a fire pit into their outdoor living space,” Kelly says. They not only provide ambient lighting but also a warm place to gather when evening nears. “People typically furnish the surrounding area, so your party can remain outside,” Myles says. Concrete sitting walls—usually about two feet high and one foot wide—can also be built to accommodate even more people.

imageWater features are pivotal to those who don’t have the room or desire for a swimming pool and also those who want to embellish pool-scapes. “Many people opt for pondless waterfalls, because they’re simply waterfalls or streams that recirculate,” Myles says. “You can enjoy the sights and sounds of running water without all the maintenance of a pond.” Sheer descent waterfalls and rain walls, which feature a curtain of water running straight down rather than around rocks or other surfaces, are attractive options that require minimal maintenance.

A well-lit deck or patio allows you to enjoy your outdoor retreat long after sunset. Safety and flow are enhanced when the perimeter is lit, along with stairs and rails or posts. Properly installed deck lighting, like all landscape lighting, adds to the nighttime beauty of the home. “People want to create mood lighting outdoors just as they do indoors,” Myles says. “They also use lights to accent plant or water pieces.” The latest outdoor lighting fixtures can be as small as a half-dollar coin. They are low-voltage and designed to withstand all kinds of weather, so they can be installed permanently. LED deck lighting is virtually maintenance-free. Under typical use, a light will last 40,000 hours or approximately 15 years. There are no bulbs to change and no upkeep other than an occasional cleaning.

And, of course, there is natural lighting (and shade) to consider. Umbrellas and retractable awnings are traditional mainstays. But many are opting for more attractive ways to shield the sun. “Pavilions, gazebos and pergolas are all beautiful ways to provide shade and even shelter from the rain. Depending upon the direction your property faces, they can be strategically placed to determine how much light comes through at any given time of day,” Myles says, adding that his own yard has southern exposure and is designed to be mostly shady after 2:30 in the afternoon.

A swimming pool is a symbol of suburban life. Vinyl liner pools offer a good range of sizes, shapes, options and pricing, says Peter Cattano, president of Paco Pools & Spas in Baldwin. One-piece fiberglass pools offer a totally different type of construction with a slightly higher level of investment, but they feature an interesting selection of sizes, shapes and colors. Concrete pools are at the higher end of the market. They involve pumping a customized cement mixture from a truck around steel rods that are bent to make up the framework of the pool.

“They allow for the greatest degree of creative design,” Cattano says. “Virtually anything you can imagine can be done.”

Vanishing edge or infinity pools, together with perimeter overflow pools, are becoming more popular, especially when people go on beach vacations and see these dramatic water designs at hotels and resorts. Caution: When all is said and done, many of these magnificent projects can range into six-figures to reproduce at home. Hot tubs are also very common since they provide relaxation, a social environment and a way to enjoy the water in cooler months. Many spas are built inside or next to pools, but standalone units are still the most popular. “These are all electric, enclosed in beautiful wood or synthetic wood jackets with the operating equipment located inside the enclosure,” Cattano says. “And there’s no excavation required.”

imageInspired landscaping pulls all of your outdoor living designs together. Lee Miller, president of Landscape Design by Lee in Sayville, designs entrance gardens, archways and pool-scapes. She combines evergreens and perennial plants to keep the property looking beautiful year round and believes landscaping involves both form and function. “Form is the look clients want to achieve with plants, trees and flowers,” Miller says. “Function is what you want them to do, like provide shade, privacy and even separate outdoor rooms from one another.”

Frank Mannino, owner of Frank the Plant Doctor Interior-Exterior Landscaping in Patchogue, gets a lot of requests for ornamental grasses. “Some are very delicate and can be used to simply highlight an area,” he says. “Others will grow quite tall and can be used to screen off different sections of a property.” He also notes that flowering plants like echinacea and chamomile are popular because they serve dual functions. “They can yield some really magnificent colors, which will really brighten up your landscape. And you can actually use them use them in tea for their health benefits, too.”

3 Outdoor Kitchen Tips:
1. Think space:
The cooking area should be large enough to accommodate at least two people working at the same time and perhaps even a bartender. You shouldn’t undersize the preparation area either.

2. Bring the light:
“You need to factor in good lighting,” Kelly says.

3. Party on:
Avoid hiding the grill behind a shrub or in a remote location. “This will simply isolate the cook from his guests and make serving very inconvenient.”