The Great Outdoor Designs

The time for relishing the peace of one’s private outdoors is nigh. The trick is to make choices now that will allow summer’s glow to be enjoyed well past Labor Day and again once spring comes wrestling with March’s lion. Smartphone controlled appliances are just the beginning of transforming a backyard into a room of its own. The most embraced trend—as a mark of true luxury—is if you can think it, you can have it.

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Function over Form

Over the last decade, there’s been a push for creating thoughtful, practical spaces outdoors. “We used to do a lot of water features just for show, things like ponds or fountains, but that’s definitely died down,” said Bill D’Agata, founder and principle of Pembrooke Fine Landscapes in East Quogue. “The thing you walk past and don’t interact with doesn’t hold value anymore. Now homeowners want features that are beautiful, but functional.”

One of the biggest requests D’Agata receives is for pavilions, covered spaces that house amenities like outdoor kitchens, living spaces with televisions and heating and lighting units to make brisk evenings more comfortable. The pavilion has gone so far as to eclipse the pool, D’Agata said. “We’re trending toward the pavilion being the hub of the backyard and everything else is secondary, including the pool. That’s a seismic shift because the pool used to be at the core of the space.”

Always Open

New Yorkers who once viewed outdoor living as an activity reserved for warmer weather months are singing a different tune. Designers are seeing an upswing in demand for covered areas with recessed heating that take an outdoor space from a chilly and barely useable 45 degrees to a more comfortable 55 degrees.

Manufacturers are getting wise to the trend too, creating appliances that are designed to thrive in a Northeast winter, said Robert Mindlin of Great Outdoors Design in Selden. One such example is refrigerators with built-in heaters that prevent them from freezing when temps drop. Waterproof, ice-proof and snow-proof televisions are another must-have for homeowners seeking a year-round outdoor living experience. “There’s been a big increase in weatherproof televisions incorporated into outdoor living spaces as prices begin to fall, more and more clients are seeking to bring the comforts of home outside,” Mindlin said.

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image: pembrooke fine landscapes

Smart Systems

New developments in technology allow nearly any outdoor element with an on-off switch to be controlled, meaning the term “smart home” now encompasses the entire property. “Smart phone technologies are definitely beginning to play a part in outdoor design,” Mindlin said. “Clients can adjust the lighting from the palm of their hands.”

Systems like Savant, a popular smart home technology known for managing lighting and audio indoors, can also act as a control center for pools and spas, lighting, TVs and audio outdoors, D’Agata said. “It’s pretty unique for the outdoors because you’d typically only see that kind of luxury inside.”

Outdoor kitchens are nothing new, but the standard to which they’re created and the features that they offer grow each year. For the culinary inclined, the possibilities are nearly endless and design innovations have risen to meet the demand. Mindlin cites beer taps, wine chillers, smokers, professional grilling stations and pizza ovens as a few of the most popular upgrades on his clients’ wish lists. Manufacturers like Brown Jordan can create stainless steel kitchens that are custom-powder-coated to resemble real wood, enabling an al fresco kitchen to mimic the look of the one indoors. Pros name Memphis Wood Fired Grills one of best recent advances in outdoor technology. The appeal? It can be completely automated; even the grill can be controlled via smart phone.

Return on Investment

Turning a backyard into an oasis comes at a cost. But like most things, it’s all relative. Many homeowners justify the price tag by the fact that it can be used year-round, but it’s not a guaranteed return on investment. A beautiful outdoor living space adds allure, but it likely will not increase the home’s value by as much as it costs to install it.

The one exception to this rule is with vacation properties. “The value of summer homes can be defined by the outdoor amenities and living opportunities,” D’Agata said. “It’s not more important than the interior, but definitely as important. Homebuyers are willing to spend more on properties with a sizeable investment into the quality of the outdoor living space.”