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Hearth & Home August 2019

Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style, this Southwest contemporary house has floor to ceiling glass that disappears into low soffits, a water feature that runs from the courtyard, through the house, and connects to the swimming pool at the rear of the house, where the bocce court awaits.
Photo courtesy: ©2019 Architect: Jessica Hutchison-Rough, Urban design associates.
photographer: Thompson photographic.

Living Outside Is In

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Outdoor Rooms, Outdoor Living, what began as a trend in the late ’90s is now firmly embedded in the lifestyles – or the dreams – of most North Americans.

People everywhere are in love with the Outdoor Room. Whether they define it as a cozy fire pit conversation area strung with café lights on a tiny starter-home patio, or a chic, city rooftop lounge under a canopy of skyscrapers, or a sprawling backyard resort with an outdoor kitchen, fireplace, TV, and luxurious furnishings in a sheltered pavilion with sliding glass walls, consumers in every region and with every size budget desire an outdoor living space at home.

It’s easy to understand why. An Outdoor Room expands a home’s livable square footage, adds enjoyment, and increases resale value. A seamless indoor-outdoor floor plan creates a sense of spaciousness and boosts natural light indoors. Premium outdoor appliances, furnishings, and other amenities ensure indoor-style comfort outdoors for both everyday use and entertaining. Plus, an Outdoor Room is just so darn cool.

Indeed, the Outdoor Room is evolving from nice-to-have to must-have status. It is no longer a regional trend but, increasingly, an expected home feature from sunbelt to snowbelt. For the many who already have an Outdoor Room, it is the heart of the home and the favorite spot to cook, dine, relax, and entertain. For those still dreaming about it, the Outdoor Room represents an aspirational lifestyle, and they want in.  

“Americans are spending on outdoor living like never before,” says Dan DiClerico, smart-home strategist and home expert at HomeAdvisor. “The creation of outdoor living spaces, including outdoor kitchens, is a main driver of home-improvement spending.” DiClerico estimates nearly 50 million homeowners will make improvements to their yards and outdoor areas this year.

Online lending company LightStream, a division of SunTrust Bank, reveals that 73% of homeowners plan to spend money on home-improvement projects this year (a 26% increase over last year), and outdoor projects are tops on the list of planned renovations. The LightStream 2019 Home Improvement Trends Study indicates 41% of consumers are planning to improve their outdoor spaces.

“Indoor-Outdoor Living” is one of the top Home Exterior Trends for 2019, according to home-design platform Houzz, based on the photos most-saved to idea books on the site. It is likewise a hot topic on Pinterest, with thousands upon thousands of Outdoor Room-related pins posted on the platform.

“More and more homeowners are seeking an outdoor living experience with an increased level of comfort, finish, performance, and connectivity,” says Mitch Slater, CEO and founder of Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens and Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens. This year, his company released the Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens “Outdoor Living Report,” a comprehensive independent research study that finds the concept has advanced from an outdoor kitchen on the patio, to full-scale, multi-room, outdoor living spaces with stand-alone functionality and amenities.

Alta Vista at Orchard Hills, Savona model by Toll Brothers.

Photo courtesy: ©2019 Toll Brothers.

Generation Outdoors

Interest and adoption is only expected to increase as Millennials enter the housing market and home sizes shrink to meet their preferences and budgets. Although Millennials typically reject spending money on unused interior spaces, superfluous furnishings, and impractical “stuff,” experts say the generation, more than any other, places a premium on outdoor living.

According to DiClerico, Millennials are twice as likely as Baby Boomers or Gen Xers to build a deck or porch, spruce up the landscape, and create an outdoor living space. He points out that, for Millennials, improving the outdoors is a cost-effective way to expand a small, starter home’s usable living space. “Millennials are also much more experiential than past generations,” he says, “and outdoor living spaces are all about experiences and personal expression.”

Survey Says…

While Millennials should help ensure that the concept grows for the foreseeable future, numerous studies show outdoor living is already a priority for many households, irrespective of generation, region, home size, or budget.

DiClerico says Baby Boomers, looking to remain in their homes and age in place, will often add an outdoor kitchen or create an indoor-outdoor transitional room as a way to make the main floor of the home more usable and accessible. Financially stable Gen Xers spend more on the latest innovations and design trends, according to DiClerico, and view outdoor living as a place to come together with family and friends.

According to the latest American Institute of Architects (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey, nearly 56% of architects say requests for Outdoor Rooms are growing among their clients, and 19% say demand is up for roof decks.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) 2018 Builder Practices Survey reveals approximately 59% of new, single-family homes now include a patio, a figure that has been continually climbing since 2009, with the average patio size about 260 sq. ft. The NAHB study also finds the front porch is making a comeback; it is included in 65% of new-home builds, up from 40% two decades ago.

This double-dose of outdoor environments is good news for retailers. While backyard patios are candidates for upgrades such as outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and beverage stations, the front porch represents an opportunity to sell a second set of patio furniture, heaters, lighting, and decorative accessories such as rugs, pillows, and throws.

An elegant Outdoor Room with furniture by Phoenix-based CC Patio, with DEKTON coffee and side tables.

Photo courtesy: ©2019 Jelena Gauthier, CC Patio.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Mark boisclair.

Not Just for the Rich and Famous – or the Sunbelt

Initial adoption of the Outdoor Room might have been by owners of million-dollar, luxury homes, but now there is significant demand along a much broader income spectrum.

Jim Ginocchi, president of Coyote Outdoor Living, explains that today’s first-time homebuyers are unwilling to put off the outdoor living experience until their second home or trade-up home. “They understand this concept and its true return on investment, and they want an Outdoor Room now,” he says. According to Ginocchi, the introduction of cost-effective islands, grills, and accessories, have enabled the creation of Outdoor Rooms in small spaces and at every price range. “Brands such as Coyote offer affordable luxury and have opened up the concept to a much broader base of consumers,” he adds.

NAHB says builders are creating outdoor living spaces on even the “smallest and narrowest of lots.” Many production homebuilders are offering Outdoor Rooms as optional upgrades, outfitting model homes with beautiful alfresco environments to inspire homebuyers to go for it and roll the cost into their mortgage.

Increasingly, outdoor spaces are becoming standard features. Ginocchi says Coyote Outdoor Living is partnering with real estate developer Lennar, and commercial landscape contractor Loving, on a new development in Charlotte, North Carolina, where an Outdoor Room is included with every home. Standard in the price is a 120 sq. ft. paver patio and the choice of a Coyote grilling island or fireplace, according to Ginocchi.

Just as budgetary boundaries are expanding, so too are geographic ones. Builder calls the indoor-outdoor living phenomenon, “geography-agnostic,” noting it “has burst beyond initial geographical assumptions.” Case in point: Toll Brothers, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, reports buyers opted for an outdoor living feature in 20% of the homes it sold nationally in 2018. In New Jersey, 35% of Toll Brothers’ homebuyers purchased the Outdoor Room option.

Slater says a large customer contingent for his outdoor kitchen products is in cold climates. “California is our top territory, but our second largest territory extends from Boston to Washington, DC,” he says. “We have actually sold more outdoor kitchens on Long Island (NY) than in Texas.” He says the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver, Canada, also are growing markets.

Slater has noticed some distinct trends emerging regionally. He has seen a rise in larger outdoor spaces in the Midwest, Southeast, suburban New England, and Mid-Atlantic regions, where homeowners often have more available yard space. He says densely populated, urban areas such as Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver are trending toward more compact Outdoor Rooms, but are investing in upgrades that make an impact.

According to Slater, a decade ago consumers in colder climates routinely resisted spending money on an Outdoor Room, rationalizing that they only had a few nice-weather months to use it. But, he says, many now recognize they can incorporate overhead structures, heaters, fire features, fans, misters, retractable screens, and sliding glass walls to provide comfort, shade, and shelter from the elements, and extend the use of their space. “Clients look at the Outdoor Room as a part of the home and are more willing to invest in their property today,” he says.

Here’s a Tuscan home nestled into the Arizona landscape; the designers were able to incorporate multiple living environments including a full outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven, wood pergola, fireplace, and pool.

Photos courtesy: ©2019 Builder: Nicole Shoppach; California Pools Landscape. Photographer: Aaron Eriksson.

Return on Investment

Those investments yield solid returns. A survey by shows outdoor living features have “major appeal,” and buyers are willing to pay more for a home that has them. According to the report, homes with barbecues and outdoor kitchens yielded 26% higher prices over comparable homes without those features; homes with fire pits or outdoor fireplaces sold for a 25% premium.

Similar findings were reported by realty company Zillow. After analyzing listing descriptions from nearly four million homes nationwide, Zillow found that outdoor features and amenities had the largest impact on the final sale price. With other features comparable, homes with outdoor kitchens sold for 25% higher, pizza ovens 26% higher, and outdoor fireplaces 20% higher.

According to the Wall Street Journal, retractable glass walls top the list of luxury amenities that stand out to potential homebuyers and help homes sell faster.

Interestingly, however, the 2019 LightStream Home Improvement Trends Study finds that most homeowners (29%) undertake outdoor-improvement projects to personalize their home for their lifestyle, not for potential resale benefits. In other words, they’re adding outdoor living spaces in order to enjoy them right now.

One block from the ocean in Newport Beach, California, designers created a full outdoor kitchen on a rooftop with ocean views. The cabinets are from Danver, the grill, bar and refrigerator from Lynx.

Photo courtesy: ©2019 designer: alicia r. marshall,
innovative outdoor kitchens.
Photographer: christopher mayer photography.

A World of Wellness

Outdoor living not only adds enjoyment, it may also provide significant health benefits. A new study out of Denmark and published by the National Academy of Sciences, finds that children who have more access to outdoor green space have 55% less risk of mental-health disorders as adults. It is a position advocated by a growing number of health and wellness professionals, and even by the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who promoted the idea in a recent BBC interview, where she said being outdoors in nature “has huge benefits on our physical and mental well-being, particularly for young children.”

The concept is part of an overall wellness movement that has sparked growth in “biophilic” design. The design trend involves incorporating nature into home and workplace environments through strategies such as integrating plants, woods, and other natural elements in building interiors, blending indoor and outdoor living areas through transitional rooms or glass walls, or adding green walls or rooftop gardens.

According to the documentary, “Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life,” when hospitals, schools, offices, and residential homes connect people with nature, patients heal faster, children’s test scores rise, workers’ productivity increases, people interact more with neighbors, and, in general, thrive.

Garden Media Group’s 2019 Garden Trends Report indicates consumers are placing a higher value on their connection with nature, noting, “In a desert of work, stress, and the Internet, nature – both indoors and outside – has become an oasis.” Evidence: Homeowners – led by Millennials – are spending record amounts on gardening, up nearly 20% in 2018, according to the report.

More evidence: Pinterest searches for vertical gardens were up 287% last year. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) reports nearly 71% of architects had increased requests for edible gardens with fruit and vegetables, and more than 54% saw increased requests for rooftop gardens. Companies, such as Urban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchens, are integrating planters into their modular outdoor kitchen components.

“Floor-to-ceiling glass-wall systems also tie into the wellness trend that’s permeating home design,” adds DiClerico. “They blend indoor-outdoor spaces, and because they flood interiors with natural light, they help to regulate sleep and improve moods.”

From backyard grass to backyard oasis, this Orléans, Canada, house is now equipped for parties. Concrete slabs create the base for the metal pergola; silver white polished slabs by Rinox complement the white vinyl home; wooden accents add warmth to the space.

Photo courtesy: ©2019 Maria Correla, Rinox Signature.
Photographer: Michel bonomo photographie.

What’s Going into Outdoor Rooms  

Whether it’s because of the wellness trend, or simply because they add “Wow Factor,” large, accordion-fold, sliding glass walls are hot. Features such as window walls that blur the lines between indoors and out, offer easy access to patio and pool areas and provide expansive views; they are among the top Home Exterior Trends for 2019, according to Houzz. The design platform reports the trend is especially popular in kitchens, and predicts we can “expect to see more kitchens completely opening up to decks and patios.”

Similarly, Better Homes & Gardens says adding oversized, sliding kitchen windows that open to a dining counter on the patio, much like a take-out window, are the latest kitchen renovation trend.

Once a luxury niche feature, the growing popularity of long-span, sliding-glass-wall systems has spawned additional brands, product innovations, and lower price points, making them available to a wider market. According to Builder, while just a few years ago prices of glass-wall systems ranged from about $800 to $1,200 per linear foot, today there are options in the $500 to $1,000 per-linear-foot range. In addition, glass-wall sliders are being developed with even larger panels, longer spans, and in more configurations, with up to six panels and openings spanning 30 feet.

Glass-wall systems may be on the rise, but outdoor kitchens have long been considered a staple of the Outdoor Room. The AIA reports outdoor kitchens top the list of most-wanted home features, with clients looking for a full slate of built-in amenities and design continuity between indoor and outdoor kitchens.

Qualified Remodeler reports 80% of remodelers had completed at least one outdoor living project in the past year; an outdoor kitchen with grill, counter top, appliances, and cabinetry was the most-requested element, completed by 36% of remodelers.

According to Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ 2019 Outdoor Living Report, consumers expect outdoor living spaces, including outdoor kitchens, to function independently from the rest of the home. To that end, Slater says today’s outdoor kitchens frequently include multiple specialty grills such as kamados, pellet grills, smokers, pizza ovens, or Argentinian grills, in addition to a traditional gas grill. Alfresco kitchens also are increasingly likely to have outdoor-rated refrigerators, kegerators, wine refrigerators, sinks, dishwashers, and/or even ice machines.

As homeowners seek more comprehensive outdoor kitchens, they’re also demanding outdoor storage solutions for grilling tools, serving ware, and other necessities. A desire for storage is one reason behind the growth in modular outdoor kitchen cabinetry systems. Experts say, in a growing number of markets, modular cabinetry is outpacing traditional masonry outdoor kitchens with built-in doors and drawers.

The Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens 2019 Outdoor Living Report finds people want outdoor cabinetry to look, feel, and function like indoor cabinetry, be durable enough to withstand the elements, and require minimal maintenance. DiClerico is seeing a trend toward sleek finishes and soft-close doors in outdoor cabinetry. Another revelation, according to Slater, is that outdoor cabinetry is moving beyond traditional outdoor kitchen usage and gaining traction in installations such as satellite bartending stations, outdoor coffee bars, garages, boat docks, horse barns, pool houses, and tennis courts.

According to ASLA, fire pits and fireplaces are among the most-requested outdoor landscape elements, included in 66% of projects, besting seating and dining areas (64%) and outdoor kitchens (59%), but, interestingly, slightly behind dog-related recreation areas (68%). The 2019 “Pinterest 100” list of top trends, gleaned from search-volume patterns on the social media platform, indicates searches for indoor and outdoor fireplaces, particularly for those with sleek, modern designs, were up 763% on the site last year.

In this contemporary Outdoor Room, Ryan Hughes Design provided a nightclub atmosphere, with spaces for relaxation, entertainment, and fitness. There’s an outdoor kitchen, a spa, fire pit, pool with sun-tanning ledge, bubblers, swim jets, and a cover for safety.

Photo courtesy: ©2019 Ryan hughes
Photographer: Jim Smith Photography.

Overhead Structures

Overhead structures are trending because they help increase the usability of outdoor spaces, according to home-improvement authority Danny Lipford, host of the nationally syndicated “Today’s Homeowner” television and radio shows and podcasts. Lipford says solid-ceilinged pavilions and porches offer the most protection from the elements, but there are creative shade and shelter options for every budget, including pergolas, stationary and retractable awnings, shade sails, and even umbrellas.  

The most recent Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) reveals pergolas are requested in more than 48% of outdoor living projects. Today’s pergola systems increasingly incorporate fabric or louvered panels that can be closed manually or by remote-control for added shade and shelter. ASLA reports arbors (37%), porches (33%), and pavilions (33%) are other popular requests.

According to Forbes, architectural structures such as pergolas, seating walls, fireplaces, and vertical planting walls are being used to delineate distinct rooms for conversation, television viewing, dining, cooking, and recreation within the outdoor living space. A survey by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), whose members include landscape, lawn care, irrigation, and tree-care professionals, reveals that homeowners are interested in “functional” outdoor structures that serve a dual purpose, such as a vertical edible garden that acts as a privacy fence, or a retaining wall that doubles as extra seating when entertaining.

Nearly 40% of landscape projects now require some type of ADA-accessible structure (Americans with Disabilities Act), according to the ASLA Residential Landscape Architecture study.

Indoor comforts are making their way outdoors, and in the process, helping consumers get more mileage out of their outdoor spaces. Ceiling fans, eaves-mounted or portable heaters, and cooling misters extend the outdoor-living season on both ends and are increasingly being incorporated into Outdoor Rooms, according to Lipford. More than a quarter of AIA architects report requests for infrared patio heaters are up, and ASLA says 65% of Outdoor Room projects now include lighting. Tech upgrades such as high-definition televisions, sound systems, and Wi-Fi capability are becoming fixtures in the outdoor space.

Manual or remote-controlled retractable screens systems from companies such as Phantom Screens, SW Sun Control, Corradi USA shading systems, and Universal Screens, are being incorporated into more Outdoor Rooms. The screens can be raised or lowered as conditions dictate to provide protection from the sun, wind, and insects.

Pools are making a comeback in the outdoor space. In-ground pool construction was up over 9% in 2018, according to findings from the 2018 New Pool Index by Hanley Wood Metrostudy.

Toll Brothers’ Estancia at Yorba Linda, a coastal contemporary in California.

Photo courtesy: ©2019 Toll Brothers.

Outdoor Room Design

The Washington Post reports designers are blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces, incorporating natural stone, wood, and plant materials into home interiors, while bringing indoor-like furnishings, cabinetry, and décor into outdoor spaces. DiClerico has noticed growing use of luxury decking materials that coordinate with interior wood floors to create the appearance of seamless flow between indoors and out.

Forbes says outdoor design is gravitating toward a contemporary aesthetic, mirroring the interior of the home. This finding is echoed in the Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens 2019 Outdoor Living Report, which reveals clean lines, sleek form, sophisticated designs, tailored looks, and European styling are trending in outdoor spaces, particularly in urban markets.

According to Slater, more consumers are embracing color in outdoor kitchens. “White may remain popular in indoor kitchens, but in the outdoors, homeowners are more inclined to opt for saturated colors,” he says. “Black is quickly becoming the new go-to neutral in 2019.”

According to Zillow’s 2019 Outdoor Living Trends Report, Scandinavian-inspired minimalist designs are in outdoors. It says neutral palettes such as black, white, and gray, mixed with natural materials such as teak, and a splash of vibrant color, such as orange, red, yellow, pink, or emerald green, are trending.

Zillow’s design expert Kerrie Kelly reports that materials and furnishings once reserved for indoor use – including brass fixtures, chandeliers, soft rugs, curtain panels, pillows, cozy throws, and floor cushions are increasingly popular outdoors. Even new, luxury fabrics such as outdoor-safe velvet, leather, chenille, and textured upholstery are making their way to the patio, adding a sense of indoor-style luxury and beauty. (FYI, on the way out, according to the Zillow report, are farmhouse motifs and matchy-matchy patio sets.)

The designers mixed aluminum, woven wicker, and faux teak, as well as the client’s love of blue, to create a beautiful outdoor living area, with a jaw-dropping seating area within the pool.

Inspiration Everywhere

Consumers are finding outdoor design inspiration everywhere. Decorating magazines, home remodeling shows, and websites such as Pinterest are predictable sources for Outdoor Room ideas. But the concept also increasingly appears in unexpected places, such as the scenic backdrop for a magazine fashion spread, the set of a cooking show, or even the background of TV commercials for products as disparate as pharmaceuticals and pet food.

Shows such as HGTV’s “Yard Crashers”, “Ultimate Pools”, “The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie”, and more, prominently spotlight inspirational Outdoor Rooms on a regular basis. This year, the Bravo Network launched “Backyard Envy,” a program that follows landscape designers as they transform backyard and rooftop spaces into outdoor living oases.

Concept houses also help fan the flames of outdoor-living desire. The 2019 HGTV Dream Home features multiple outdoor living spaces linked to the home’s interiors by a series of sliding glass walls. In the kitchen, a sliding window opens to an outdoor breakfast bar on the deck, sheltered by a solid-roof pavilion. Sliding walls extend the indoor living room to a rocking-chair deck with spectacular views, and even the master bedroom sports a sliding wall that opens to an outdoor living space with a hot tub.

The This Old House “Idea House,” a 2,700 sq. ft. Craftsman cottage in Narragansett, Rhode Island, features a large patio with an outdoor kitchen, fire pit, and outdoor shower. House Beautiful magazine’s concept house, “The Whole Home Project,” melds indoors and outdoors by incorporating a fireplace and television in the outdoor living room, and a live herb garden in the indoor kitchen. It also includes an elevated, covered outdoor space nestled within the trees, so the homeowner can practice the Japanese wellness concept of “forest bathing.” Annual idea homes from Southern Living, Coastal Living, Sunset, and other magazines also regularly feature inspirational Outdoor Rooms.

The concept of outdoor living is further on display at vacation resorts, hotels, rooftop bars, restaurants, and increasingly, multifamily residential apartment buildings. “Outdoor amenities provide a competitive edge in the multifamily housing space and have continued to grow in popularity for the past four or five years,” according to Slater.

For instance, at the Boulevard, a community of 1,750 single and multifamily homes in the San Francisco area, prospective residents are being enticed with a 6,200 sq. ft. outdoor living room with casual furniture and shade structures, as well as a 10,750 sq. ft. outdoor kitchen with two grilling islands, beverage stations, and large, family-style farm tables, and a 5,000 sq. ft. outdoor co-working “office” area, among other outdoor-living amenities.

You’ve Gotta be In It to Win It

As the concept gains traction, more and more players – including independent, Big Box, and appliance retailers, landscape architects and designers, builders and remodelers, interior designers, kitchen designers, and other professionals – all are getting involved in creating and selling Outdoor Rooms. As each carves out its niche in the category, manufacturers are adding more and more Outdoor Room products to the pipeline, creating a snowball of consumer awareness, knowledge, and interest.

According to Ginocchi, the competition is a good thing, and there’s still plenty of room for everyone to grow and be successful. “Consumers are getting all these subliminal visuals from the media and in all types of stores from Big Box to high-end,” he says. “There is very strong messaging about the outdoor space. This exposure creates more opportunities for consumers to learn about it and sparks a desire to create a similar space at home.”

A research study from Napoleon, called “Hot Spots,” shows just how significant the impact these visual reminders can be on consumer behavior. The study found that when consumers were exposed to photos of outdoor living spaces with fireplaces, the desire to own one rose from 35% to 88%.

As awareness of the possibilities for outdoor living grows, consumer demand for the Outdoor Room grows with it. If you show it, they will come – and buy.

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