Gone are the days when just a charcoal grill and lawn chairs suffice. Outdoor living rooms are the new essential for American homeowners and it’s not only for high-end custom homes. They are being built into moderate spec houses and added in the renovations of existing homes. It seems everyone recognizes the benefits of having a backyard sanctuary.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey for the second quarter of 2011 found a significant increase in requests for outdoor living spaces. Even with consumers scaling back their wish lists, investing in outdoor living spaces has become a major part of home remodeling as families travel less and instead spend more on outdoor entertaining and family time at home.
While this can mean a high-concept kitchen with a great room attached and amenities that rival indoor furnishings (surround sound, flat screen televisions and fashionable furniture), the outdoor room doesn’t have to be extravagant.
A stylish outdoor living area can be created within any budget. We spoke with Charlotte’s design experts to learn their recommendations for creating an outdoor living space that can increase your home’s footprint and give you a great escape that’s as close as your own backyard.
Certified landscape designer Ashleigh Geremia says creating outdoor living rooms is her passion. She has had the opportunity to create many in her role as a designer with DeSignia in Charlotte. As a plant specialist with a degree in horticulture, it is natural for Ashleigh to prioritize plants, or softscapes, in the outdoor living room. She also designs pools, patios and other hardscapes that define the space.
Ashleigh shares her top five elements for a successful outdoor living area:
“Plantings (softscapes) are an essential element to outdoor design,” says Ashleigh, who explains that it’s easy to get caught up in hardscapes like fireplaces, pools or patios and forget that being in nature is the true beauty of an outdoor room. “First and foremost we need seasonal color and the beauty of plants. Without the plants you may as well be indoors.” Ashleigh’s favorite plantings for the outdoor living space include evergreens, which she calls the backbones of the outdoor living area and ornamental grasses. “No plant compares to ornamental grasses,” she says. “The blooms, or plumes, are majestic and create a graceful billowing aesthetic when blowing in the wind.” Ashleigh also loves working with our classic southern plants. “Bursting color from Azaleas in the spring, Hydrangeas that bloom in the summer and Camellias with their winter blooms are essentials,” she says. “They are proven southern performers, so they are low maintenance and give us beautiful color.”
“Whether you do pavers or natural stone, you need somewhere to entertain that is functional and aesthetically pleasing. With the array of pavers available today there is something to please everyone’s taste as well as match the architecture of their home,” says Ashleigh.
“You need a fireplace, fire pit, grill or pizza oven — something to entertain with,” says Ashleigh. She says built-in outdoor grills and pizza ovens are not just for custom, high-end homes. “These features are attainable and we’re building them in all types of homes.”
“A water feature of some sort helps set a peaceful mood,” she says. “The soothing sound of bubbling water or a trickling waterfall creates a relaxing environment that is the perfect place to unwind after a hectic day at work.”
“A little bit of green goes a long way,” says Ashleigh. “There is a big difference when your outdoor living area is offset by turf even if it is a small area of turf. A green lawn brightens the atmosphere and broadens the horizon.”
Create An Extension of Your Home
John DiFiore, President and project manager at Fun Outdoor Living, sees the outdoor living area as an extension of the home. “I like to design the area to meet the architectural characteristics of the home,” explains John. “It should never look like an afterthought or an add-on.
It should flow seamlessly from the inside of the home to the outside.” John also adds that while you should strive to make your outdoor living area fun and integrated, it’s also important to make it functional. He says there are three steps he typically follows when considering an outdoor project for a client. “First, I consider the specific needs of the homeowner,” says John. “What do they like to do? How active are they?”
“I also like to identify their long-term goals in an outdoor area so that we can build an infrastructure that allows us to add on to the space in phases if they want. If the client needs a satellite or a full kitchen, we can add structures that make entertaining outside as comfortable as using your kitchen inside.”
Furnishing Your Outdoor Living Area
Of course you’ll need somewhere to sit in your outdoor living room. Furnishing your outdoor living area can mean fashionable furniture, accessories and rugs. Regina Poshkus of Summer Classics in Charlotte says that choosing durable fabrics doesn’t necessarily limit your selection. She recommends Sunbrella, a high performance outdoor fabric that comes in hundreds of colors and patterns.
“Look for furniture made with N-Dura resin, wrought aluminum and cast aluminum frames that withstand the toughest elements,” Regina says. “And don’t be afraid to ask an expert. We make house-calls to help clients plan their outdoor living spaces and teach them how to care for their outdoor furniture.”
Add Ambience With Lighting
Whether your entertaining during the day or the evening, outdoor lighting can add an atmosphere that’s warm and inviting. Robert Fortney from Lighthouse Landscape Lighting suggests looking at lighting additions that meet the specific needs of your outdoor living lifestyle. “With more people doing “stay-cations”, the back yard has truly become an outdoor living area,” explains Robert. “There is nothing more inviting than a warmly and properly lit home.”
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