The Latest in Outdoor Living
Americans will spend more than six billion dollars this year improving their outdoor living spaces.
Builders and neighborhood developers are listening to homeowners’ demands for ever-more opportunities to take it outside. We want to cook and eat and entertain, relax and share hobbies and get fit in the great outdoors, and we want to do it with the same level of convenience and comfort and elegance that we find inside our homes.
A Room with a View
Possibly the biggest trend in outdoor living is the creation of outdoor rooms. Today’s exterior spaces are increasingly designed as an extension of the home’s interior spaces, with much of the same functionality, comfort and design aesthetic as any room in the home. The availability of weather resistant materials has exploded over the past decade, making it possible for homeowners to cook, dine, entertain and relax al fresco.
From the ground up, patios and terraces are being built with the same refinement in fit and finish as any room inside. Flooring options range from tile to stone to polished concrete in a myriad of finishes. Large pavers are in the forefront of outdoor flooring right now, with textured, water permeable pavers a popular choice for environmental sustainability. A huge selection of all-weather rugs in all sizes gives outdoor spaces more polish and refinement than ever before.
Today’s outdoor rooms, whether covered or not, are being elegantly defined by vertical structures, such as columns, screens, water features or fireplace walls. And outdoor furniture has come a long way from the plastic-strap lounges of yesterday. Weather-resistant sofas, lounge chairs, dining sets and accessories are now widely available to match any décor and to achieve every bit of the comfort and refinement as you find inside.
A Cook’s Delight
Just like inside the home, the outdoor kitchen is the most important room in the back yard. The options for outfitting today’s outdoor kitchens are nothing short of staggering. From weather resistant cabinets like stainless steel, laminate in virtually any color or even wood, and counters of stone, marble, concrete or quartz — the new outdoor kitchens are impeccable in fit and finish.
And they work just as well as they look. Built-in grills with rotisseries, infrared searing units and multi-fuel options (for the wood-fired steak enthusiasts) are all the rage for outdoor kitchens. And more and more homeowners are opting to include a wood or gas-fired pizza oven in their outdoor gourmet cooking repertoire.
Appliance manufacturers have responded to the demand for appliances that can withstand the elements. Weather resistant microwaves, dishwashers, refrigerators — even espresso makers and wine cabinets are widely available in a variety of price points.
Fire it Up
Flickering flames and the warm glow of fire, whether it be from wood, gas or even ethanol, are an essential element in today’s outdoor environs. There is something almost magical in the ability of fire to transform cold dark spaces into warm inviting ones — into spaces people want to gather and to linger. And there’s an outdoor fire feature to fit just about any décor and budget.
The latest word in fireplaces is options. Outdoor fireplaces of stone, brick, poured concrete, tile or stucco, in styles ranging from rustic with rough-sawn mantles, to ultra-sleek contemporary with polished surfaces and clean lines, to Spanish-style stucco to the soft weathered finishes of cottage style — whatever your fancy, it’s available.
An outdoor fireplace is an ideal way to define one “wall” of an open air patio, or it can become the focal point of any outdoor room. And whether you like the crackle and smell of a wood-burning fire or the ease of clicking a button for instant natural gas flame, those options are available too. Dual-fuel fire features provide the ultimate flexibility.
And a vertical fireplace isn’t your only choice either; fire pits are becoming ever more popular and can be built in-ground or raised, with fireside-surround seating, or even table-height for the ultimate centerpiece.
If you’re not ready for the investment of built-in fire features, the options in portables are just as abundant — from simple steel fire pits to rustic chimineas to ultra-contemporary ethanol-burning tabletop models.
Cool it Down
Like fire, water is a magnetic element in any outdoor living space. Water creates a focal point and brings life to your patio or garden like nothing else. Whether it’s to look at, listen to, soak in or splash around in, today’s water features offer more variety and lower maintenance than ever before.
When it comes to swimming pools, natural shapes are an ever popular choice. So-called “beach,” or gently sloping entries are in great demand, as are shallow areas, or tanning ledges, good for parking a lounge chair in a few inches of water. Vanishing or infinity edges are also a favorite element for higher-end pools. Homeowners have more options when it comes to the decorative elements of pools, like crushed or tumbled stone trim or glass tile.
If a swimming pool doesn’t fit into your outdoor living plan, there are still lots of ways to add water to the space. Small garden ponds are increasingly being incorporated into the landscape design. And there’s nothing like a fountain to add the seductive sound of water to your patio or terrace. Cascading waterfall fountains, either short or tall, self contained, or site-built, are a hot trend for adding both visual and aural water elements. Smaller, bubbling fountains are widely available, with a trio of stone or rock columns, bubbling into a gravel catch basin for recirculation, being one of the most popular choices.
Outside is Where the Neighbors Meet
As homeowners look to expand and refine their private outdoor living spaces, more and more they are seeking to extend their options to gather, play and just be outside. Developers across the country and especially here in the Triangle are heeding that call as never before, incorporating a myriad of possibilities for outdoor activities into the fabric of their neighborhoods, from trails, to pools, to pocket parks, gathering spaces to community gardens.
“What we have done at Briar Chapel,” said Shannon McSwiney, marketing director for Newland Communities, “is to create opportunities for neighbors to gather, for people with shared interests to come together and connect.”
Trails, paved or gravel or mulched, criss-crossing communities, meandering through wooded areas and along streams, for walkers and runners and bicycles and strollers, are the number one feature for creating connectivity in neighborhoods. At Briar Chapel, residents enjoy 24 miles of multi-use trails, and the 10-foot wide paved trails at Traditions at Wake Forest are big enough for even the widest strollers. (And they’re the site of their annual sidewalk chalk festival.)
Gathering places, along the network of trails, are another outdoor amenity much in demand. So-called “pocket parks” today offer more than a swing set and a slide. At Briar Chapel, there’s an elaborate treehouse structure in one location, a waterfall at another, a natural boulder field at another and a dog park for the neighborhood’s four-legged residents to gather. Open spaces for ball fields to accommodate everything from soccer to Frisbee tossing to giant-bubble blowing are another popular outdoor amenity.
Community gardens are a quickly growing trend in new-home neighborhoods, cultivating everything from vegetables to flowers to herbs, along with camaraderie and friendships.
And much like the outdoor rooms so popular in homes, communities are offering pavilions, boathouses, terraces and even amphitheaters for neighbors to gather. At Traditions at Wake Forest, an amphitheater with built-in stone seating is equipped with lighting and a stage. “We host outdoor movie nights and concerts,” said Dawn Forrest, marketing director for JPM South Development, “and even s’mores nights, where everyone gets s’mores kits and toasts their marshmallows over the fire pit.” At Wendell Falls, an open-air tobacco barn is outfitted for dining al fresco and features a huge fireplace for gathering on cool fall nights.
Homeowners in today’s new communities are demanding much more from their neighborhood pools too. Resort-like features are what buyers are looking for. Zero-entry pools that gently slope into the water make entry for elderly, handicapped and young children so much easier than the pool steps of yesterday. Beach decks, fountains and underwater benches are being incorporated into pool designs more and more.
Homeowners are looking for separate areas — or even separate pools — for lap swimming and water aerobics, as well as kid-friendly splash pools and water-spray features.
The pool at Traditions at Wake Forest offers comfy cabanas and a wet-deck with free-floating chairs and spouting fountains. At Briar Chapel’s water park, the Splash Pad is a place for young children’s water play.
“We are driven by customer input,” said Newland Communities’ McSwiney. “We listen to what they like, what they’re looking for.” Indeed, the neighborhoods of the Triangle, and the homes that make up those neighborhoods, are a clear reflection of homeowners’ increasing desire to get outside and play — just like our moms always told us to do.
by Kelly McCall Branson