Outdoor rooms extend living space and freshen up your lifestyle. Aren’t you ready to go a bit more au naturel?
Every afternoon, I meet my spouse on the deck, where we enjoy our lake view and share the high and low points of our respective days. My sister spends her late afternoons on her patio, under the large oak tree, sipping coffee and chatting with neighbors. My friends head for their porch and dinner al fresco almost every night.
One of the most appealing natural amenities in the Carolinas is the climate. You can relax and entertain outside almost every month of the year. Fans and outdoor fireplaces make it a 12-month possibility.
Porches used to be simple little add-ons. In the South, a large porch might have had a joggling board or a swing. Lemonade was consumed with abandon.
Today, that porch might segue into an outdoor gourmet kitchen, with all the bells and whistles imaginable. Conversation areas include comfortable upholstery, rugs and TVs. A pool, play area, or perhaps a zen garden may be steps away. Hot spring spas on the deck remain popular. Outdoor lamps create a warm, inviting ambience, while color schemes range from natural greens and grays, to Caribbean blues and orange. That color has become such an important element reflects the emphasis on outdoor areas as integral parts of the home and, logically so, extensions of interior decor.
Outdoor living areas are great for entertaining. Child-friendly elements welcome neighborhood families over for burgers and dogs. Cozy nooks invite date night. Hammocks beg for a good read. It’s what living in the Carolinas offers to those who leave months of snow behind. And, although outdoor rooms can be quite affordable, there is no limit to what talent and money can achieve. Here’s what some of our readers have said about their outdoor room obsessions.
Doris Clardy loves daily walks. Even in chilly weather, she bundles up and sits on one of her decks, admiring her spectacular mountain views from Rumbling Bald Resort in Lake Lure, NC. Ray and Donna Armer traded suburban life for a historic cottage in downtown Beaufort, SC. Then, they turned a slightly "down at the heels" courtyard into a peaceful Italian retreat, complete with comfortable seating under a pergola with grotto, fire pit and whimsical fountain, creating a restful haven for all who enter.
Jackie and Farris Cowart positioned their outdoor living area to take advantage of gorgeous sunsets and marsh views that extend for miles – even to the shrimp boats in the distance, (45 minutes by car and 15 minutes by water). Their double-level deck includes a covered area next to the house, and an open deck two steps down.
A couple in North Carolina’s mountains built the quintessential outdoor room -- an observatory positioned on top of a fantastic mountaintop home. The telescope sits on a freestanding concrete column rising more than 40 feet up through the middle of the stairwell. Their ceiling is a sparkling nighttime sky.
And so it goes. If you’re determined to create that exceptional Carolina outdoor room, start a Pinterest board with the rooms and suggestions you find here and online. (A file folder will work just fine, too.)
We asked a few experts about trends and new technology that bring the sun and moon closer than ever. Here’s what they said:
“My clients wish to have landscapes that are low in maintenance but, at the same time, provide a unique sense of place, where their garden is different from any other,” says Patrick Pernell, award-winning landscape architect for SGA Architecture in North Charleston and creator of the outdoor area shown on the cover of this issue. Large houses on small sites are the norm; however, in his view the size of the outdoor space does not matter. “It’s a matter of quality. Smaller spaces can be made to appear larger by capturing views off the property,” he explained. “The selection of plant material; how they are massed; how specimens are used; and how the hardscape elements (terraces, walls, fences, etc.) interface with the plantings – these are all critical in the formation of an inviting garden.”
For plant materials, Mr. Pernell prefers what he calls “the old standbys, including grasses, holly ferns, podocarpus, sasanquas, sago palms, hydrangeas, crepe myrtles, hollies, camellias, liriope and boxwoods.” His new interest is in moss, which he plans to incorporate into future designs.
“Outdoor rooms, porches and decks are today being lived in and getting used as additional rooms of the house, thus they have truly become ‘room-sized,’ ” explains John Robert Edwards, AIA, NCARB, of LS3P/Neal Prince Studio. He observes that large outdoor spaces are not necessarily a new phenomenon (the trend toward outdoor rooms/porches/decks being large harkens back to the sizes they were in the early years of the 20th C.); however, they are new within the current generation. He attributes that shrinkage to the mid-20th C. development of heating and air conditioning, when people stayed indoors. As a result, outdoor areas became very small.
“When I think about all of the great porches I’ve experienced, I always return to my grandmother’s porch at her Western North Carolina home,” he shared. “It really functioned like a huge screened-in room. After the meal, everyone went out on the porch and relaxed in a hammock. There were about a half dozen of them lined up beyond the casual seating area where she served coffee in the morning and where in the afternoon the adults had their beverages and we kids had tea or a soda. For many years, in my mind, this was the porch by which all others were judged.”
Jane Frederick, FAIA and South Atlantic Regional Director of Frederick + Frederick Architecture agrees that things are changing. “Outdoor rooms have definitely gotten larger during the past ten years,” she says. “Our clients want a combination of screened porches, covered without screen, and open terraces. They’re interested in outdoor kitchens with built-in counter tops. Large doors opening onto porches and terraces are extremely popular, because they extend the living space both visually and literally.”
Ms. Frederick suggests that with large doors and windows comes the need to pay attention to outdoor lighting to prevent the black mirror effect at night. “Having lights focused on objects outside extends the interior into the outside.”
Mr. Edwards says the days of simple porches with a couple of Adirondack chairs are gone. “Today, our clients want outdoor rooms with all the comforts of their indoor rooms, plus they want cooking equipment, refrigerators, sinks, fireplaces, and terraces with living room-style seating, wireless sound systems, and TVs that are weather-proof.” He reports seeing a growing interest in wood-fired pizza ovens among clients who take a more artisan approach to cooking. Fire pits and propane heaters are being incorporated on terraces and patios to extend use through all four seasons.
“Large room-width glass door openings that seamlessly connect indoor space to porches or terraces have become quite popular. These openings can be accomplished with multiple interconnected French doors (which bi-fold or pocket to the side) or by using large lift-and-slide doors that glide with ease and offer broad, uninterrupted views in either open or closed positions. “Retractable screens have become more widely used than ever before, as they allow homeowners to open up these large glass wall connections to their porches and keep both house and porch bug-free in the warm months – then, they can retract the screen safely away to connect covered areas to outdoor patios and terraces.”
He favors stone, brick and ipe tropical hardwoods for outdoor living, especially as flooring materials.
Ms. Frederick suggests natural materials such as stone and brick for paving and agrees the ipe decking is a great choice for its durability. In terms of furniture, ceilings and railings, she likes cypress and teak.
“We’re seeing a trend toward automatic pool covers, as they increase the sense of safety,” says Mr. Edwards. “Pool deck areas have shifted away from plain old concrete to flat stone or pavers. These areas are being intensely landscaped to have a more natural feel.”
Mr. Edwards’ firm is incorporating secondary landscape water features into pool areas as well – creating the illusion that the pool is filled by a natural water source in the yard.
Ms. Frederick calls coral stone a “fantastic pool deck material, with its rough texture and light coloring that keeps it cool.” She notes the increasing popularity of saltwater pools, as well.
“Furniture manufacturers and retailers understand that people want to make the most of every inch of living space in and around their homes, and outdoors is a natural place to cultivate, whether you have an expansive deck or a rooftop balcony,” says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations and marketing for the American Home Furnishings Association (AHFA). “The variety of style, size and price points available is so great today that everyone can create a space ideal for how they prefer to spend their time.”
PITFALLS TO AVOID
“We’re advising clients to set their porch and outdoor living budgets higher than we did in the past, to better align with their heated space budget,” says Mr. Edwards. “By the foot, porches have become as costly, and sometimes more costly, than comparably sized heated spaces.”
Ms. Frederick warns that porches built on the north side of the house will be dark. She suggests terracing decks to avoid a rail in your line of sight when sitting, and reminds homeowners that a step-down of less than 30 inches does not require a guard rail.
Finally, as those of us who prefer natural woods have discovered, she advises that ipe and teak both fade, and for the porch lover who doesn’t like the faded look, there will be more maintenance required to keep the woods their original colors.
Experts advise: In planning outdoor living space, invest in the services of a high-end provider such as Ferguson, to ensure outdoor appliances offer longterm functionality and outdoor design characteristics.
The more comfortable, the more appealing. For those looking beyond the porch, outdoor rooms that look like their indoor counterparts invite homeowners to choose the ambience that comes with being outside – closer to nature, without giving up a thing.