Entertaining Alfresco

 

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Glorious Food
Never has the tantalizing aroma of outdoor cooking been so hard to resist. Just ask Bryan Stolz, senior designer at Winterberry Garden Center in Southington. Long admired for its 16 acres of landscape inspirations, Winterberry has increasingly become a destination for outdoor kitchens as well.

“People want a well-designed, useful space where they can cook, entertain and relax. They want an extension of the home,” says Stolz. “Ten years ago it was common to hear, ‘Oh, but we can’t do this in Connecticut . . . these spaces only work in California.’ You hardly ever hear that now.”

The designers at Winterberry will work with a client to create an outdoor haven—from hardscape down to the smallest detail. “A lot of people come in because they want an entertaining area for large parties, but some just want an intimate family space. We always start with the lifestyle they’re looking for,” says Stolz. “Today, with advances in outdoor appliances you can really do anything, no matter how much room you have. I’d say the most popular request is just a grill, refrigerator and sink, but we do it all—from pizza ovens to kegerators.”

Stolz will help you choose the stainless steel appliances that work for you, and surfaces that will tie the prep, cooking and dining areas together. If you want to splurge, he’ll help you with that, too. Some of his more elaborate kitchens feature high-end grills, fridges, multiple sinks, dishwashers, warming ovens . . . even fire troughs and flat-screen TVs.

“Let the weather be damned,” says Russ Faulk of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, producers of what many consider the ultimate outdoor grill. “We’re seeing a lot of growth in the Northeast, as people are choosing to extend the season any way they can.” (Klaff’s in South Norwalk begins carrying Kalamazoo this month.) With the popularity of TV cooking shows (including one starring Chicago chef Rick Bayless, who swears by his Kalamazoo grill), says Faulk, “people are realizing you can cook everything outdoors that you can indoors, often with better results.”

The Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill (models start at $10,000) allows you to cook with any combination of gas, wood or charcoal; its varied grill surfaces are designed to cook meat, fish and vegetables to perfection.

Don’t overlook Viking, no slouch in this area, for a great selection of outdoor appliances, including gas and charcoal grills, smokers, wall ovens, warming drawers, refrigeration units, beverage dispensers and ice machines. Viking products are available at many locations, including Hollandia Garden Center in Bethel, Classic Garden Design in Weston and Mudrick’s in Stratford.
 

Gimme Shelter
Covering up is another trend in New England where the glaring sun or summer showers can keep you indoors. Here, many outdoor entertaining areas are outfitted with fixed pergolas, retractable awnings, canvas tents or one or more fanciful umbrellas, especially the free-arm variety.

Playful umbrellas of all kinds are available at Pottery Barn (don’t miss the retro Parker Stripe), as well as Target stores. Restoration Hardware’s Tucci, a stunning specimen in aluminum and stainless, designed to marine-grade specifications, is a knockout.

At New England Patio & Hearth, you can find a folding canopy wide enough to keep your dining party shaded or
(or dry) anywhere in the yard.

For a charming, freestanding gazebo—placed near the house and hub of activity, or off in the distance—look no further than Kloter Farms in Ellington, which carries some of the loveliest we’ve seen.
 

Climate Control
Paddle fans, when installed overhead in pergolas or under decks, can be cool and charming. Some of the more tropical styles can make you really feel as if you’re on vacation. You’ll find a good selection at Lowe’s and Home Depot stores.

Refreshing misters—the kind you see at theme parks—aren’t as common in the Northeast as they are in hotter regions, but you can find them. Keep in mind, however, that some of the models sold at big box stores are simply hoses with small holes punched in them.

The real thing, sold by ProMist Misting and Cooling (based in the sweltering Central Valley of California), uses high pressure and really tiny holes to provide “evaporative cooling” that can bring the temp on your deck down by 25 degrees.

Warming up isn’t so simple; not everyone is on the same page in the matter of portable heaters. Jessica Hall of The Outdoor Great Room Company says today’s standing heaters are a worthwhile way to extend the season. Others say the heaters, though popular at restaurants, are too clunky for home use—and not very energy efficient, with propane tanks needing to be replaced as often as every other day.

Fire pits are something everyone can agree on. Most garden centers have a few on display; Hall’s company carries a wide variety of styles, but the award-winning sleek and stylized contemporary gas fire pits are among their best sellers.

Fire pits with copper bowls are all the rage, according to Wabrek. “During the day, people will use them to hold cold beverages, or even as a raw bar,” he says, “but when the sun goes down, they empty the bowl and make a fire. It’s very appealing.”
 

Lighten Up
There’s nothing more frustrating than turning a steak on the grill and having no clue if it’s done because it’s so dark on your patio. “Good lighting is often overlooked in outdoor spaces,” says Stolz, “so we advise customers to make sure to consider it when designing an overall plan.”

If permanent illumination is desired, an electrician will most certainly be needed, whether you’re planning to install freestanding lampposts or want to wire lights into an overhead pergola. But there are many other professionally designed landscape-lighting options available from Alexia Lighting in Newington—for decks, patios, gazebos, pool areas and water gardens.

Finally, those small, solar-powered path lights are always an option. They’re inexpensive, but remember, you get what you pay for; we’ve found that some of these won’t last much more than a season or two. Still, if they can illuminate the perimeter of your patio, or get you from the street to the deck without tripping, they’re welcome guests at any outdoor gathering.
 

Something More
There’s nothing like flora to enhance your outdoor entertaining space . . . whether planted in the ground or in pots, which are themselves wonderful decorative elements for porch or patio. Should you require professional help, there are plenty of landscape design firms around. Winston Flowers, for one, now open in Greenwich, offers everything from dramatic container plantings to sustainable landscapes (optional maintenance and ongoing updating are available, too).

And finally, for all manner of up-to-the-minute accents and accessories, look to brand-new Terrain (which also carries a lovely line of furniture) in Westport. The finest pots and planters, terrariums and garden structures are all available here. (And for good measure while you’re visiting, don’t miss the fabulous gift selection—from candles to bath products to jewelry.)
 

Entertaining Alfresco

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