Making your patio or backyard an extension of your home is not only possible — it is an idea that is in high demand. That’s the message Chris Palmer and his team at Outdoor Design & Living in Fairfield share with their clients.
“The more you put outside and the more creative you get, the more time you want to spend outside,” Palmer says.
Whether it’s installing a television on the patio, firing up a pizza oven, or a lighting design that accentuates the house and smartphone-controlled audio systems, it is now more appealing than ever to spend time outdoors, even throughout New England’s four seasons.
Gina Gutierrez, founder and lead designer of San Francisco-based Gina Rachelle Design, agrees. Approaching outdoor design as you would an indoor space just makes sense.
Gutierrez finds that customers either want their backyard to reflect the look and feel of their home’s interior, or they use the opportunity to add some “punch and pizzazz.”
When starting a project, the first thing Gutierrez asks the homeowner is how they want the space to function, and how they want it to feel. Depending on the size of the yard or patio, the space can become a prime area for hosting and entertaining, featuring a sectional, chairs, a fire pit and even outdoor kitchen appliances.
Next, they decide on a color palette. In coastal Connecticut, the nautical look is popular, as is rustic bohemian — neutrals and pastels.
Then it’s time to examine how to create “zones” to accomplish designing the client’s ideal outdoor living space. The backyard can truly encompass all the aspects of indoor living — cooking, eating, relaxing, congregating — and the key is to designate zones so these features can coexist.
Let’s start with cooking. The kitchen is the hub of the home — it’s also the hub of the outdoor living space, Palmer said. “People congregate around the kitchen,” adds David May, owner/designer of Prestige & Lighting Design and a member of the Outdoor Design & Living team.
Creating an area for congregating and cooking can mean several things: a high-end grill — Palmer recommends the Twin Eagles brand — with bar seating, pizza oven, smoker, or even a hibachi-like area where the grill is the focal point among a circle of bar stools.
“From kegerators to double-drawer refrigerators and wet bars and social grilling, you can have it outside,” Palmer says.
Outdoor countertops come in more varieties than they once did. Options include ceramic or porcelain tile, concrete and other composite materials. “It’s not just granite anymore,” according to Palmer.
May adds that with all projects, their team considers materials used within the interior and the exterior of the home and works it into the outdoor living space.
“We’re very consistent with material,” he says. Adds Palmer: “We’re cognizant of matching the architecture of the house so [the outdoor space] doesn’t look like it doesn’t fit.”
While the integrity of the kitchen space and its beautiful countertops may be the focal point of an outdoor living area for many, having sturdy, comfortable furniture to sit on is almost just as important. Who wants to eat a delicious grilled meal on a hard, uncomfortable folding chair?
“Furniture adds another dimension,” Palmer says. “When you’re sitting on comfortable furniture, you don’t need to go inside.” Furnishings also bring more color into a project, May adds. Different color fabrics “make the stonework and space pop.”
For Gutierrez, a comfortable dining and entertaining space includes elements of “texture and softness.” Consider outdoor rugs to define the seating area and robust pillows for additional coziness. Mix high-end and budget-friendly options for an eclectic collection of tableware.
She also suggests incorporating baskets for texture — house blankets and throws, or use them to hold potted plants and succulents.
You might be thinking that an outdoor kitchen and dining area is all well and good when the weather is nice, but what do you do when it rains, or the cold starts to creep in?
The answer is simple: consider a pergola. (Or, install an awning that can extend from the house over your patio space.) With a pergola comes all sorts of heating, cooling and shade solutions.
A covered pergola allows for shade and shelter from rain. It also provides protection for an outdoor TV or sound system. In the late fall and winter, you can run a heater within the confines of the pergola. In the dog days of summer, install cooling fans.
Pergolas can be fitted with shade canopies (powered or manual) or even privacy screening, which not only create an exclusive sanctuary, but a bug-free one, per Palmer.
Consider also cantilever umbrellas for creating shade within the backyard.
These solutions allow homeowners to “extend the season,” Palmer says. “People want the outdoor experience year-round, no matter the weather,” May adds.
When the weather is dry, a fire pit makes for a cozy end to an evening outdoors. While fire pits remain in vogue, gas-powered, remote-operated fire tables are trending, according to Palmer. With the push of a button, you’re ready to cook hot dogs and marshmallows over an open flame.
If your yard has the space, Gutierrez recommends a brick or concrete fireplace.
“The fireplace is more of a statement and focal point these days,” she said.
With any space meant for hosting and entertaining, the right lighting and the ability to play music are critical.
Not a problem. Outdoor lighting is much more efficient and refined than it used to be, and all it takes to bring your favorite tunes outside is your smartphone and a few well-placed speakers.
“All audio and lighting can be tied to your smartphones and smart homes,” Palmer says. May adds that lighting technology these days is “so efficient,” utilizing “state-of-the-art LED bulbs.”
These fixtures — he recommends the Coastal Source line of outdoor lighting appliances — can “create a whole scene, a 3D effect in the backyard. You don’t have to be restricted to a fishbowl area of light,” he says.The control is at your fingertips for lighting, May adds. Even timers are becoming smart devices, learning to self-adjust with the seasons.
A final element for any outdoor living space is, for some, a pool. According to Nick Vitiello, owner of Norwalk-based in2blue design, people are opting for “spools,” spa-pool hybrids, instead of large swimming pools.
These smaller pools — usually running 10 to 16 feet long and 6-8 feet deep — can be built with amenities like hydrotherapy jets.
And just like with most other aspects of an outdoor living space, technology has changed the nature of pool maintenance — think automated salt chlorination.
“It’s all intuitive,” Vitiello said.
Between the pools and the outdoor fireplaces and opportunities for spectacular lighting, the backyard of your dreams may seem out of reach. But Palmer stresses that anyone can incorporate these ideas and truly bring the comfort of their homes outdoors. All it takes is planning.
“Come up with a master plan, and work it out gradually over time, within your budget.”
This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
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