Outdoor living has never been a bigger part of our modern lives than it is today. Indeed, over the past year our outdoor spaces have become not just an extension of our homes, but, in many cases, the center of our existence — and have undergone quite the transformation in the process. No simple grill and fire pit for us. We’re talking luxe al fresco furnishings, locked-and-loaded outdoor kitchens, très chic fire features, umbrellas as artwork and, oh, yes, just the right lighting to allow the festivities to last far into the night. Herewith: some up-to-the-minute advice from outdoor-living experts from around the state on ways to create just such a retreat in your own backyard.
Asking Michael Gotowala of the Outdoor Kitchen Design Store in Cheshire to narrow down what he deems to be some of the hottest products in outdoor kitchens is a bit cruel. How do you choose when there are options like Lapitec sintered stone worktops and NatureKast cabinetry in so many styles and finishes? In Gotowala’s case, you don’t. Instead, you write a book about it: Outdoor Kitchen Fabulous, due out this summer from Waldorf Publishing. Still, we do need somewhere to start, so up for consideration from Gotowala’s wish list: a Galley Ideal Work&WashStation with marine-grade stainless steel and myriad sliding parts that allow you to prepare, cook, serve, entertain and clean all in one spot, an Evo Flattop Grill on whose circular cooking surface you can sear, sauté, grill, toast and stir fry and a killer Wood Stone For the Home gas- or wood-fired stone-hearth pizza oven — who wants pepperoni?
Fire pits, fire bowls, fire tables or a statement-making outdoor fireplace in and of itself … whichever option you choose to bring the heat inevitably “becomes a focal point that everything else is anchored around,” says Liz Sakowski of New England Silica in South Windsor. A top choice from Warming Trends that brings what Sakowski calls a “resort feel” to your backyard is its linear Crossfire brass burner. The contemporary line of this insert is designed for rectangular units and the specific air-to-gas ratio used is said to produce taller, brighter flames while using just half the fuel of conventional gas fire rings. And, yes, “the trend is definitely toward gas,” says Bill Mastrangelo of Superior Stone & Fireplace in Hamden. “People want to be able to just push a button and be done with it,” he says. More of a traditionalist? Check out the Zentro fire pit by Breeo. This smokeless wood-burning insert delivers a true campfire effect yet dramatically reduces smoke via a nifty double-wall, secondary-combustion design. And for those looking to keep things chill during the day, there are Tuuci umbrellas at Seasons Too. “Tucci has made umbrellas cool,” Falotico says. We’re talking “sculpted pieces” with “clean, minimalist style.”
Have a seat
“No one seems to want wood anymore when it comes to outdoor furniture,” says Mark Collins of Walpole Outdoors, which is why Walpole’s three Connecticut locations (Westport, Ridgefield and Farmington) carry Seaside Casual’s “Classic Adirondack” collection of chairs made with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) lumber, an all-weather material made from post-consumer and post-industrial HDPE (including, quite possibly, the jug from which you once poured your milk), which requires no sealing, painting or staining. Premium wood tones like “heathered teak” and “heathered walnut” are new for 2021 — but what if only the real deal will do? All-natural teak, it seems, is the “exception to the rule” when it comes to woods. “Teak is timeless,” says Brett Falotico of Seasons Too in Darien. “It just doesn’t go out of style.” Companies like Barlow Tyrie, which has been making teak furniture since 1920, are, however, mixing it up with metals for what Falotico calls a more “industrial” look. Witness: Barlow Tyrie’s Aura dining collection, which mixes natural teak with sleek powder-coated aluminum.
Shine a light
John Souza of Alexia Lighting Design in Newington is a big fan of Attraction Lights’ 4x4 Series of bollard fixtures with LED lights encased in vertical posts with decorative metalwork cutouts. Patterns range from swirls to vines and sizes from 17 to 37 inches, and Souza, who likes to use the fixtures to define seating areas, considers these lookers prime examples of the fact that “lighting designers are becoming much more creative, and, as a result, the products better and better.” In fact, “landscape lighting is now the fastest-growing sector of the lighting industry,” says Kevin Daly of Lightscapes Landscape Lighting in Shelton, who saw his own sales just about double in 2020. A new technology that Daly favors is a slim linear LED or “hardscape” light, which can fit under a capstone on a sitting wall or even under a pillar’s bluestone cap. “Stonework is beautiful at night and these lights, which are hidden and flush to the stone, show off the texture,” Daly says.