The yard is peaceful with shade trees that create quiet seclusion and a gentle trickle of water over rocks into a small pond. And the spring evening is warm —
warmer than it’s been in months.
So who wants to stay cooped up in the house, cooking in a stuffy kitchen and eating dinner in a cramped dining nook?
Hence the “outdoor room,” a living space that tears down the barrier between inside and outside and makes the backyard patio as comfortable as the family room.
The outdoor room is something quite different than a barbeque grill surrounded with some plastic lawn chairs. Perspective Homes, for example, exhibited a house in the St. George 2007 Parade of Homes that featured an outdoor room: a small porch area that opened into the house with an accordion-style door, “extending the dining room into the outdoors,” explains Travis Parry, co-owner of the homebuilding company.
With its floor-to-ceiling windows and indoor tree house, the home creates several transitions between the natural environment and traditional living space.
“People aren’t going as large, as far as the McMansions, but are spending more on upgrades, especially in regards to interiors and the outdoor space,” Parry says.
But above all, the space has to be functional and comfortable. Perspective Homes’ parade home patio included an integrated “barbeque island,” an all-in-one cooking center that enables you to do much more than grill up steaks.
Barbeque islands can include a grill, an oven, an infrared sear station, warming trays, counter tops, storage areas, a refrigerator, water connections — even a weather-resistant stereo. Basically, an entire meal, from mashed potatoes to roast turkey, can be prepared outside.
Such entertainment islands “allow the consumer to get commercial-grade cooking equipment that is made for the outdoors,” says Mark McDonald of Leisure Living, Inc., a Salt Lake-based company that specializes in outdoor furniture, equipment and accessories. Want something truly extravagant? Add an infrared rotisserie, which can cook large roasts or whole turkeys in about half the time as an oven while retaining more moisture and flavor.
So the meal is cooked — mouth-watering salmon filets, perhaps, along with rice pilaf and steamed garden vegetables. Is the family going to eat sitting around a traditional glass-topped patio table on wobbly metal chairs?
Of course not.
“One of the trends for outdoor patios is a move to more lounge-type seating,” McDonald says. “People want to be more comfortable.”
This type of seating, also known as “chat dining,” consists of wider and deeper chairs with thick, comfortable cushions. We’re talking about sofas, love seats and ottomans, chaise lounges — anything you might typically find in the family room, all designed for the great outdoors.
And it all has the same softness and comfort as indoor furniture, thanks to innovations in fabrics. “The fabrics are probably the single best development in recent years,” McDonald says. Made of solution-dyed 100 percent acrylic, outdoor furniture upholstery can have the same feel as cotton, yet be much more durable, as well as stain and fade resistant.
Additionally, these fabrics offer an unlimited color palate, giving nearly the same range of design choices as traditional interior design.
But outdoor furniture is much more than comfy chairs: the wide range of options includes lower-height dining tables to match the lounge seating, picnic tables, benches, Adirondack chairs, serving carts and a whole range of lazy-afternoon hammocks.
You may be itching to get outside and bask in the tranquil surroundings. But it is still spring, and evenings are crisp, even cold. So pull your chairs around a toasty fire pit — the newest outdoor gathering spot.
“The latest trend seems to be going to a gas fire pit,” McDonald says, because gas fire pits emit heat without the smoke and ash of a wood-burning pit.
Good-quality pits can be had for between $1,000 and $4,000. “The nice fire pits will typically have a decorative or ornamental base,” says McDonald, often with hand-forged detailing. The mantle of the fire pit can be granite, marble or copper, all in a wide range of finishes.
Fire pits are not the only method for dealing with the Utah climate, which proffers extremes of cold and heat. For example, infrared space heaters make the patio more comfortable during cold months.
Making the outdoor room useable in the heat of the summer involves the strategic use of shade, says Parry of Perspective Homes. Sunshades can be as simple as an umbrella or as high-tech as shades that sense sunlight and automatically close. Push button or even remote-control shades are also available, as well as air-cooling misters and fans.
Large, cantilevered umbrellas are also popular, says McDonald. Instead of poking obtrusively from the center of a table, cantilevered umbrellas are freestanding on an arched, offset stand. “People are looking for ways to get effective shade elements out to their patio,” he says.
Innovations in the outdoor room are sure to continue at a rapid pace. “The bulk of the higher-end homes [in St. George] are second homes or homes for retirees, and they are looking for that type of luxury,” Parry says.
Meanwhile, the grill is hot, the fire pit is crackling and the warm spring air is calling your name.