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Cinde W. Ingram

Playing Outside

Americans embrace open spaces

A growing number of American homeowners today furnish outdoor living spaces as extensions of their homes, transcending walls to reflect their casual lifestyles from inside out.

Brown Jordan 
Brown Jordan

Rather than taking a vacation, more Americans are creating home resorts with elegant surroundings, including conversation groups and gazebos as well as more traditional outdoor furnishings.


Homeowners' outdoor rooms complement indoor ones while maintaining the level of comfort to which they're accustomed. Because of improved fabrics and finishes, home furnishings and accessories once considered strictly indoor now are weather-resistant. Look for more options in outdoor lamps, pillows, throws, rugs, floor tiles and art along with furniture sporting new finishes.

Weather considerations and intended uses of outdoor living areas often determine whether roofs and walls are really required for entertainment areas, dining rooms or outdoor home offices.

In some areas of the country, transparent layers of glass or screen are selected as a protection against the elements; in others, open sky suffices although shade products may be needed at times as protection against the sun. Those shade products have become increasingly more sophisticated.

A number of factors fit into this changing lifestyle. Consider the migration of older baby boomers to warmer climates. More Americans are creating home resorts, rather than vacationing away from home. Add attractive interest rates that entice people to invest in their homes. Also, be aware buying patterns have changed as far as designing and furnishing outdoor spaces, which once were an afterthought and now are a priority as home entertainment focuses more often on outdoor activities.

Casual Living's most recent Universe Study showed sales increased steadily to $6.2 billion in 2004 for products that fill outdoor rooms — including grills, outdoor furniture, outdoor lighting and umbrellas.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports consumers spend more than $40 billion annually on upgrading outdoor living areas and garden amenities.

Rooms that bring the inside out may take the form of fully enclosed pool houses or partially open cabanas, canopies, gazebos, lanais or pavilions. Whatever the structure or lack of it, home furnishings complete the picture that invites people to relax outside.

"A revolution has occurred in modern furniture with the emphasis on more casual living," Julie D. Taylor wrote in her book Outdoor Rooms: Designs for Porches, Terraces, Decks, Gazebos. "These days, outdoor spaces are furnished with as much attention as those indoors."

Nine out of 10 designers, landscape architects and real estate agents agreed the design or redesign of outdoor living space is a growing trend, according to a survey of more than 200 industry professionals. "Designing Out: The Home Lifestyle Report" showed industry professionals as a group agreeing that finished outdoor spaces and quality furnishings can add significant value to a home, said Gary McCray, vice president of marketing for home furnishings manufacturer Laneventure, which commissioned the survey.

Ninety percent of those surveyed agreed a well-designed outdoor living space differentiates one home from another for resale. Nearly two-thirds said an outdoor living space can represent as much as 30% of the total property value of a home. Three out of four interior designers, landscape architects and garden designers said outdoor living space is extremely important to their clients.

Extending the home's living space, enjoying time spent at home and spending more time entertaining family and friends were the top three reasons industry professionals gave for their clients' desires to develop their outdoor living spaces. Other reasons given by more than half of respondents were to spend more time outside, create a tranquil retreat or a safe and comfortable area for children to play.

 WeatherPrints from Open Air Designs


Outdoor lighting and art help complete an outdoor living area, while conversation and chat groups form intimate arrangements. From top: WeatherPrints from Open Air Designs, Agio's Lorenzo Collection. Below: Currey & Company's new outdoor lighting line.

 Currey & Company

I.A. "Cos" Cosentino, who owns Seasons Hearth & Patio in Ivyland, Pa., sells fewer swing sets these days to parents in the higher economic class because they're more likely to choose a spa, pool, putting green, tennis court or grill area as they review their options at his Outdoor Design Center.

Some homeowners invest in outdoor kitchens complete with sinks, refrigerators and entertainment systems. Relaxing with friends or family on a patio or at poolside while dinner sizzles nearby on a grill is a reality in much of the nation for more than half the year.

The grill market at retail increased by about 12% in 2004 and the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association projected 2005 grill shipments will reach 15 million units. Double-digit growth continues in sales of premium gas grills, both high-end and built-in, while sales of charcoal grills leveled off, the HPBA survey showed.

Joy Dorst, a landscape design professor at the University of Florida, Jacksonville, said she has clients who don't cook but want luxurious outdoor kitchens. "It's definitely desirable," she said. "The market is such that people want it. And they also see it as a return on their investment."

In the past, landscape architects dealt with homeowners who hesitated to spend heavily on a grill area because they were unsure of its resale value. "That's not the case anymore," Dorst said. "It's becoming more universally valued and less of a special interest market. I hope it's a reflection of our lifestyles, too, in terms of enjoying life. Not running around and jumping into a car and going out to eat but just relaxing once you get home."

In areas with less than ideal weather, time spent outdoors can be extended with the addition of outdoor fireplaces, portable firepits, chimineas and patio heaters. HPBA expected another record-breaking year for sales of such outdoor hearth appliances.

Cushy outdoor furniture arranged with sofas, armchairs and cocktail tables forms intimate conversation groups similar to those same arrangements inside the home. Modular furniture groups, echoing those inside the home, are appearing more often in outdoor settings.

Martha Baker, a landscape designer and author of The Outdoor Living Room: Stylish Ideas for Porches, Patios and Pools, described lighting as important for setting the mood and reinforcing the style of each outdoor setting. "Today, anything goes: elaborate chandeliers overhang covered terraces, while traditional indoor lighting, such as antique table and standing lamps with wicker or silk shades (perfect for romantic and classic settings), blur the separation between inside and outside living," Baker wrote.

Deck designs also have moved beyond the single, flat area to create multi-level "rooms" that allow for different activities. Landscape architects can build multiple levels connected by walkways or stairs, sometimes with cozy heated areas underneath.

Three Birds Casual Furniture

Given the variety of materials, techniques and products available to finish outdoor living areas, homeowners can add character to their property and create their own personal paradise with relative ease.

Rather than taking a vacation, more Americans are creating home resorts with elegant surroundings, including conversation groups and gazebos as well as more traditional outdoor furnishings.

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