Cheryl Cullen -- Casual Living, May 1, 2008
On the heels of the booming trend in outdoor living spaces, interior designers are crossing into a gray area. They are stepping outside of the home to venture into exterior design, an area once the exclusive domain of landscape architects and landscape designers.
Interestingly, many designers are confused when asked if they also offer exterior services. “No, you need an architect or a landscape designer for that,” they say. Others, who are on the cutting edge of this trend, quickly answer with a resounding “Yes, of course.”
Peggy Berk, an interior designer who owns Area Aesthetics in New York, works inside and out. She is succeeding in an urban market where large private terraces become an extension of a residential apartment or loft. Her work also extends outside of the city to the inside and exterior of cabanas on Miami Beach, the indoor-outdoor lanai (often known as Florida rooms), as well as the areas around pools and even some simple back yards in suburbia.
Joan Kaufman, ASID, of Interior Planning & Design, Inc., Naperville, Ill., has projects that include patio furniture, sunrooms and other outdoor or partially outdoor areas. She not only selects and provides accessories and furniture for patios and decks but is integral in selecting pool tile, hot tub tiles, deck stain colors and exterior home stain colors.
Similarly, M. Grace Sielaff of M. Grace Designs, Inc., Hinsdale, Ill., offers both residential and commercial/hospitality interior and exterior design. One of her exterior projects this year includes work on a large outdoor area for a 54-unit condo development. “We are getting more and more calls asking us to design their outdoor living space so that they may enjoy the indoor/outdoor living,” said Sielaff, an Allied, ASID member.
“Offering both services makes us a more complete design firm,” said Kathy Schwendimann, principal, Meridian Interiors, Irvine, Calif. “The line between indoor and outdoor spaces has become blurred. In many areas, the indoor and outdoor spaces are intended to function in an interdependent manner.”
Double the product knowledge
Offering both inside and exterior services requires designers to double their product knowledge. “The outdoor fabrics often resemble indoor fabrics and furnishings so much we often use the outdoor ones inside for their increased durability,” Schwendimann said.
In other instances, there are no such shortcuts. Designers must learn about hardscape materials, plants and shrubs that will thrive in the region (if they choose to venture that far into the outdoors) and much, much more.
Few interior/exterior designers go so far as to offering landscaping services, but many will frequently choose pavers or recommend stamped concrete, while directing their client to a professional landscape company for help.
“There are many specialized materials today for upholstery and soft furnishings for the outdoor space and this is a real boon to the designer because you can source anything you can envision for today’s outdoor spaces,” Berk said. “However, it is a lot more complicated than recreating an indoor room in outdoor durable materials. You have to look at everything with a different sensibility. Your indoor paint — and even many exterior paints — won’t hold up well in certain environments and you will have the same problem with many construction and finish materials.”
Berk suggests designers should also make themselves aware of how weather can impact outdoor furnishings, especially when working in areas that face high winds, flooding and other extreme conditions.
One challenge is finding materials and finishes that will hold up as the manufacturers say they will, according to Valerie Steil, ASID, Marc T. Nielsen Interiors, Valparaiso, Ind. “And educating consumers to be aware that 'outdoor’ does not translate to 'indestructible,’ and these things do have limitations,” she said. “Gentler climates will be easier on the furnishings and materials. Deserts and places with tough winters can really be hard on outdoor living spaces, and will require more maintenance and more frequent replacement.”
Call for help
Although the business approach and staffing requirements are the same as interior design projects, designers who work inside and out encourage others not to hesitate to call in a specialized consultant when the need arises.
PatioSource in San Diego, Calif., offers complimentary design service to its retail, wholesale and interior designer customers with outdoor furniture and accessories. Its sister company, The Natural Touch, also provides custom design services for artificial botanicals for indoors or outdoors. The companies help interior designers expand their services to the exterior with confidence, knowing they have a knowledgeable supplier behind them.
“Knowledge is power and we are the experts that they rely on to help in this process,” said Jan Shaw, co-owner of the companies. “There is so much knowledge regarding outdoor design that the interior designer would need to know so they align themselves with a reputable specialty store like PatioSource to help them.”
Turn inside out
Today’s outdoor room is not your grandfather’s patio. “Everything that you can put in an interior great room, they now want for the exterior great room. They even want the rugs, pool table and lamps,” said Shaw, who sees the hottest products as spring club chairs and conversation tables. “They want all of it, even the outdoor pizza oven.”
Outdoor rooms are being designed to include activities like grilling, dining/entertaining in one area and a spa or pool for sunbathing in another.
“Fireplaces or fire pits, dining areas, outdoor kitchens, relaxing or conversation areas, in addition to the traditional pool or cabana areas [are popular],” said Pauline Vastardis, FIFDA, Allied ASID, owner, Pauline Vastardis Interiors, Moorestown, N.J. “Among new products of interest are freestanding fans, outdoor lighting, fabric ottomans, sun beds, a varied assortment of shade creating options and outdoor art.”
Steil described them as the “perfect project for an interior designer” as she listed outdoor living areas. “There are more and more outdoor kitchens, outdoor dining areas, outdoor lounging areas and (thankfully) more and more useful porches,” Steil said.
Shopping for products follows the same process a designer would use for any indoor room; they use their professional sources. When it comes time to narrow the choices, Kaufman prioritizes products based on function, design, quality and price.
Sielaff said contemporary styled products, clean lines and lots of colors are popular with her clients, which leads her to return to her favorite manufacturers including Summer Classics, Anacara, David Sutherland and Santa Barbara umbrellas. She will often shop at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, avoiding products at home builders’ stores and garden centers. She narrows vendors to her top five manufacturers of outdoor furniture, and said she will spread “wealth and in return get great reference and credit.”
Inside/Out design challenges
The primary difference between designing for inside and outside spaces has to do with the space itself.
“An indoor space is intrinsically private,” Berk said. “One of the challenges we take for granted when designing a living room or other public room inside the home is the need to open it up, to create a comfortable space for entertaining, a place which reflects the personality of the client, but not to a degree that visitors will be uncomfortable because they sense they are intruding on something private. Often with an outdoor space, the challenge is just the opposite.
“Outdoors, designers want to take what feels like a wide open public space and, without closing it in and sacrificing what is truly wonderful about outdoor living, make it feel private enough so that the client has a real sense of separation from the larger world and a sense of intimacy in the room,” Berk said. “It sounds easy, but imagine how you would feel living in your home if it had no exterior walls.”
Creating awareness in the marketplace that interior designers can help with designing outdoor living areas is another challenge, Vastardis said. Despite the uphill battle right now, she is intent to stay the course. “Increased demand is being driven by the design and architectural community,” Vastardis said. “Outdoor spaces are here to stay.”
Builders catching on
Builders who are also starting to pick up on the trend toward outdoor rooms like the idea of being able to have one designer do it all.
Builders will frequently call Kaufmann to make exterior stone and color selections. “Most of the builders we work with are very happy to have an interior designer guiding the total design,” she said. “The clients work out the details and questions with the designer. The builder then receives a complete specification that has been thoroughly researched and reviewed with the client. In the end, it makes for a much smoother process for all.”
Perla Lichi, CEO, Perla Lichi Design in Tamarac, Fla., is frequently asked to select product or make color selections for roofing, tiles and pavers and exterior paint. “Obviously we are not landscape architects, nor are we architects. But we can take what the architect does and make enhancements or embellishments,” said Lichi, who thinks an interior designer can only offer exterior services if properly trained. “An interior designer can artistically embellish a façade, but may not necessarily know the codes that cities or towns require to design the structure.”
Some designers see this as a regional trend more suited to warmer climates, while others say outdoor rooms have much broader appeal.
“In the Northeast, I see that clients are appreciating the value of outdoor space — even more so in the urban environment,” Berk said. “What used to be the terrace where you could store the bicycle is now a space to relax and entertain.”
Some designers see the inside/out trend as something that started regionally and will become a national push in short order. While Kaufman is based in Illinois, she works nationwide. “Exterior design is part of every project we do [in Florida]. The Midwest will begin to do more in this area as time goes on. It has not been as big a growth area as in warmer climates due to the limitations of the weather.”
Designers who are hesitant about stepping outside their indoor comfort zone may be caught behind a trend. “Dealing with color, creating living environments falls within the scope of work that interior designers provide — whether outside or in,” Kaufman said. “Exterior design has been in the interior design repertoire in warm climates for some time.”
Others feel the push toward outdoor rooms has less to do with climate and more to do with living in the 21st century.
“The cost of land in California makes outdoor square footage very important,” Shaw said. “Gas prices have made it more attractive to stay home and entertain. Children are safer in their own backyard.”
Lichi, who offers interior and exterior services and everything in between, sums up the trend of designers working inside and out: “When you are looking at the whole ball of wax from the beginning, you will be able to coordinate everything properly so the result will be an award-winning product.”