Outdoor Living Spaces Add That “Wow” Touch

By Beverly & Steve Smirnis

Whether your outdoor living space is just a small patio area or the expansive backyard of a large estate, making the most of outdoor spaces to turn them into an extension of the indoor living area is high on the priority list for most.

Start with a Plan and Careful Site Preparation

To create an enticing outdoor living space, the first step is to create a strong and sustainable foundation for it. This involves preparing the ground beneath the hardscape and grading so that water moves away from the home. In some cases, a yard area may need to be leveled or elevated. Pavers and stone projects may require a particular type of base material.

If the project calls for a retaining wall, take a look the MagnumStone® product from CornerStone Wall Solutions. MagnumStone’s patented, mortarless SecureLug interlocking system sports a hollow-core design using 40% less concrete than solid blocks, allowing more block to be transported with fewer trucks and less fuel. Once it’s on-site, a small crew can easily install up to 1,200 square feet of MagnumStone per day. Once blocks are in place, their hollow cores are filled with gravel to provide mass and stability comparable to that of solid blocks. When extra reinforcement is needed, MagnumStone easily accommodates positive or friction-based connections to all popular types of geogrid. This flexibility makes it perfect for everything from simple landscaping to critical roadside and waterfront applications.

Plan your design around existing trees but seek advice from a knowledgeable horticulturalist to avoid anything that disturbs the tree roots or cause a tree to become susceptible to disease or insect infestation. A plant expert can also help you choose plants that will thrive in spite of tree shade and the tendency of trees to steal most of the available water. The landscaping plan is essential to creating a positive aesthetic environment that significantly increases the overall appeal and value of any home.

Seek Problem-Solving Solutions For Paving and Decking

Porcelain rises above and beyond with durability and an extremely high compressive strength due to its high density and an ultra-low water absorption rate. Most porcelain products do not require any treatments (sealers) and are unaffected by mold, moss, dirt, effloresce or discoloration, making them perfect for exterior environments and around water features.

The right choice in composite decking can outperform and outclass your run-of-the-mill composite, maintenance-heavy wood or plastic-like PVC decks. Designed for durability and to be impervious to rot, most composite decking materials are a mix of recycled wood fibers and recycled plastic. The big brand names in this category seek to distinguish themselves by offering complete solutions and/or introducing technology for effective problem-solving. For example, TimberTech® (the outdoor living division of AZEK Building Products) offers railing collections to match many architectural theme, as well as integrated lighting and accessories to go with a broad range of composite deck options, making it easy to create an entire deck system that works together seamlessly. MoistureShield® Infuse™ composite decking (an Oldcastle APG product) has won a slew of awards for its CoolDeck® technology, which optimizes heat reflection to provide a cooler, more comfortable deck. The boards absorb up to 35% less heat than conventional capped composites in similar colors, for a noticeably lower surface temperature in direct sun.

Cool Deck outside pool and deck

Use Water To Add a Sense of Calm

Whether you’re building a small lap pool on a long, narrow side yard or a plunge pool in the center of a C-shaped home with an inner courtyard, an infinity pool on the edge of a hillside, or you’ve got more of a blank slate to work with, pool areas should marry fun and function. The pool design should be appropriate for the period and design of the house. If a pool isn’t conducive, or not within the budget, consider a simple fountain. Some buyers simply don’t want the upkeep of a pool but might appreciate a pond or waterfall. Any type of water feature adding sounds of bubbling, trickling, rushing or roaring water lends a sense of serenity and design drama; the fire and water combo as a decorative element also remains popular.

Think ahead! For example, if you’re installing a pool, put in column footings and pre-run needed electrical and gas lines under the pool deck to make it easy to add a pavilion or outdoor kitchen later. You might even provide a rendering of a fully-finished outdoor space in your sales brochure, offering it as an option before or after the home sale; remodelers might use a similar rendering to offer a one-phase-at-a-time solution to homebuyers who are adding an outdoor living space to their existing home.

Steps into a Mirage pool

Add Screens to Extend The Season–and the Living Area

Motorized retractable screens can provide solar shading, climate control, ventilation, and protection from insects, allowing for seamless outdoor/indoor living spaces. Products such as Phantom Screens integrate seamlessly into the building structure and retract out of sight at the touch of a button. Options include sun and wind sensors and home automation integration on doors, windows, glass walls and outdoor spaces.

Aluminum shutters can be used to shade an area or create a privacy screen for a patio, balcony, or any outdoor space. The challenge has been in finding wind-rated and security-rated aluminum shutters that don’t require sacrificing beauty in order to gain functionality. The Weatherwell® Elite® aluminum shutter collection solves this with blades that are fully lockable at any position and a frame designed to conceal the internal blade rotation mechanism. The two-part aluminum shutter frame is designed to hide all screws resulting in no visible fixings.

Weatherwell outdoor deck living area

Exterior Lighting–Equally as Important as Interior Lighting.

The plan for outdoor lighting should create a relaxing atmosphere, and at the same time provide safety and security. Smart products let users control the lighting with their mobile devices or program a unique lighting schedule. Advanced options like the myTouchSmart Wi-Fi Smart Dimmer by Jasco® come equipped with SunSmart technology – a built-in component that automatically recognizes the sunrise and sunset times for your region and adjusts your ON/OFF times accordingly.

Leave ‘Em With Something To Talk About!

Now that you’ve created an environment that’s enticing and comfortable, next on the agenda should be adding items that will leave guests to the home talking about all that they experienced in their friends’ and neighbors’ garden party. Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens, 2019 Outdoor Living Report says, “The rise of backyard organic gardening and influence of cooking demonstrations across social media has inspired homeowners to embrace the pride of what is homegrown. The result: Homeowners are looking beyond the grill — making room in their budgets and floor plans for specialty appliances: Argentinian grills, smokers, pizza ovens and more.”

Products such as Sub-Zero’s outdoor refrigeration line, Wolf’s outdoor grills with available burner module or warming drawer add-ons, and the only outdoor-rated dishwasher from ASKO, homeowners can experience a complete outdoor kitchen that equals the quality, performance, and convenience of their indoor kitchen.

The Brown Jordan report also notes that buyers are looking stylish but ultra-durable materials, like powder-coated stainless steel cabinetry that offers the same level of comfort and finish as indoors. Elements that will extend use past sunset or the warmer seasons were also on the list. “Think layered heat sources (sleek heat lamps seamlessly integrated into the ceiling, romantic fire pits), shade solutions (pergolas, patio covers), and cooling sources (fans, rugs).” Advance thought and preparation, the right product selections and finishing touches that add a “wow” touch can make the difference between an average and not-so-average home.

Brown Jordan outdoor kitchen

Beverly Smirnis is the co-founder of Building Savvy magazine and publishes its flagship Dallas/Fort Worth edition. She and her business partner and husband, Steve Smirnis, have served as judges for the International Builders’ Show Best of IBS Awards, for the Greater Houston Builders Association Prism Awards, for the Greater Orlando Builders Association Parade of Homes and for the Building Industry Association of Okaloosa-Walton
Counties’ Parade of Homes.