Real Estate

Take it outside: The hottest trends in outdoor living

Posted August 15, 2013
Updated August 18, 2013

By Kelly McCall Branson
For New Homes & Ideas, Jodi Sauerbier, Publisher

New Homes & Ideas

Whether it’s star-lit dining al fresco, summer Saturdays splashing around the pool or cocktails by a crackling fire, making the most of our outdoor spaces has become more popular and more possible than ever before. An impressive 94 percent of respondents to a recent survey of the American Society of Landscape Architects predicted outdoor living spaces — kitchens and entertainment areas, especially — would be popular choices in new homes and remodels for 2013.

People want to spend more time outside cooking, dining, entertaining and relaxing, and they especially want those spaces to be low-maintenance and hassle-free. Fortunately, advances in everything from kitchen appliances to decking materials to high-tech spas are making it a breeze to expand interior spaces straight into the great outdoors.

Outdoor living space

The ultimate "Great Room"

Yesterday’s squared off decks and little slab patios have given way to spaces that feel and function like all of the home’s living spaces — rooms without walls. "The three major components we’re seeing huge demand for," says Elliot Kanarek, president of EMK Construction, "are the living room, dining room and full-featured kitchen." These outdoor great rooms are most often covered, but not screened, here in the Triangle, and feature trim and finishes on a par with the home’s interiors.

Solid surface counters are the top choice for outdoor kitchens, with granite leading the pack. “But for outside, we install a matte finish granite, rather than the highly polished surface you’ll see inside,” reports Kanarek. “It’s less likely to show the raindrop spots or pollen that are inevitable in an outdoor environment.” Concrete is an up and coming trend for open air kitchen counters as well. This poured and polished surface offers unique finish options, including embedding of LED lights for a starlight effect, and holds up beautifully to sun and rain.

Polymer board cabinets with UV inhibitors (HDPE, a material first developed for marine applications) come in a range of colors and are resistant to expansion, warping, fading and are stain-repelling and easy to clean. Stainless steel cabinet components are another hot choice for durability and minimum maintenance in outdoor kitchens. Even wood cabinets are a possibility, with tropical woods like teak, which are less susceptible to damage and wear from the elements.

Outdoor living space

And almost any appliance you find in even high-end kitchens is now being manufactured in an outdoor version, built to withstand the temperature extremes and humidity levels they’re likely to encounter there. Built-in gas grills just keep getting better, with new models offering the option of dual fuel — wood or gas. Side burners, warming drawers, refrigerators, ice makers and even dishwashers are favorites for today’s outdoor kitchens. Even self-contained pizza ovens are available and catching on for serious outdoor chefs.

Fit and finish are critical to creating outdoor spaces that feel like an extension of a home’s interiors. Vaulted tongue-and-groove ceilings or even elaborate coffered ceiling treatments are in high demand. And again, advances in materials make these luxe finishes possible in the harsh out-of-door conditions. "We’re using a lot of a product called Miratec," says Kanarek. "They make trim boards that are very finished looking but are also very rot-resistant." Improvements in exterior paints have made them far more durable and less prone to fading, which goes a long way in maintaining that polished interior look and feel, with less time spent keeping it that way.

Likewise, flooring for these new outdoor living spaces tends toward materials with exceptional durability as well as beauty. Flagstone and tile — particularly the tougher porcelain tile — are the surfaces of choice. "We are installing a great deal of a wood-grained porcelain tile that comes in planks," says Kanarek. "This gives the outdoor room the elegant look of wood with the damage resistance of tile."

Elegance, along with comfort, are key to the dining and entertaining zones of the outdoor great room. Fireplaces, ranging from smaller prefab units to full-blown masonry fireplaces, clad with brick or stone, are the go-to feature for giving this space the substance and serenity of a real room — a place to spend real time in.

Entertainment systems are another vital component to creating the total outdoor habitat. A niche for mounting a flat screen TV is a must. Though there are televisions available that are specifically manufactured for outdoor use, EMK Construction’s Kanarek reports that they are quite expensive, and high-definition TVs have become so reasonable; it’s more cost effective to just replace an indoor TV every few years. Wiring for high quality sound with multiple speakers, as well as Wi-Fi internet access are also indispensable for these living spaces.

Making a splash

Continuing the transition from indoors to out, decks, pools and spas have become more sophisticated. No longer just for backyard barbecues, the demand today is to create under-the-sun and stars environs that are resort like and, at the same time, as carefree as possible.

Composite wood decking material has been around awhile and is fast becoming the decking surface of choice. It resists splintering, warping and maintains its finished look longer and with less upkeep than pressure-treated wood decking. The latest versions of these boards are increasingly resistant to fading and more wood-like in appearance. Flagstone, tile, concrete pavers and stamped concrete are also popular decking choices, especially around pools and spas.

When it comes to the latest trends in pools, leisure is the name of the game, according to Tara Onthank of Rising Sun Pools & Spas. "For awhile, we saw an emphasis on fitness, with lap pools, but now people are looking for relaxation features like wading areas, sun ledges and beach entries."

Onthank adds that free-form, more natural looking pools are in demand. And the pièce de résistance, when it comes to a truly relaxing resort-style pool, is the built-in waterfall or fountain. "We’re seeing a real increase in people asking for rock-formation water features incorporated into their pool," reports Onthank.

Hand-in-hand with the increasing desire for total-relaxation pools is a corresponding desire to spend as little time as possible taking care of them. Saline pools, in which a chlorine generator converts salt into chlorine, require much less attention than pools that use chlorine and are also considered more comfortable, as they are less harsh on the eyes and skin. "75 to 80 percent of our in-ground pools now are saline pools," says Onthank. Automation of control systems is another time-saving feature in the forefront of both pools and spas today. Controlling everything from lighting to filtration by remote makes the whole experience easier.

Outdoor living

The trend in spas is therapy, according to Onthank. "People are focusing on strategies to help with what ails them — high blood pressure, arthritis, insomnia." While the four-to-six-person spa is still the norm, manufacturers are offering spas with more high-tech jet systems and emphasis on strategic placement and specialized focus of the jets. MicroSilk for Hot Tubs is a product that generates billions of oxygen-rich micro-sized therapy bubbles, said to increase oxygen levels in the water to improve a bather’s natural collagen production and even reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Lighting for pools and spas, and the entire outdoor space, has become more sophisticated too. LED lighting systems offer more colors, mood lighting, plighting for drama — all more energy efficiently than ever before.

Outdoor living

Further enhancing the get-away-from-it-all atmosphere of today’s outdoor living spaces are myriad choices in fire and water features. No deck or terrace is complete without the gentle glow and crackle of fire and the soothing sounds of bubbling water.


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