Let's Take it Outside

Who says a home’s best living areas have to be indoors?

Christian Tauber, designer and manager of Old Country Gardens in Wilmington, points to a growing number of local “plant collectors” who are aware of trends in the growing industry and demand new products. “People want to keep enjoying summer and extend the season,” Tauber says. Photograph by Tom NutterLinda Berdine’s property in Lewes backed up to a wetland, so finding a way to use the space was a challenge. The solution? An outdoor kitchen and pool area where she and her husband could entertain as much as they liked.

“It’s set up so we can do all of our cooking and cleanup out there,” Berdine says. “We’re able to spend all our time outdoors, basically eating.”

The area is paved in outdoor tile with a knee wall of stone and kitchen counters of granite. There’s a small refrigerator, an ice maker, a grill—“a really huge grill with a burner for our crab pot”—and a full sink, all of it protected by a cabana shingled in cedar. Nearby is a pool with a changing area and rest room.

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“We really try to spend as much time as possible out there,” Berdine says. “We just love it.”

The Berdines are part of the latest trend in homes, which by now is no trend at all, but an established element of the overall design. The old patio with a picnic table and rollaway charcoal grill is becoming a thing of the past as more homeowners demand all-purpose outdoor spaces that are as stylish and beautiful as their favorite indoor rooms.

With their beautiful foliage and various colors, plants can transform a landscape, like this one at Old Country Gardens. In other words, the outdoors is the new indoors—and the late spring and early fall are the new summer. Why should Arizonans and Floridians have all the fun?

“It’s a lifestyle,” says Christian Tauber, designer and manager of Old Country Gardens in Wilmington. “People want to keep enjoying summer and extend the season.”

Let’s work from the ground up.

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Forget the old concrete slab that used to be called a patio. The new outdoor space may be paved in brick, in a traditional basket weave or herringbone pattern, or it may be laid as running bond. But the area is as likely to be defined by specially shaped, textured and colored pavers, laid in circles, fans or elaborate parquets. The area might as likely be covered in flagstone or other natural materials. Those patios might hide flush-mounted lights for safety, convenience and mood-making.

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The Berdines built an outdoor kitchen complete with a cabana to maximize the time they spend outdoors.Next comes an element of fire, whether contained in a wood- or gas-burning pit, or in a traditional fireplace. Picture a freestanding hearth and chimney scaled to the space and built, again, in stone, brick or stucco. Picture a fire feature that makes a visual statement.

Then, just add water. Whether it’s a pond, a pondless waterfall, a never-ending pool or water wall, water adds visual and aural beauty, sometimes with remarkably low maintenance.

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Earth, air, fire and water—if these four basic elements of the ancient world seem to make outdoor living feel like a primal experience, there’s a reason: It is. Homo sapiens evolved from an outdoor animal, but one that knew what it needed: a warm, safe place. We’re made for outdoor living. Yet in this modern age, a comfortable outdoor space is also an economic consideration.

“Houses aren’t investments anymore,” says designer Richard Lyon of Wallace Associates in Chadds Ford, Pa. “People want to stay where they are. They aren’t buying, waiting a couple years to appreciate, then selling and moving, so they want to make something new at home.”

East Coast Garden Center in Millsboro reflects the continuing popularity of container gardening. That means the basic patio-fire-water setup can be transformed into much more. Why settle for one patio when a sloped yard or elevated home plan could benefit from several tiers of outdoor space? Define the area with a knee wall (also with inset lighting) or architectural pillars and columns. Add a cabana or pergola for full or partial shelter from the rain. Even better, use the cover to protect your big-screen television—“You can watch football through September,” says Lyon—and your kitchen.

Designer Rose Giroso of Rose Authentica in Wilmington divides kitchen appliances: “must have, nice to have, and dreamy.”

On the must-have end of the scale: a built-in grill, whether gas, charcoal or electric. On the dreamy end: pizza ovens. In between: ice storage or an ice maker, bars and beer taps, refrigerators large or small, stoves, storage cabinets and more.

Many manufacturers, such as Viking, Wolf and Thermador, are already well-known for indoor appliances, “But you don’t need to spend a lot to get a quality product,” says Anne Jacobi of Outdoor Living By Tuscan in Lewes.

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This colorful arrangement at Old Country Gardens is a prime example of how containers can dress up any area.Stainless steel remains a popular—and practical—finish. Add countertops of high-end materials such as granite or Corian for a polished look. Jacobi, who designed the Berdines’ area, builds kitchen cabinets of marine-grade woods that look beautiful and stand up to the weather. “People want something more sophisticated,” Tauber says.

The place needs furnishings, of course. Again, new materials look better than ever and last longer. Out with injection-molded chairs and tables. In with hearty synthetic whicker, sturdy wood, handsome, weather-resistant upholstery, and finely wrought metals by makers from Tropitone on the low end to Woodard in the middle range to Brown Jordan on the high end.

There’s still a place for the chaise, but new designs cover everything from single chairs to day beds to sectional sofas in as many as 12 pieces. “You can arrange them according to whatever’s going on,” Giroso says. Some rival the plushness of anything you might put in your den.

As outdoor living spaces have evolved, so have gardens and landscapes. Tauber points to a growing number of local “plant collectors” who stay abreast of trends in the growing industry and demand new products, things such as the currently popular tiger eye sumac and an echinacea—or purple coneflower—that is now available in red. Plants are beautiful on their own, but, with their beautiful foliage and various colors, they can also dress up problem areas.

Some outdoor living areas, like this one by Wallace Associates in Chadds Ford, Pa., can be as comfortable as a room indoors.Jacobi and designer Rick Cordrey, owner of East Coast Garden Center in Millsboro, note the continuing popularity of banana trees and other tropical plants for summer. Cordrey also points out the popularity of container gardening. He keeps 40 to 50 pots on his own patio. Some are filled with tropical flowers. Others hold citrus trees. Still others are filled with herbs to be used in the outdoor kitchen.

“What you’re able to do is just endless,” he says. “We’re outside every single night we can be.”

So what’s next? Giroso sees a more seamless visual transition from indoor spaces to outdoor areas. Jacobi sees clients turning the existing interior to an “anterior-exterior” by, among other means, replacing traditional walls with folding glass door systems, such as NanaWall.

Whatever form your outdoor space takes, be warned; Giroso says: “If you create this, you’d better have a supply of hotdogs and s’mores.”

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