Outdoor Oasis

After spending so much time cooped up in the house recently, more and more people are investing in ways to kick things up a notch with their outdoor living environments so they can kick back in style.

The past year has certainly had us rethinking our options at home and finding new ways to evolve our backyards into cozier, more welcoming and more versatile environments. From adding creature comforts for the family to designing gracious surroundings for entertaining in style, we’re all seeking our own little sanctuary spaces.

And more than just giving our oft-neglected yards the improvements they deserve, this also is a great way to increase the value of your home for when its time to sell.

If you’ve decided it’s time to invest in your indoor-outdoor living space, the next step is to map out your expectations. For many, the goal is simply to create a well-designed lounging area that complements their interior living space. Others might want an exterior dining area or even a custom outdoor kitchen. Whatever your plans, we’ve got some on-trend advice from a few of our local experts in exterior design.

These professionals say their clients are looking for more than quick fixes and out-of-the-box solutions and are instead expressing a desire to create a seamless extension of their home’s interior and promote harmony inside and out.

Ocala Style food and entertaining contributor Jill Paglia knew their covered outdoor living space would become a favorite hangout.

“I designed our pool pavilion as another way to host gatherings for our large family. It definitely is an extension of our indoor space; sort of an overflow of the inside,” explains Paglia. “There is an ice maker, refrigerator and sink, and I use a Big Green Egg for grilling. We relax out there for cocktails. There is piped-in music and sometimes I just like to go there to read. I’ve hosted bridal showers in the pavilion. We always spent a lot of time out there, but even more so since the onset of COVID-19. We even had a family church service there on Christmas Eve.”

View to a Grill

If you’re creating a beautiful outdoor oasis for eating al fresco, why toil away in your indoor kitchen? Yes, a barbecue grill, some lighter fluid, a bag of charcoal and some deck chairs will certainly get the job done, but if you’re ready to up your game, an outdoor kitchen is an increasingly popular option and can be highly customizable.

“Cooking and entertaining outdoors frees you up to socialize while prepping and serving delicious eats among your guests,” offers Valerie Dailey, owner of Showcase Properties of Central Florida. “Plus, you’ll be able to avoid frequent trips to and from the indoors for seconds, refills, snacks and cups.”

What’s Cooking?

The perfect outdoor kitchen depends entirely on what you envision cooking there. Whether you’re thinking of preparing full gourmet meals while family members and friends lounge nearby, hosting a Florida-style low country boil, have always dreamed of an outdoor pizza oven or smoker, or you just want a spot to show off your grilling skills—you’re sure to make some great new memories and create a space you can enjoy for years to come.

Dailey is quick to point out that outdoor kitchens are both energy efficient and keep all those lingering smells from cooking foods like fish—and just about anything fried—outside, which is a definite bonus.

“Baking, frying and roasting all contribute to raising the temperature of your home, especially in the summer months, when your A/C has already been working hard to balance the temperature inside. Adding pockets of heat in your home can activate the A/C for hours as it tries to balance out the temperature,” she explains. “Using an outdoor cooking source can save you a substantial amount of energy from the air conditioning alone.”

But the most compelling reason for investing in an outdoor kitchen is that they add value to your home.

“Homes with outdoor kitchens are well known to have a high rate of return on investment. Not only do they give your home’s total living space more mileage and offer you years of rewarding entertaining experiences, they also make a home more enticing to potential buyers. Stainless steel appliances are especially desirable due to how easy they are to clean, as well as their ability to handle changing temperatures from season to season,” Dailey reveals, explaining that, according to experts in home valuations, “Homes with outdoor kitchens can potentially see a return on their investment ranging between 55 to 200 percent.”

Start With a Plan

Speaking of financial considerations, the staffers at custom home builders Secure Built, LLC, who routinely work with clients to create their dream outdoor kitchens, recommend establishing a budget for your project and a plan for the type of kitchen you want.

“Do you want something simple that includes a grill and a bar? Or do you want something more elaborate with a full refrigerator, grill and plenty of seating space? You can always opt for something in the middle, but be sure you survey all of your options and think about what you’ll really use your kitchen for,” contractor and owner Ryan Gummer suggests. “This will help you stay within budget.”

Budget is the number one consideration, according to Gummer.

“We put this first on the list because we feel it’s the most critical step in creating your dream outdoor kitchen,” he offers. “Remembering to stay within budget will help keep payments low and you won’t feel guilty about spending too much on a grill that’s simply out of your budget. There will almost always be additional costs you probably haven’t thought about and it can be easy for things to get out of hand.”

He also cautions that maintenance should be considered as well.

“Your outdoor kitchen will be exposed to the elements and it’s important to properly care for your larger appliances accordingly. Most of them will need to be covered. Think about the time and effort this will take and be sure you’re willing to put that effort into maintaining your kitchen,” he points out. “Sometimes simpler is better.”

There are lots of options to consider, from storage and outdoor cabinetry (there’s no point putting in an elaborate kitchen if you need to haul everything out from your indoor kitchen) to decorative elements. Experts advise that one of the most common mistakes homeowners make in designing outdoor kitchens is not planning enough outdoor counter space. Also give some thought to the placement of the cooking area in relation to where your guests will be seated, so you can visit as you cook.

These days, most outdoor kitchens are protected by much more than canopies or soft-top gazebos. Homeowners often opt for open-air patio structures to create some more substantial protection from the sun and rain. You will definitely need to consider appropriate shading if outdoor refrigeration is part of your plan.

For more information, log on to hgtv.com and search for outdoor kitchen design.

Feel the Burn

Humans have been gathering around fires for comfort and camaraderie for thousands of years. However, basic stone circles, clay chimineas and portable fire rings are giving way to permanently constructed fire pits which are integrated into outdoor living spaces designed for family fun.

Communing around a campfire is a way to reconnect with loved ones and disconnect from electronics, says Jason Richards, owner of Landscaping Under the Son.

“People are trying to create spaces where they can go outside, have a fire…places that can help bring us peace and joy,” he notes. “We’re talking about having 8 to 10 people or a whole family around a fire and being able to enjoy something that actually gives off a decent amount of warmth.”

Recent installations Richards’ team have completed include custom-built fire pits as wide as 5 feet, integrated with outdoor kitchens, bars and seating. Many clients are requesting options for open-fire cooking, he says, including removable grates and swiveled stanchions to hang large cast iron pots.

Creating spaces for families to enjoy the open air is a favorite part of his job, Richards says. One especially lovely outdoor living space he enjoyed designing is for a couple who wanted greenery embedded into the hardscape.

“They want a lemon and a lime tree close to the bar and also raised planter beds where they can grow mint and things to put into their mixed drinks,” he explains. “The fire pit is going to be right there by the bar, which will have an octagon arbor with hanging swings and an attached bocce ball court, where they can play outdoor games.”

Step On It

The living space beyond our back doors is much more than a backyard—it’s a continuation of our home’s interior, says architect and interior designer Rolando Sosa, owner of Architecture Studio. And, he advises, spending quality time outdoors demands comfortable and safe surfaces under our feet.

“I’m seeing a lot of diversity in the materials being utilized for the exterior,” he says. “It used to be basically just concrete or a wood deck. But in Florida, especially, with the climate that we have, that is something that’s gone by the wayside. The old paver is still being utilized, but it’s usually a little rougher. What we’re seeing is a lot more ceramic tile or quarry tile or porcelain tile that’s rated for the outdoors and nonslip. Technology every day brings us better products with regards to that.”

For outdoor living spaces that include kitchens, dining areas and living areas, modern tile floor surfaces provide comfort and continue a cohesive interior design.   

“People want more of a finished exterior look,” Sosa remarks. “They want a continuation of what’s going on in their home.”

He stresses the importance of consulting an expert when choosing tile for outdoor environments to ensure the selected material is weather-safe and nonslip.

In achieving the desired look for the client Sosa explains, “We look for those things the homeowner might not be aware of.”

In and Out

Soft textiles and comfortable seating arrangements that could pass for interior decor are making their way into outdoor living spaces, according to interior designer Jennie Holland, owner of J Holland Interiors.

“We do a lot more blankets and other soft textiles. We’re putting down-filled pillows on the patio all the time,” she reveals. “There are textures that really and truly could be used indoors or out.”

And, Holland adds, today’s outdoor seating areas more closely reflect the homeowners’ interior decor, both in style and color palette, rather than the “matchy-matchy” furniture sets of the past. 

“Clients are taking the style that they have indoors and really using that same aesthetic outdoors,” she observes. “There are designs that are literally a sofa you would use inside that can now be outside when upholstered in an extremely durable fabric. We are doing coffee tables, end tables and accents that really look like they could be in your formal living room. The big sectional is comfy cozy, but then let’s put a concrete coffee table out there.”

While Holland is noticing a preference for toned-down color palettes that are more neutral than bold, she says texture, from rugs to accent pillows, is key to creating a cozy vibe.

“We’re doing a lot of outdoor-indoor rugs,” she notes. “Tweeds give that layering effect and texture.”

When it comes to your home, renovating your outdoor living space truly affords you the best of both worlds. With a little planning and investment, you can enjoy all your favorite activities, including cooking, dining and spending quality time with your friends and family members, all while enjoying the beauty of your yard. We think that once you create your own sanctuary space, you’ll find yourself wondering how you ever lived without it.

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