The Great Outdoors
Creating backyard living spaces fit for your indoor style
theresa cassagne photographs
Everyone loves the comforts of the home — that’s why we spend so much time, energy and money on architectural and interior design, not to mention the softest sofas and chairs, the most accommodating mattresses, and kitchen accessories that make our cooking not only easier but better. Over the years, the draw of the outdoors has extended those comforts to backyard and patio spaces as more of us choose to take advantage of the region’s largely agreeable climate and gather with friends and family in the warm sun and cool breeze or by the light of the moon and a glowing fire.
A few decades ago, the backyard served as merely a gardening space, a play area for the kids and pets, or as a setting for a pool and a grill for steaks. Today, the home’s outdoor space can accomplish so much more. This season, we checked in with a number of local experts on ways to use and improve your backyard, patio, porch or courtyard, from additional living spaces and kitchens to spas, pools and more.
For 25 years, Villa Vici has served as a design resource for area homeowners. They work with clients to create a custom design plan that fits their style, budget, and space. When it comes to outdoor living, owner and designer Vikki Leftwich emphasizes shelter, seating and dining while always keeping style in mind. Villa Vici offers outdoor-friendly furniture items, including all-weather wicker furniture with powder-coated aluminum bases in a variety of contemporary or traditional styles.
“Combined with Sunbrella cushions for durability and comfort, these furniture pieces are a must-have in any outdoor space,” says Leftwich. “In addition, our olefin marine-grade fabric umbrellas are a must-have in any southern location withstanding winds up to 60mph and keeping us cool in the hot summer months,” she says.
Design consulting firm and furnishings boutique Eclectic Home offers a diverse inventory in a range of styles and periods. In addition to the popularity of water-repellant upholstered sofas and chairs, vintage and retro outdoor furnishings are making a comeback, according to Owner and Principal Designer Penny D. Francis.
“Your grandmother’s metal glider is back,” says Francis. “Also, the days of all the pieces matching are gone. As with interior spaces, a collection of pieces that make a space look highly evolved is transitioning outside.” She also notes that statement pieces such as resin, concrete, or iron accent tables are highly sought while outdoor floor and table lamps are improving outdoor ambiance. Francis recommends anchoring every space — patio, porch, garden, etc. — with seating for lounging and enjoyment.
While enjoying your outdoor space, you may want some privacy from neighbors and relief from the sun. With a porch or patio, outdoor drapes offer one way to achieve both shade and privacy, but according to Blythe Wren, Owner of Wren’s Tontine, outdoor drapes are best used for décor, while solar or sun shades are much more effective at providing privacy and shade while not blocking your view. While closed drapes can be unwieldy in wind, roller shades stay in place and can be adjusted to a variety of heights.
The shades’ “openness factor” indicates how much light comes through and how easily you can see out. A one percent openness factor would significantly reduce UV glare and provide a lot of privacy and shade, while a factor of 10 percent would bring in more light and allow more visibility. According to Wren, solar shades come in a variety of fade- and mildew-resistant fabrics such as Sunbrella and can be motorized or operated manually.
Plants naturally play a significant role in a vibrant outdoor living area, and whether a large garden or a layered courtyard, flowers and foliage add to your style. Perino’s Home & Garden Center features a variety of plants, 80 percent of which are grown by the company in Covington greenhouses. Meanwhile, Perino’s home center offers 5,000 square feet of outdoor furniture, home décor and gifts.
“In terms of plants, container gardening and mixed containers have been very popular for back patio areas,” says Megan Perino Scully, operations manager. “For summertime, bright, blooming tropicals like bougainvillea, mandevillas and hibiscus are always incredibly popular.”
Scully recommends familiarizing yourself with the sunlight and watering requirements of the plants you plan to buy, as well as their eventual size.
“And if you don’t already have irrigation, it may be something to consider if you don’t want to be outside watering every day in the summer time,” says Scully.
Mulch is a common consideration when landscaping, and pine straw is beginning to take the place of cypress mulch at a number of homes and businesses in the region. According to George Gomez, Owner of Gomez Pine Straw, the straw doesn’t require the harvesting of trees and reduces the susceptibility of your home to termites. Straw also gives your landscaping a natural look, rather than an unnatural bright red, yellow, or black color that wood mulch is often dyed.
“Azaleas love pine straw,” says Gomez, noting that the breakdown of straw is particularly healthy for plants such as azaleas, crepe myrtles and roses.
Left: Villa Vici, Right: Mullin Landscape Associates
Known for offering a variety of amusements for the home, AMA Entertainment specializes in fun-focused items like Brunswick pool tables, arcade games and card tables. Adding excitement can improve your backyard living, and from Ping-Pong to traditional outdoor games like cornhole, croquet and bocce ball, you’ll find a variety of items at AMA that play into your competitive spirit. They also offer items for relaxing with family and friends such as Caldera spas or Primo grills, an American-made ceramic kamado-style cooker.
“In November 2016, we partnered with Caldera Spas to become the only distributor of this hot tub brand in the Greater metro area,” says general manager Keith Beba. “We have 13 models on the showroom floor, including one that is designed for a ‘wet test,’ where consumers can actually test out the uniqueness and comfort of these spas.”
Outdoor kitchens have evolved dramatically over the last few years, and what was once a stucco or brick structure with stainless access doors and drawers can now have the look and texture you want. New, outdoor custom cabinetry from Brown Jordan offers powder-coated finishes on top of stainless steel that won’t rust and can last a lifetime, according to Randall Shaw, President of Nordic Kitchens & Baths. You can build in a number of products, from gas grills and kamado cookers to drop-down power burners that — with up to 65,000 BTUs — offer a convenient way to steam lobsters, boil shrimp or fry fish.
Outdoor kitchens are no longer just for entertaining outdoors; they’re now being used for extensions of the kitchen and the cooking people don’t want to do indoors such as frying, blackening or roasting that heats up the kitchen over long hours.
From outdoor kitchens to fireplace installations, brick patios, and pool houses, Mullin Landscape Associates sees a number of outdoor projects from design through completion as a full-service design build and maintenance company that also offers landscaping, irrigation, drainage, and maintenance services. In outdoor spaces, President Chase Mullin sees a large trend towards combinations of fire and water installations. Pools have been around a long time but are currently on the rise in both new builds and renovations. Similarly, Mullins sees an increase in fire features such as built-in fire pits and fireplaces whether for ambiance or heat.
“You’re seeing a lot less grass and a lot more paving and hardscaping, and that’s where maybe a pool would be included,” says Mullin.
According to Charles Elfert, owner of Pleasure Pools, people are getting smarter about pools and better understanding their value. Gone are the days of 20-foot by 40-foot pools with diving boards — they trend is towards smaller, shallower “cocktail” pools that can be better customized to families’ uses.
“If you customize pools with benches, alcoves and chairs, you get both ambiance and the practical value of swimming and recreation with children and grandchildren,” says Elfert, who also notes that pools provide a wholesome meeting space for friends and a great alternative to cellphones and videogames for kids.
Pools, of course, offer their own new technologies and features now, from fountains and LED lights to automatic cleaners and convenient controls. According to Pepper Tregre, owner of Backyard Living, in-ground, gunite pools today require little maintenance and are automated with phone accessibility.
“History always repeats itself, and we are finding our customers want to go back to simple rectangular pools with hot tubs attached — simple and sleek. But automation is still desired, and some waterfall features are still suitable,” says Tregre. According to Tregre, trending items for pools are tanning Ledge Loungers with cascade bubblers lit in a variety of colors.
Whether it’s an outdoor kitchen, porch, pool. or patio that you want, every expert agrees on the need for professional help. Even outdoors, the old adage rings true: measure twice, cut once.