From plants to pools and paint to prettying things up, the pros are offering up advice for your outdoor oasis
Springtime in South Louisiana brings the sweet perfume of blossoming jasmine and the aromatic spices of a nearby crawfish boil, while summer scents likely include a neighbor’s freshly cut grass or mouth-watering steaks on the grill. Louisianians love the outdoors — this is Sportsman’s Paradise, after all — and will go to great lengths to make sure they can enjoy it from the comfort of home. This season, local experts are giving their favorite tips and tricks for turning your backyard into an enjoyable oasis for friends and family. Still others offer tips on how to protect your home and outdoor space from the beating summer sun and the heavy downpours of seasonal storms. Whether for fun or protection, the exterior of the home is the focus in summer.
While our tropical climate affords opportunities to spend time outside much of the year, there are some disadvantages to being so close to the equator and the blazing sun. Our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico translates to the threat of hurricanes and seasonal thunderstorms that arrive in an instant, dumping inches of water. Part of backyard living — the part that isn’t as much fun to plan — is making sure the areas of your home that are exposed to the elements provide the protection your home needs to weather the — well, weather.
“Our brutal summers are hot and wet,” says Alex Czerny, chief operating officer of VinylTech. “With the amount of rain we experience in New Orleans, having a sound roof is critical in protecting one of your most valuable assets — your home. Gutter maintenance is also key. Gutters that are backed up can overflow, rotting walls and attracting termites. We offer gutter screens to help prevent this from happening.”
VinylTech specializes in products for home exteriors, including vinyl, wood, and fiber cement siding, stucco, roofing, gutters, aluminum patio covers and windows.
In the early 2000s, Aeratis Porch Products was founded with a focus on creating historically accurate, architecturally correct building products that outlast similar wood products — another important consideration for old New Orleans homes.
“Our focus is to not only mimic the building materials used in the early 1800s but is to help our customers spend less time cleaning and maintaining their exterior living space and more time doing the things they love,” says Chris Tidwell, president. To that end, Aeratis recently introduced a line of custom, historically accurate, operable PVC shutters. According to Tidwell, these shutters retail for about ⅓ the price of a wood shutter, outperform wood, and have a limited lifetime warranty.
“Consumers will never have to worry about their shutters again,” says Tidwell.
As a coating, paint plays a much bigger role for the home than simply an aesthetic one. As the main coating for your siding, shutters, and more, its quality will affect both the home’s look and strength.
“In 1978, they took the lead and mercury out of paint,” says Kevin Mmahat, president and owner of Mid South Coatings. “Since then, owners have been applying ‘water-colors’ every three to five years depending on their pride of ownership.”
Instead of paint, “Lifetime Exterior Solutions” is the focus of Mid-South Coatings, and according to Mmahat, the company’s Coolwall coating system can reduce cooling costs up to 21 percent and has been tested by the U.S. Department of Energy. “Our Coolwall product is the only heat-reflective coating that saves on cooling cost in all colors,” he says. He adds that Mid South offers the most fade-resistant coating on the market, and that it’s more affordable than most owners realize.
Outdoor Products and Design Tips
With landscape architects, horticulturalists, and crews, Landscape Images Ltd. is a comprehensive design-build company that encounters a variety of trending approaches to backyard living. According to landscape architects Allan Basik and Kim Alvarez, current trends include edible gardens, outdoor fireplaces, and integrated technologies.
“Whether through schools or personal gardens, people are looking to bring more edibles into their green spaces,” says Basik. “For children it is a wonderful way for them to understand where their food comes from and getting them to be a part of the process.”
“The technology in outdoor spaces can add a lot to a garden,” says Alvarez. “Lighting creates a beautiful feel in the garden, and with the advancement in LED technology, changing bulbs is much less of a factor.”
Similarly, Mullin Landscape Associates provides turnkey landscape solutions. For Senior Landscape Architect Martin Romero, multi-functional spaces are key for backyard living — creating spaces that cater to any age group and also any size group.
“The challenge in developing spaces for families is creating a dual purpose environment; one with space needed for kids to play, and one that appeals to the ‘personal retreat’ factor for the adults,” says Romero. “Blending these two while creating an overall aesthetic theme is the key to a well-planned out space.”
Examples might include outdoor kitchens and covered pavilions for entertaining and edible gardens and pools as areas for kids to expend energy.
“My favorite way to take advantage of backyard living is to make the backyard available all year long,” says Earl Hardouin, president of Paradise Pools & Spas. “Whether we are grilling with friends and family or turning on the heater and utilizing the spa in the winter, we always seem to gather around the pool.”
According to Hardouin, living poolside continues to advance with new technologies, from voice controls to pool mobile apps that allow homeowners to control temperatures, lights, sounds, and water features without being home. Additionally, fire features and pits allow for poolside enjoyment before and after pool season.
When it comes to pool design itself, approaches can vary based on needs. For young families, a design might include tanning ledges with bubblers and minimal corners and sharp edges.
“When designing for older couples, typically we design for fitness, including swim jet systems and water aquatic depth for exercising,” says Hardouin.
Staying cool in the summer heat is key for enjoying the outdoors during Louisiana’s hottest months, and Blythe Wren, owner of Wren’s Tontine Shade & Design, offers just the tip for shading your sitting area.
“To cut down the heat in your outdoor space [or] patio, add an exterior solar shade,” says Wren. “It’s amazing how much cooler the shades can make it for you. Plus, they help block the UV and glare.”
According to Wren, motorized exterior shades are a recent trend. Many can be operated via remote, smartphone, or even through Amazon’s Alexa.
“To dress up your outdoor space [or] patio, you can add some Sunbrella fabric drapery panels,” says Wren. “The Sunbrella fabrics are mildew and fade resistant. They can soften the feel of the room as well as add a pop of color.”
Products like drapes help transform an outdoor space into a comfortable “room,” bringing the indoors outside. Other products, such as Origin’s bi-folding doors, help bring the outdoors in. Bi-folding doors offer homeowners an opportunity to open a room to the outdoors using different configurations of glass doors (a wall of windows, per se) by folding and sliding back the doors.
At Renaissance Doors, owner Matthew Durish offers large exterior sliding doors as well as the exterior bi-folding doors.
“While the sliders are less expensive, they can be heavy to operate,” says Durish. “The bi-folding door operates like a standard single-hinged door — only when you want to open the entire wall up does the door require more of a push.”
A residential supplier of doors, hardware, windows, and millwork, Renaissance Doors offers a showroom featuring these bi-folding doors. When selecting your windows and doors or planning your design, Durish recommends anticipating the view from inside the home. For instance, floor-to-ceiling windows are only as beautiful as the view they offer from the inside.
Flooring is another important consideration for your outdoor space, and you’ll want to make sure your transitions are smooth for the eye but not too slick for the feet.
Flooring expert Bruce Mills, Jr., owner and operator of Floor Coverings International of Metairie, recommends avoiding ceramic in the outdoors. According to Mills, contemporary outdoor flooring materials include traditional wood, composite, vinyl, stone, and bamboo. Natural stone, concrete pavers, and wood decking currently corner the market. Outdoor area rugs are rising in popularity, too, as another way of bringing the indoor living area to the outside.
For both a child- and adult-friendly option that requires little maintenance, Mills recommends artificial turf.
“Artificial turf has changed tremendously,” says Mills. “It looks more like real grass now. It is soft and easy to maintain. Artificial turf is also a pet-friendly option.”
While there are many ways one can approach their outdoor area, there’s one consideration that should remain constant, and that’s ensuring your outdoor space is a relaxing escape. Some people have a tendency to go overboard on gadgets and appliances, outdoor furniture, and even flowers and potted plants. According to Bev Katz, owner and designer at Exterior Designs, Inc., too many focal points and too much clutter causes a space — whether indoor or outdoor — to be distracting rather than relaxing.
For a therapeutic space, Katz recommends a streamlined design that engages your senses through colors that blend, floral scents, and the sound of water.
“Different textures and colors help you relax, but when you have too much, it doesn’t work,” says Katz. “Less is more; less is best.”
Katz recommends simplifying in ways like removing unnecessary pots, perhaps ones that don’t match, that are broken, or are occupied by a dying plant. Instead of six clustered pots, try one big one. Invest in at least one or two comfortable pieces of furniture, and store children’s toys and sporting goods elsewhere.
Whether you’re listening to the birds and reading a good book or splashing with kids at a boisterous poolside cookout, when it comes to enjoying the Louisiana outdoors, the sky is quite literally the limit.