Ask the Experts: The Great Outdoors
Maximizing outdoor space in the era of social distancing
While a stay-at-home attitude doesn’t typically describe the New Orleans way, it’s fair to say that recent events and recommendations for social distancing have given locals a new way to experience their homes, neighborhoods and community. Thank goodness for the beautiful weather that provided a pleasant backdrop for getting reacquainted with our outdoor spaces — from small front porches to large gardens and backyards, homes’ exterior spaces became the place to be in March and April.
Welcome to what many experts believe is the “new normal,” a lifestyle that includes more time at — and more enjoyment of — the home. Summer is also a great time for enjoying the backyard, whether by cooling off in the pool and under the shade of trees or by enjoying a cold beverage as you fire up the grill in the evening. The era of social distancing gives us more reason than ever to maximize all of the space that home offers, including the perhaps previously under-appreciated outdoors.
“With most people staying home, people are spending a lot of time in their own gardens,” says Kenny Rabalais, owner of The Plant Gallery. “At the garden center, herbs and vegetables are the most popular. Our landscape division has been slammed — we are installing plants, irrigation, and lighting every day.”
Located on Airline Highway in New Orleans, The Plant Gallery’s Garden Center & Boutique is currently open daily. In addition to its garden center, the company offers florist services, landscape design and installation, plant maintenance and plant rentals. For those looking to improve their outdoor space, Rabalais recommends first asking how you see yourself using the space — as a peaceful seating area, a gathering space, a place to cook outside?
Rabalais emphasizes planning early in the process, especially with a new home. Tips like installing sleeves for irrigation and lighting wires under sidewalks and driveways before pouring concrete and leaving sufficient room for tall plants or trees along your fence for privacy can save you money in the long run.
For Beverly Katz, owner of Exterior Designs, Inc., planning can’t be emphasized enough.
“Without a master plan, we find homeowners often severely underutilize their available space,” says Katz. “We can work in phases to help the homeowner create the outdoor living space they have always dreamed of without blowing their budget.”
Katz is known for her ability to incorporate lush landscaping with hard surfaces such as brick or pavers to create French Quarter-inspired courtyards complete with a proper drainage plan. According to Katz, poor drainage can cause a host of issues, so having a plan for moisture is of utmost importance.
In addition to offering landscape design, Exterior Designs, Inc. also offers build and maintenance services and has been hearing from a number of clients thankful for the investment they made prior to recent events.
“It seems as though many have been forced to slow down during the stay-at-home order, allowing them to truly enjoy the outdoor spaces we have created and continue to maintain for them,” says Katz. During spring, the company was busy offering clients basic cleaning of gardens, lawn cutting, pruning and mulching. Katz emphasizes that working within a client’s budget is crucial now, and the company is offering payment arrangements.
An increased interest in outdoor space has also been felt by landscape design+build and maintenance firm Mullin, where President and CEO Chase Mullin is seeing a large focus on recreational space: swimming pools, putting greens and usable lawn space.
During the stay-at-home order, the team at Mullin was able to continue assisting clients with planning by taking advantage of video conferencing technology. They were able to virtually “walk” the properties with clients and offer design presentations.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to continue most of our design work with minimal interruption through working remotely,” says Mullin.
As a first step in the design process, Mullin encourages prospective clients to gather images of spaces they’re drawn to in addition to any other information that can prompt Mullin’s landscape architects in the right direction.
“We most often encounter clients desiring to bring the indoors outside by expanding their living spaces into their backyards,” he says. “More often than not, both the interior décor and exterior spaces are a direct reflection of the owners’ taste and personalities.”
In the summer time, pools are indeed one of the most coveted additions to an outdoor space, and during the stay-at-home order, Paradise Pools and Spas, Inc. received countless photos and stories from former clients who were able to find enjoyment outside — from relaxing by the water to getting exercise, pools offer an escape from the confines of the house.
“Most clients we meet with today are looking for a sanctuary for their family,” says Earl Hardouin, Owner of Paradise Pools and Spas, Inc. “They are looking for the ability to attract their family to hang around home, to create memories with their family or simply cool off on our hot summer days.”
When considering adding a pool to your exterior space, Hardouin suggests first pinpointing how you want to use it functionally and what amenities and features you might want to incorporate. Pictures are always helpful, too, he says.
“Balance is also important,” adds Hardouin. “Many clients want seating or outdoor cooking areas to complement their pool projects. Space planning and understanding how the flow of the yard will finish is very important.”
Outdoor cooking is one of the specialties of Nordic Kitchens & Baths, where customers interested in exterior pizza ovens, grills, and stove tops can find a wealth of options from high-end manufacturers like Alfresco, Kalamazoo, Artisan, Kamado Joe, Lynx, Primo and others.
Currently, President Randall Shaw is seeing a rising interest in “simple” outdoor kitchens — not full construction projects that require contractors and structures, but rather a little cabinetry that can be assembled in place and perhaps a stone countertop and appliances.
“I do think this will change the way we live,” says Shaw. “I think by spending this time at home, people are thinking ‘What can we do to make this a more enjoyable space?’”