Whether gathered around the glow of a backyard fire pit in the winter or relaxing poolside with juleps in summer, New Orleanians love to take advantage of the city’s climate with outdoor parties and events. From patios and porches to courtyards and gardens, homeowners are extending their living spaces to utilize every square foot of property. Outdoor kitchens and weather-resistant furniture transform backyards into breezy dining and living rooms, while a variety of lighting sources, amenities and natural elements create an ambiance that can’t be paralleled inside the home. When customizing your outdoor space, whether in a new build or home renovation, local experts can help you distinguish your wants and needs and guide the process. Every bit of space has potential, and it may take a builder, decorator, or landscape architect to reach it.
“I think the trend is for more people to enjoy their outdoor areas as much or even more than their indoor areas,” says Zach Tyson, owner of Tyson Construction, a Greater New Orleans custom builder offering plan design, turn-key custom build service and renovation/remodel work. “Whether it’s a flat-screen TV in a custom-built cabinet on the back porch or a backyard garden with a space for a fire pit and seating, the outdoors are certainly one of the main focuses for building,” he says.
In a new build, Tyson recommends reserving outdoor space first and foremost. Plan ahead with electrical circuits for outlets and lighting and a gas line for grills, boils, and lanterns. Considerations for backyard renovations and additions are much the same as a new build, but in a renovation overall costs will be relative to accessibility of the yard for possible framing and foundation work. Additionally, “Tying in the new roof to the existing house can be tricky and should be a main factor in design,” says Tyson.
According to Jonathan Swanson, professional landscape Architect with Mullin Landscape Associates, important considerations for an entertaining space are scale, function, and style. First, the space should be conducive to the size of gatherings that will take place.
“Often times it’s best to have a few smaller areas rather than one large space. This lends itself better to all of the small conversations that make for a good time,” says Swanson. Regarding function, he suggests a fluid design that doesn’t disrupt a good time, e.g. locating a cooking space in close proximity to a gathering area so that the cook isn’t banished from the party.
“It would also mean finding a way to incorporate that cooking space in a way that it doesn’t become the focal point of the garden,” he says.
Function also involves comfort, and elements that provide shade or a breeze improve a space.
Last but not least, the style of the space should reflect or carry similar levels of detail as the rest of the home, says Swanson, with materials, forms, and color unifying the space and its surroundings.
Style is the expertise of Penny D. Francis, designer/owner of Eclectic Home, which provides furnishings from a broad range of styles and resources both domestically and abroad. Francis approaches outdoor spaces in the same way she approaches indoor design and starts by defining the space on how it will function. According to Francis, one of the most important elements is lighting.
“As with interior spaces, layer your lighting. You might have a dining area on a porch or cabana where you have a central ceiling fixture; add rope lighting, candle lighting on the tables, as well as lighting in lanterns on the floor or floating candles in your pools or water feature. These layers of light add an amazing ambiance,” she says.
According to Francis, there line between indoor and outdoor furniture is beginning to blur.
“Fully upholstered and slip covered sofas and chairs are a trend, along with concrete tabletops mixed with wood for bases,” she says.
Katie Koch, owner of Katie Koch Home, is also immersed in the various design trends exploding onto the scene. From outdoor lighting to carpets, coffee tables, and fabrics, Koch just returned from a trip to Atlanta with an assortment of design ideas and products for backyards and patios.
“We have come a long way since Sunbrella,” says Koch, referring to one of the first manufacturers of outdoor fabrics. “The fabrics for outdoors have become very soft – some look and feel like velvet but they’re actually acrylic,” she says. In some cases, Koch says you can’t easily tell the difference between an indoor and outdoor sofa because the fabrics and designs are so advanced.
Koch is seeing more people use drapery to divide a space as a softer substitute for screens, shutters, and shades. She recently completed a job in which the she hung white ripple-fold panels of an easily washable acrylic casement fabric outdoors. Installed on outdoor-friendly, stainless steel tracks, the drapes bring a soft, indoor feel to the poolside porch.
An outdoor gathering isn’t complete without food and drink, and outdoor kitchens have been on the rise as homeowners incorporate grills, ovens, cooktops, refrigeration, and even dishwashers to their outdoor space. Nordic Kitchen & Baths helps clients create wish lists and plan their space accordingly. The company carries a variety of outdoor kitchen products including high-end Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet grills and pizza ovens as well as all-weather cabinets and countertops.
“We take into consideration location – for instance, how we have to position a grill as we’re building it in,” says Randy Shaw, owner/president, emphasizing that little-known considerations such as wind direction can affect the lifetime and function of a grill.
Outdoor cabinetry and weather-resistant countertops are a new trend, and Nordic supplies three lines of cabinets that come in a variety of styles and colors, including a natural-looking wood grain. The UV-resistant Dekton countertops provide a non-porous, fade-proof, modern and sleek surface for food prep and serving.
Whether you’re hosting a large or small event, the caliber of the gathering may call for a little more pizazz than your daily décor, and companies such as Royal Event Rental can help give the event its own luster through full-service design and décor. Royal Event Rental has helped stage everything from private dinners to weddings and corporate events.
“For outdoor entertaining, the important thing is to give the environment the ‘wow’ factor and really set the tone of the event,” says owner Maitee Gomez. From an initial showroom consultation, Gomez and her team help from start to finish – assisting with design, seating and placement, lighting, décor, and setup and pickup. The biggest mistake an outdoor host can make, according to Gomez, is not consider the time, look, and weather. Knowing where the sun will be and out it affects the space in light and temperature is key in planning and setting the tone.
And what can you do if rain has recently soaked your outdoor landscape? Pine straw can provide a layer of “carpet” in places where you fear mud will reign. Gomez Pine Straw provides the multipurpose, natural ground cover for events, as well as for garden mulch and landscaping. A natural and environmentally friendly alternative to cedar mulch, pine straw breaks down naturally and can even be “crushed” or cut to short lengths for a cleaner look and easy placement around smaller annual plants.
From mulch to kitchens to candelabras, each consideration will add to the feeling of home, but no space is complete until you add the warmth and fellowship of friends and family. Customize your outdoor space and enjoy a summer full of fun.