Report on The Outdoor Room
By Richard Wright
News Flash: The Outdoor Room is certainly not a fad. Having been in place for over two decades, it may even be beyond a major trend. Our belief is that outdoor living is now a permanent part of the North American lifestyle (that’s right, we’re including Canadians as well, and it has always been part of the lifestyle in Mexico).
According to the survey, fire pits/fireplaces were identified by 78 percent of landscape architects as “popular Outdoor Room elements.” Others were outdoor lighting (72 percent), grills (63 percent), seating/dining areas (63 percent), counter space (53 percent), storage (38 percent), sinks (37 percent), and refrigerators (35 percent). Pergolas (51 percent) and decks (45 percent) are the most popular outdoor “structures.”
Landscape architect Pete Pedersen, owner of Pedersen Associates in San Rafael, California, says most of these elements are on his clients’ wish lists, but notes that the selection of appliances included in any given outdoor kitchen is ultimately determined by its proximity to the indoor kitchen.
“If you can walk right into the kitchen to use the sink, get a drink or store things, there will be fewer appliances built into the outdoor kitchen; if it’s farther away, there’s more,” he says.
Pedersen has noted other growing trends in Outdoor Rooms. One is creating the outdoor space at the same elevation as the interior space so the home flows seamlessly indoors to outdoors. “People don’t want steps,” he says. “By minimizing the difference in elevation, it creates the sense that the Outdoor Room is an extension of the interior living space.”
Pedersen says wind screens that block air but not views also are requested when prevailing winds are an ongoing issue. Overhead structures are big, too. However, he notes that, because rain and bugs are scarce in California, he more often incorporates pergolas with shade fabric into his plans, rather than the solid-roof pavilions or screened structures that are catching on in other parts of the country. Pedersen says sophisticated stonework is increasingly being used to help define the different areas within an outdoor living space.
He also says that a growing environmental consciousness is factoring into Outdoor Room design today. “Here in California,” he says, “we are dealing with drought, so people are very conscious of water use and want sustainable landscaping.”
According to Pedersen, synthetic lawns are popular, as are permeable patios and drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants and shrubs that don’t have to be pruned or watered. For fire features, Pedersen incorporates more gas-fueled fireplaces and fire pits into designs, partly for their convenience, and partly because of clients’ concerns about embers causing a fire.
“Our philosophy on Outdoor Room design is that it should make life easier, more enjoyable, greener and cleaner,” he says. “Outdoor Rooms are reflecting our desire to get smarter and more sustainable in how we live. Our perception of beauty in outdoor living spaces must change. It can’t be all green, golf-course-style lawns anymore.”
Like many other Outdoor Room trends that originated in California, the experts say sustainability in outdoor living spaces is becoming a key trend all across the country.
Other Players in the Outdoor Room Field
While landscape architects have arguably taken the lead role in Outdoor Room design and construction, more kitchen and bath designers are getting into the game. Half of all National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) designers said they specified an outdoor kitchen in 2014, up seven percentage points from 2013, according to the group’s 2015 Kitchen & Bath Design Trends report.
Kitchen and bath industry experts say we can expect to see popular indoor kitchen trends appearing in their alfresco counterparts, ensuring a cohesive design. That means contemporary and transitional looks will dominate outdoor kitchens as they do in indoor kitchens today.
According to the NKBA, specifications for clean, sleek, modern styles are up by more than 15 percentage points in the last four years. Other trends expected to move outdoors include industrial-chic looks, and a fusion of contemporary and rustic styling.
The report shows today’s most requested interior-kitchen color schemes are white and gray, with green, black and blue also popular. More and more indoor kitchens now combine cabinets of two different colors. What’s passé indoors? Traditional, Country/Rustic, Tuscan and Provincial looks with distressed finishes, and red, bronze and terra cotta color schemes – the very looks that long have been hallmarks of outdoor kitchen design. We can expect outdoor styles to evolve accordingly.
Outdoor Rooms are also influencing how Americans remodel their homes. According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), outdoor living projects are generating significant business for its members. The Outdoor Room was well represented at NARI’s Regional and National Contractor of the Year awards, recognizing the country’s top residential remodeling projects.
The national Contractor of the Year (COTY) award for Exterior Renovation over $200,000 went to a backyard oasis featuring a stunning, poolside outdoor-living pavilion attached to the main house. The space included an outdoor kitchen with a host of built-in appliances, a wood-fired pizza oven, a fireplace, and fans and heaters suspended from the ceiling.
According to the Home Improvement Research Institute, projects such as this likely will be found in more backyards across the country in the coming years. The group forecasts growth of 5.8 percent in U.S. home improvement spending in 2015, as consumers invest in interior and exterior home renovations that add both comfort and resale value to their homes. Home improvement spending is increasing in Canada as well, according to a report by Moneris Solutions Corporation, Canada’s largest credit and debit card processor.
It’s not just renovations to existing homes fueling the growth in Outdoor Rooms. Outdoor living spaces are becoming a significant amenity in new home construction. The National Association of Home Builders Home Design Trends Report for 2015 shows Outdoor Rooms are a trending feature in new homes, whether they are offered as options in entry- and mid-priced developments, or as standard features on luxury, custom builds.
The Outdoor Rooms are often designed as “transitional” spaces with sliding, removable or foldable walls that blur lines and encourage flow between indoor and outdoor living spaces.
The report also indicates that rooftop outdoor living spaces are catching on. “No matter if in the middle of the city, in the suburbs, or out in the country, people are utilizing the extra space on the roof to give them a great view while soaking in the surroundings,” the report says.
On the DIY front, interest in the Outdoor Room is high, as well. The 2015 Garden Trends Report in Industry Edge, a trends newsletter of the National Hardware Show, advises retailers to expect increased demand for the products needed to create outdoor cooking and dining spaces, particularly smokers, gas grills, charcoal grills and pizza ovens.
The report also indicates that people are interested in “gardentainment” products such as fire pits, water features, outdoor sculptures and artwork, and comfortable outdoor seating with decorative accessories such as pillows and rugs that help create “tranquil backyard sanctuaries.”
According to the report, “Interior decorating techniques and color schemes are being extended to outdoor patio and living areas, as entertainment moves freely between indoors and outdoors.”
How the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Industries
Are Tapping into Outdoor Rooms
Specialty hearth, patio and barbecue retailers are another important channel in the Outdoor Room segment. According to research by Hearth & Home, dealers that carry all three product categories are far more likely to sell the Outdoor Room concept (75 percent), than those who sell only barbecues (55 percent), or hearth and barbecues (40 percent).
While some dealers offer Outdoor Room design services from concept to construction, others find it cleaner to let landscape architects or other contractors take the lead. The dealer, instead, participates as a partner that provides expertise, grills, appliances and hearth products for the project. Another option for specialty barbecue dealers is to sell turnkey, modular Outdoor Room components. These projects require fewer skills to implement, but also offer fewer opportunities for clients to customize their outdoor spaces.
Corey Ogiba, regional sales manager at Belgard Hardscapes, says the company’s modular Outdoor Room kits are growing in popularity among specialty dealers.
“They’re a great option,” he says. “A dealer can offer a quicker, but still beautiful, solution for a customer who might be having a party or hosting a wedding and needs an Outdoor Room now.” Ogiba says the company’s modular outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are the hottest elements with homeowners today, followed closely by outdoor kitchens that incorporate not only gas grills, but kamados and pizza ovens.
There are plenty of other opportunities for specialty dealers to sell the Outdoor Room. Today, most high-end gas grill manufacturers offer some type of modular outdoor kitchen system. Many kamado manufacturers offer carts or table surrounds that provide a built-in look, and manufacturers of modular outdoor cabinetry are another source for turnkey outdoor kitchens.
Some companies are even forming alliances with other complementary Outdoor Room suppliers to help dealers sell the Outdoor Room. For instance, Ginocchi of Coyote Outdoor Living has teamed with Brown Jordan outdoor cabinetry, Eldorado Stone, and Cosentino countertops to create, “one-stop-shopping that makes it easier for dealers, designers and end users,” says Ginocchi.
The lower price-point grill lines now offered by a number of premium grill manufacturers create opportunities for retailers to sell outdoor kitchens to a much broader consumer demographic.
“Everyone wants an Outdoor Room, and we want to be in as many backyards as we can,” says Dante Cantal, owner of Twin Eagles, who recently introduced an entry-level line of grills called Del Sol, to complement its mid-priced Delta Heat and premium-priced Twin Eagles lines. “With this line, many, many more people can afford an outdoor kitchen with our built-in grills.”
The next step for specialty grill manufacturers will be to design products that reflect the contemporary design aesthetic that’s working its way into Outdoor Rooms. According to Rob Schwing, general manager of Saber Grills, there are few grill options available today for those who want to coordinate with the simple, clean, minimalist profiles of contemporary patio furniture, linear fire pits and modern interior design. With that in mind, Saber launched its sleek, modern-looking Edge grill at HPBExpo in March. Other grill manufacturers should consider adopting a contemporary mindset in product development.
How Consumers Learn About Outdoor Living
Among the media outlets at the forefront of Outdoor Room education is HGTV. The cable home design network’s report, What’s Hot in Backyard Designs, says a “barbecue courtyard” as part of an Outdoor Room, is replacing the conventional backyard. It observes that multiple interior rooms – as opposed to just one or two – are now opening into an increasingly expansive outdoor living space.
According to HGTV, homeowners are also opting for sustainable, drought-resistant landscaping with less turf grass in their Outdoor Rooms. They are incorporating edibles such as vegetable plants and fruit trees, and increasingly, even chickens and bees in their backyard spaces.
In addition to extensive coverage on cable television programming, social media sites are fueling consumers’ obsession with the Outdoor Room. The home design website, Houzz, counts Outdoor Rooms with distinct areas for cooking, dining, relaxing and recreation, among its list of top-10 outdoor living trends.
Other features popular with the website’s users: outdoor kitchens, which it calls the “heart’ of the Outdoor Room; water features, such as fountains, waterfalls, pools and cascading ponds; fire features, including wood or gas fire pits, and fireplaces that help extend the outdoor living season; and vertical structures, such as walls, screens, pergolas and planters, to help define spaces and traffic-ways within the Outdoor Room.
According to Houzz, an “urban vibe” is dominating design in outdoor spaces today, with clean, contemporary and sophisticated looks, monochromatic colors, matte finishes, and landscaping with linear and geometric patterns, sharp edges and 90-degree angles.
On the Pinterest social media site, images of outdoor living spaces with grilling islands, beautifully furnished seating areas, fireplaces, fire pits and outdoor lighting are frequently “pinned” and “repinned,” often with how-to tips for creating the looks. These aspirational outdoor living spaces appeal to the 25- to 34-year-old Millennials who make up the majority of Pinterest users (80 percent of whom are female), according to an online report in Business 2 Community.
Although not all Pinterest users can afford a five- or six-figure Outdoor Room, they still desire it, and will try to create an affordable version of it. That’s good news for manufacturers and retailers of outdoor living products, in light of a study by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth that found Pinterest has the highest sales conversion rate of all social media sites. It showed that 47 percent of Millennials on Pinterest say they purchased something after seeing it pinned. Takeaway: If you’re not pinning photos of Outdoor Rooms on Pinterest, you should.
Another takeaway: The Outdoor Room, a once-trendy-now-essential home feature, shows no signs of fading away. A Harris Poll conducted in May of this year for the National Association of Landscape Professionals shows resoundingly that even in an age of technology, Americans still love their backyards. The study found that 75 percent of all U.S. adults feel it’s important to spend time outside in their yards, and 74 percent of 18- to 34-year-old Millennials feel the same way.
Once only for the “rich and famous,” Outdoor Rooms are now found in the backyards of a much broader demographic. The desire for an inviting outdoor living space has become practically universal and should continue in popularity for the foreseeable future.