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Hearth & Home August 2018

Let’s see: Fireplace, kitchen, dining group, and water element. Yep, all the elements are in place in this gorgeous Outdoor Room.

Photo Courtesy ©2018 Huntington Pools

What's In Outside?

By Lisa Readie Mayer

If the surveys are correct (and they most likely are) this should be a good year for The Outdoor Room®, which means a good year for smart retailers who are actively promoting the concept.

Looks like being “out” is definitely “in.” The American Institute of Architects (AIA) says consumer interest in Outdoor Rooms has climbed 72% since 2012, and interest in rooftop decks more than doubled between 2016 and 2017. In fact, the AIA’s latest Home Design Trends Survey reveals outdoor living spaces are now the most-requested “special function rooms” on residential projects, far outpacing requests for all other types of special function rooms, including mud rooms, home offices, and in-law suites.

According to online real estate company Zillow Group’s 2017 Consumer Housing Trends Report, an outdoor living area ranks among the top-10 most-desired home features. A study by has similar findings: its list of the 25 Most Desired Features in a Dream Home ranks a backyard deck fourth, a man cave/she shed 18th, and a rooftop space 25th (a fireplace was 5th, by the way).

The Outdoor Room is clearly transitioning from “nice to have” to “need to have” status. So much so, according to a survey by Arizona-based builder Taylor Morrison Home Corp., that 56% of prospective buyers would willingly trade interior space for a larger outdoor living area. The prospect has particular appeal for women; 62%, compared with 51% of men, say they would choose more outdoor living area over indoor living area. When the survey asked homebuyers how they would spend an extra $10,000 to $15,000 on their new home, outdoor living amenities topped the list.

These findings are not surprising, given an American Home Furnishings Alliance study that shows 70% of Americans enjoy spending more time in their outdoor living space than their indoor space, and that 68% use their Outdoor Rooms at least several times a week in seasonal weather.

Whenever a grill is placed under a ceiling, a strong vent is needed.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Kalamazoo Gourmet.

Housing Trends

The people have spoken and builders are giving them what they want. According to, developers are shrinking home sizes and adding bigger and better-designed outdoor spaces with floor plans that blend indoor and outdoor living. According to Trulia, the average new home had 7,048 sq. ft. of outdoor space in 2017, the third year in a row that yard sizes have increased following a 25-year decline in the size of outdoor spaces.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on the characteristics of new housing indicates 91% of single-family homes had a patio, porch, or deck in 2016, up from 86% in 2010. The National Association of Home Builders reports porches are on the rise, with the number of new homes being built with porches climbing steadily from 42% in 1994 to 52% in 2004 to 65% in 2016. The report says porches are valued, especially by Millennials, not just as design elements, but as an auxiliary space for entertaining and a way to connect with neighbors.

Home improvement expert Bob Vila calls the Outdoor Room, “Possibly the hottest trend in landscape architecture (today)…Homeowners are paying more attention to the link between indoors and outdoors. People are making a better connection to the environment and their outdoor space. They are investing more in the rear of their property.”

Twin pergolas shield the dining and cooking areas from the hot sun. Shade has become a necessity, not a luxury, as climate warming affects us all.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Artisan Home Resorts.

Smart Investment

According to the 5th Annual Home Improvement Survey by LightStream, an online lending division of SunTrust Banks, 58% of homeowners plan to invest in home improvement projects in 2018, with outdoor living projects at the top of the to-do list. About 43% of homeowners indicate they plan decks, patios, landscaping, outdoor kitchens, or other outdoor living enhancements, up 5% over last year.

There is good reason to make that investment. A study by CoreLogic reveals descriptions like “large backyard” and “outdoor living” positively impact the closing price of a home. The Appraisal Institute, a professional association of real-estate appraisers, reports that outdoor renovation projects – including outdoor living spaces – offer the greatest cost-to-value ratio, adding 6 to 13% to the value of a home, and helping homes stand out for resale.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) contends the return-on-investment (ROI) for outdoor improvements is even greater, estimating a boost of as much as 20%, with Outdoor Rooms, terraces, decks, fire pits, outdoor lighting, and garden paths among the highest-yielding landscaping investments.

Consumers are taking that to heart. “Outdoor living is a very popular topic on Home Advisor, and we have seen the trend growing among the 180,000 professionals in our network every year,” says Dan DiClerico, Smart Home strategist at Home Advisor, a service that connects homeowners with licensed, vetted, service professionals for home-improvement projects.

“Anytime you are able to expand the living space of a home, it’s a smart investment. An Outdoor Room is a win-win because it provides short-term enjoyment, as well as the long-term benefit of increasing a home’s value.”

The Metrostudy Residential Remodeling Index (RRI) shows 4.9% year-over-year growth in remodeling projects in 2017, marking the sixth year of continuous year-over-year growth since 2011. The RRI is predicted to grow to 5.2% in 2018. Even better news: spending on these projects is increasing. According to LightStream’s 5th Annual Home Improvement Survey, 45% of homeowners planning renovations say they will spend at least $5,000 on home improvements, and the percentage who say they will spend $35,000 or more has doubled over 2017.

DiClerico says Home Advisor’s “True Cost Guide,” reveals the typical spending range on an Outdoor Room project is between $3,400 and $18,700, with the average project coming in at about $11,000 nationally. Mitch Slater, president of Danver and Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens, says he too is seeing spending increase on outdoor kitchen projects across the country. “People are typically spending $5,000 to $15,000 for small spaces, and $15,000 to $35,000 on large properties,” he says. “But we also are seeing more $100,000 outdoor kitchens.”

Materials used for construction – wood and stone – are in harmony with the surroundings in this small-footprint Outdoor Room.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Bruce Olson Construction. Photographer: Vance Fox.

Make that “Outdoor Rooms” with an “S”

The desire for an outdoor living space cuts across all age groups, geographic areas, and income levels, whether people own or rent a home, have acres of suburban backyard or a tiny urban-apartment balcony. But today, the term “Outdoor Room” is becoming something of a misnomer. People want, and are creating, a series of distinct alfresco areas for cooking, dining, relaxing and entertaining.

Ty Allen, AIA, Design-Build manager with New Energy Works Timberframers, notes that over the past decade, the company has seen client requests evolve from one relatively simple deck or patio, to multiple outdoor spaces, each with a different purpose and degree of shelter. He says many of the timber-frame homes the company designs and builds along the East Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, incorporate fully opening window walls to connect interior rooms to a screened porch. The underside of that porch has become another sheltered entertaining area, often outfitted with an outdoor kitchen, comfortable furniture, or even a ping-pong table.

“Before, this underside space was an after-thought,” he says. “But now it is treated as a second room in the outdoor living area. People don’t want to see the floor joists (of the deck above), and they don’t want the rain water to run through; they want it to be an equally well-designed space.” In addition, Allen says a fireplace or fire pit seating area is a third “room” that is almost always included in the outdoor living design.

Inspiration Everywhere

The Outdoor Room is top of mind with consumers today, thanks to splashy spreads in home-design, gardening, and cooking magazines, and numerous segments on home-improvement cable television shows. There are countless Pinterest pins related to the Outdoor Room, outdoor kitchens, and “she sheds,” from low-budget, do-it-yourself projects to over-the-top luxury spaces. Even exposure to comfortable outdoor seating, fire pits, and café lighting at patio restaurants, rooftop bars, and resort hotels, inspires people to create a similar type of outdoor entertaining experience at home.

Home and garden expos, builder model homes, “Idea Houses,” and designer house tours around the country also are increasingly showcasing the Outdoor Room and alfresco lifestyle. Case in point: The 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show devoted an entire section to “The Backyard” with multiple Outdoor Room vignettes featuring outdoor kitchens, dining and seating areas, fire pits and other amenities designed for everything from spacious suburban patios, to postage-stamp-sized downtown row-house gardens, to tiny apartment balconies.

Toll Brothers, TRI Pointe Group, Taylor Morrison Home Builders, and many other developers across the country now prominently feature outdoor living options such as floor-to-ceiling retractable glass walls, seamless flooring transitions, and outdoor kitchens in their new single-family-home communities.

Show houses are fanning the aspirational outdoor-living fires, too. The HGTV 2018 Smart Home has a wall of sliding doors that opens the interior to a porch outfitted with retractable screen panels, multiple seating areas, a dining area, a television that recesses into a console table, and indoor-worthy furnishings. The porch extends to a patio grilling area and a pathway leading to a stone fire pit seating area.

The 2017 Southern Living Idea House featured 1,300 sq. ft. of outdoor living space, including wraparound porches divided into various “rooms,” a fire pit patio area, and a sliding window that opens the interior kitchen to a sheltered dining area and an outdoor kitchen with built-in grill, power burner, sink, and refrigerator.

The Coastal Living 2017 Idea House welcomed guests with an expansive front porch, and once inside, emphasized seamless transitions between the interior living spaces to a rear screened porch and outdoor courtyard.

In sharp contrast to the rustic room portrayed in the photo above, this contemporary setting displays smooth lines and soft curves.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Vie Magazine.
Cornerstone Marketing & Advertising.
A Boheme Design.

What Features Are Trending in The Outdoor Room®?

Seamless Living Spaces

This kind of seamless flow between a home’s interior and exterior living spaces is exactly what many consumers strive for today. Ty Allen says the Outdoor Room is becoming a transitional space where the indoor “bleeds” into the outdoors. According to Houzz, this effect is often achieved through the use of folding, sliding, or stacking window walls and sliding pocket doors. People are further blurring the transition by carrying the same flooring materials, color palette, and design aesthetic from indoors to outdoors. A bonus benefit: a seamless, cohesive design helps make both the interior and exterior living spaces appear larger.

Outdoor Kitchens

Another area that’s getting larger is the outdoor kitchen. Barbecue expert and cookbook author Steven Raichlen says, “The kitchen has moved outdoors. The grill is now the full-fledged brother of the stove.” Art Valentine, executive vice president at Alfresco, agrees, saying, “Whatever you can cook inside, you can now cook outside.” (Actually, maybe even more, given all the outdoor appliances now available.) Nearly one-third of those who have outdoor kitchens consider them their favorite room of the house, according to consultant Dave Brown of Hoffman York, during his keynote address at the HPBExpo in March.

Interest in outdoor kitchens has spread far beyond the California backyards where they originated. The Washington Post reports real estate agents in the Mid-Atlantic region consider outdoor entertaining spaces with complete outdoor kitchens featuring bars, built-in grilling islands, and extra storage, “must-have amenities,” particularly in the luxury-home market. According to ASLA, 59% of landscape architects say outdoor kitchens are popular with their clients.

Allen says his clients view the outdoor kitchen as “an anchor or hub of the outdoor living space, just like an indoor kitchen.” He says people typically request a built-in gas grill, kamado, and sink, and about half include a refrigerator. The addition of other elements depends on the outdoor kitchen’s proximity to the indoor kitchen, he says. “Designing the outdoor space is like designing the indoor space. It’s about how a client anticipates using it and how it connects to the interior of the home.”

Alicia Marshall, owner of Innovative Outdoor Kitchens in San Diego, says if space allows, her clients incorporate multiple cooking appliances such as gas grills, high-heat power burners, teppanyaki griddles, and kamado cookers. Also on the wish list: sinks and outdoor-rated refrigerators, dishwashers, ice makers, and microwaves. “They want everything for their outdoor entertaining spaces that they have in their indoor spaces,” she says.

A second-floor open air porch is ample room for a fireplace, full kitchen, and seating area – all with a view.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Eldorado Stone.

More Are Making it Modular

Modular outdoor kitchens are becoming popular alternatives to built-in masonry islands. Experts say the contemporary look mimics the style of indoor cabinetry and adds to the sense of seamless indoor-outdoor flow that is so desirable today. Lighter in weight, most modular islands can be used on decks and balconies, and because the concept allows for adding on components as budget permits, or reconfiguring the outdoor kitchen if the homeowner moves or renovates their outdoor space, they are a compelling choice for everyone from first-time homebuyers to downsizing Baby Boomers.

“As indoor-outdoor lines blur, consumers are looking to bring interior style and sophistication outside,” says Mitch Slater, president of Danver and Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens. “Fewer people – particularly those on the east and west coasts – want the look of rock today. The trend is changing from wanting the outdoor kitchen to look like part of the landscape, to wanting it to look like the interior kitchen. Modular outdoor kitchens fit with that aesthetic because they have a lighter, more contemporary, indoor look.”


According to the LightStream Home Improvement Survey, 65% of consumers planning home remodeling projects plan to do some of the work themselves. The figure is 70% among Millennials, the most avid group of DIYers. Evidence of this trend is found in the growing number of Pinterest pins relating to build-it-yourself fire pits, serving islands, pergolas, entertaining sheds, and other Outdoor Room projects.

Gardens of Eatin’ and Other Landscape Trends

Pinterest also offers insight into another key Outdoor Room trend: gardens. According to the site’s Top Home Trends for 2017, pins related to “living walls” – a garden planted on a fence, on a wall, or on an upright pallet or other vertical planting system – were up 200%. Builder magazine says “plant walls” are becoming very popular in Outdoor Rooms. Besides the natural beauty they bring to an Outdoor Room, living walls double as privacy screens and provide an opportunity to have a gardening experience in a small space.

Likewise, raised garden beds planted with herbs and edibles have surged in popularity in recent years. According to the 2018 Residential Landscape Architect Survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), food/vegetable gardens were among the most popular landscape and garden elements, along with native and drought-tolerant plants, rain gardens, and low-maintenance landscapes.

DiClerico of Home Advisor also sees interest in growing edible gardens, despite that the hands-on trend runs contrary to another key trend: a desire for low-maintenance landscaping. According to DiClerico, low-maintenance is a growing buzzword, particularly for Millennials who, “love their homes and want to enjoy them, but don’t want to toil in them.” He notes that homeowners are even covering a portion of their lawn with ground covers or patios to cut down on maintenance and water usage. DiClerico says homeowners also are installing “smart” outdoor irrigation to alleviate garden and landscape maintenance. These systems sense weather conditions and only run when needed, thus helping to conserve water.

Even in southern areas, nights are frequently cool and require a fireplace, or fire pit, for a bit of warmth.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 South Coast Architects, Inc.

Out of Doors, But Still in Touch

This is just one example of how technology is finding its way to the Outdoor Room. According to ASLA, 70% of landscape architects say charging stations for mobile devices are hot in Outdoor Room projects, and 48% say requests are up for wireless/Internet connectivity and other entertainment elements such as televisions, movie/video screening capabilities, and stereo systems in Outdoor Rooms.

A Home Design Trends survey from found Millennials are demanding technology-friendly outdoor spaces with lots of outlets, charging stations, and the ability to control and monitor appliances, lighting, heating, televisions, and speakers from phones or tablets.

Hardscape manufacturer EP Henry reports contractors are increasingly being asked to install WiFi extenders in outdoor spaces so TVs, laptops, sound systems, video games, and other electronics can be enjoyed outside.

Smart grills and smokers, digital meat thermometers, and other high-tech outdoor cooking gear fit in with this smart outdoor-living trend, as do smart fire pits. High-tech, sound-reactive gas fire pits, such as those from Blazing Beats, Music City Fire, and Firenado by Blaze, incorporate Bluetooth-enabled speakers, and sync the flames (and, in some cases, built-in lights and water features) to the music so they pulse and dance in rhythm with the beat.

Glass doors and walls provide views from the inside to outside where water, fire, and food await.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 G2 Aquatics.

Fire Is Still On Fire

Whether new-wave or old-school, gas-fired or wood-fueled, fire pits, fireplaces, and fire tables remain among the most-requested features in outdoor living spaces. Besides extending use of the Outdoor Room during shoulder seasons, fire features lend beauty and ambiance to the space and act as a focal point for gatherings. According to the ASLA, fire pits/fireplaces are the number-one requested outdoor design element, according to 66% of landscape architects. Strictly practical outdoor heaters are popular project elements for 41% of landscape architects. The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s (HPBA) research shows one in 10 consumers plan to add an outdoor fire pit, fireplace, or heater to their patio this year.

“The leading architects in the country say outdoor hearths are a big trend,” according to Dave Brown. His research, conducted on behalf of Napoleon, shows that while 13% of consumers currently have a fire feature in their backyard, 35% say they desire one. That figure jumps to 88% when consumers are shown photos of backyards featuring fireplaces or fire pits. “Specialty retailers who plant ideas with inspirational photos and displays have a tremendous opportunity,” he says.

The Remodeling Report: Outdoor Features, a study by the National Association of Realtors and National Association of Landscape Professionals, rates outdoor renovation projects in terms of the satisfaction and enjoyment they provide for homeowners. Fire features score highest, earning a perfect 10 on the “Joy Scale,” according to the report.


Houzz says pergolas, solid-roof coverings, screened porches, pavilions, and other outdoor structures are becoming more popular. The shade and shelter they provide helps homeowners maximize use of their outdoor space, justifying the investment. Houzz also reports ceiling fans, misters, and patio heaters are trending because they ensure comfort no matter the season.

DiClerico says retractable awnings – particularly new “smart” awnings that open and close based on sunlight and weather conditions – are gaining traction, because they are “relatively affordable, provide shade for the Outdoor Room, protect indoor and outdoor furniture from fading, and reduce solar heat gain inside the home,” he says.

ASLA members report pergolas, and decks with cable or glass-panel railing systems, are among their top customer requests. Thirty percent say backyard activity sheds also are hot.

Corner seating under a pergola – just part of Toll Brothers Outdoor Living's Reserve at Holmdel, in Holmdel, New Jersey.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Toll Brothers.


While there may be unity regarding the most popular Outdoor Room structures and elements, there are mixed messages when it comes to the materials used to create those rooms.

DiClerico says a desire for minimal maintenance is driving the selection of materials and triggering a “decking material evolution” away from cedar and other natural woods to composite products. He says, for similar reasons, colorful finishes on grills and outdoor kitchens are growing because they provide a low-maintenance alternative to stainless steel, and also fulfill a desire for personalization.

Builder magazine, however, reports organic materials remain in high demand outdoors, with granite the most popular choice for outdoor kitchen countertops, and limestone and Mexican beach pebbles trending for patios. The Home Design Trends study from says Millennials prefer functional, clutter-free, minimalistic design, softened with reclaimed wood, neutral palettes, and natural influences.

Slater says, when it comes to outdoor kitchens, rock islands are popular in the center of the country, and painted stainless steel or other finishes resembling indoor cabinetry are popular on the east and west coasts. Allen says his clients are looking for natural materials, such as cypress, teak, and stone, but not necessarily a rugged, rustic look. “They are interested in clean, contemporary design,” he says.

Just like indoors, people are mixing and matching furnishings in their outdoor living spaces, often combining wicker or aluminum with wood, according to the American Home Furnishings Alliance. Houzz reports outdoor rugs, plantings, and decorative accessories are being used to elevate design and define and delineate rooms within the outdoor space.

Millennials and Baby Boomers Both Impact the Outdoor Room

DiClerico says outdoor living is particularly important to Millennials, today’s largest home-buying cohort. “They have really taken to it and consider it essential to the home,” he says. But, he adds, because Millennials don’t have tremendous cash resources, they are prudent and judicious as to how they spend their limited funds. Pleasure and convenience are important to them, but they are practical; they know where to splurge to get the most enjoyment for their money.

Despite Millennials entering the home-buying market, experts say Baby Boomers continue to hold most of the wealth and still drive many outdoor living trends. “A Baby Boomer may opt to splurge on a sheltered patio enclosure,” says DiClerico, “but a deck is a more realistic project for Millennials’ Outdoor Room.”

Today, nearly 90% of Baby Boomers want to age in place in their homes, according to DiClerico. That means outdoor living spaces will need to be designed with their safety and mobility in mind. For instance, to prevent tripping hazards, he says deck, patio, and walkway surfaces should be smooth, slip-resistant, and not prone to cracks or buckling; likewise, outdoor rugs should be avoided. He says outdoor lighting is increasingly important as eyesight diminishes. Likewise, low-upkeep Outdoor Room elements and materials will be needed as maintenance tasks become more challenging.

Although handicap accessibility has not yet become a big trend in Outdoor Rooms, according to DiClerico, it too will come more into play as the population ages. In fact, nearly 40% of landscape architects say accessible outdoor elements and structures, compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act, are gaining in popularity. Slater points out that ADA-accessibility is already an important design factor for communal rooftop gardens and outdoor living spaces at multi-family dwellings. DiClerico sees this trend slowly moving into the residential space, as well. “There will be a greater need for ADA-compliant grills and appliances, lower outdoor-kitchen counter heights, and low or seamless thresholds between indoors and outdoors,” he says.

Dual square umbrellas are perfect for blocking the afternoon sun.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Eberlein Design Consultants. Photographer: Tom Crane.

Small Spaces and Rooftop Places

Since the median size of a single-family home peaked at 2,467 sq. ft. in 2015, house sizes have been declining. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Characteristics of New Housing Report, the median home size shrunk to 2,422 sq. ft. Experts believe the trend will continue as builders try to meet the needs and budgets of Millennial first-time homebuyers.

A sizeable number of Millennials are still not able to afford a home and are migrating to urban centers, along with downsizing Baby Boomers, to live in small apartments or condos. For these folks, balconies, communal gardens, and rooftop living areas take on a high priority, as they help expand overall living space.

“Vertical living is a growing trend, and the typical apartment patio or balcony is 5-by-5-ft., or 5-by-10-ft.,” says Jim Ginocchi, president, Coyote Outdoor Living. “People might not have the luxury of a big backyard full of green space, but they still want the outdoor lifestyle. Grills, outdoor kitchens, and furnishings will need to be multi-functional, light-weight, and designed with a compact footprint for use on small patios, balconies, and rooftops.”

Rooftop Outdoor Rooms are no longer limited to multi-family buildings, but are increasingly being used to maximize every inch of outdoor space at small, single-family homes. According to Remodeling online magazine, using the space on top of a detached garage to create a rooftop deck is becoming a popular option. Marshall also has seen a significant bump in the number of rooftop projects at her company. “There are a lot of zero-lot-line, single-family homes being built with little to no yard,” she says. “So we are creating vertical outdoor living spaces on the roof, with beautiful views.”

Companies already are stepping up their small-scale offerings. Coyote Outdoor Living’s new Multipurpose Urban Oasis outdoor kitchen includes an electric grill, refrigerator, bar-height counter, and four stools in a 3- by-3-ft. footprint. Dimplex’s new gas-powered Space Grill attaches to a fence or the exterior wall of a house and folds down when not in use to maximize space on a balcony or other small-space application.

The BBQ Store ’n Serve from Graham Outdoor is a compact prep, serving, and storage island that incorporates a cutting board surface, trash chute, ice bin, paper towel and trash bin holders, and storage cabinetry. Even mass retailers such as IKEA are recognizing the trend and promoting small-scale outdoor furnishings, making the Outdoor Room accessible to an ever-broadening base.

No matter where or how they live, consumers want to live outdoors. People aspire to create their own romantic vision of entertaining family and friends in a comfortable alfresco space, cooking great meals in an outdoor kitchen, and gathering around a fire pit at home. Outdoor rooms evoke an emotional response, and that desire is only growing. Specialty retailers have unparalleled opportunities to sell this backyard dream for the foreseeable future.

More Stories in this Issue

Backyard Evolution

By Lisa Readie Mayer

The Smithsonian Museum has created exhibits – both static and traveling – that celebrate barbecue and the American Backyard as formative elements of our lives.

» Continue

All in the Family

By Bill Sendelbeck

Ken Moss is the third-generation owner of a store that began by selling wood stoves, and now sells not only hearth, but barbecue and Outdoor Room products as well.

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Culinary Historian

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Paula Marcoux, culinary archeologist and authority on live-fire cooking, explains how the past is prologue to this hot trend.

» Continue

2018 June Business Climate

In early July, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,500 specialty retailers of hearth, patio, and barbecue products, asking them to compare June 2018 sales to June 2017. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 216 useable returns.

» Continue