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Hearth & Home August 2020

Dual element WD-Series heater from Infratech Comfort is flush mounted in the outdoor kitchen of this contemporary home.

Trend Report: The Outdoor Room®

By Lisa Readie Mayer

With the home now a haven, the Outdoor Room has become a top priority.

The Outdoor Room has been on consumers’ home-improvement wish lists for some time. But now, after months sheltering at home during the pandemic, many are moving it to the top of the list.

“The outdoors has always been important, but these times have brought to light the need for outdoor spaces,” says Margarita Blanco, co-founder and director of landscape architecture firm ArqGEO, during an online conference on outdoor living trends. “Even more today, the great outdoors is now in.

Patty Dominguez, vice president of Architecture and Design for Cosentino North America, makers of Dekton countertop surfaces, who also participated in the virtual conference, agrees. “We are all feeling sad, anxious, and many other emotions in this crazy time, but we feel safe at home outdoors with our families,” she says. “Outdoor spaces add a sense of safety and enjoyment to the home.”

“Right now, our lives have slowed down,” adds Stefan Marchant, co-founder and head of Design for Urban Bonfire, a manufacturer of modular outdoor kitchen cabinetry systems. “Home used to be a space for coffee and dinner, and the rest of our lives were on-the-go. Now we’re spending more time at home and treating home as a sacred space for family and friends. Even as we return to normal, I think this feeling will remain.”

Thomas James Homes. A number of different areas allows for dining, talking, and relaxing.
Photo Courtesy: ©2020 Thomas James Homes,

Prioritizing Outdoor Living

The experts say the pandemic has prioritized having a pleasant outdoor living space at home for relaxing, socializing, cooking, dining, working, learning, playing, and exercising. A study of online shopping trends during the COVID-19 epidemic finds spending on “Backyard Betterment” was third, after “Groceries and Home Basics” and “Survival Shopping.”

Year-over-year Google searches for outdoor kitchens nearly doubled in May 2020, and searches for other terms related to the outdoor living space skyrocketed, as well. Wayfair reports searches for “outdoor kitchens and dining areas” rose 130%, and searches for “outdoor bars” increased 155% during the period.

According to the NPD Group, the “seismic shift in making more meals at home,” has significantly increased sales of home appliances like bread machines, electric pasta makers and pizza ovens, that enable new, fun ways to cook at home. The experience has been shared by some barbecue retailers who are reporting brisk sales of pellet grills, gas grills, pizza ovens, griddle accessories, and more since the crisis began.

The NPD Group’s “Impact of COVID-19 on Outdoor Grilling Report” reveals 75% of consumers who cook outdoors say they’re cooking out more frequently during the crisis. And, more than 80% of those who already cooked out twice a week before the pandemic, say they’re now cooking outdoors more frequently. Even 48% of those whose jobs have been affected or had pay reduced, plan to cook out more frequently.

Russ Faulk, lead Designer and head of Product at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, says consumers are seizing the opportunity to learn new grilling techniques and hone their skills. “(They are) learning to use a kamado and cook with charcoal, or to master wood-fired grilling on an Argentinian-style grill…(They are learning) pizza-making skills and finding the perfect pizza dough recipe…They’re embracing live-fire cooking. All of these things are great ways to enjoy extra time with family, and the newfound skills will pay dividends (in the form of great meals) in future years,” he says.  

It’s not just outdoor cooking products that are in demand for the Outdoor Room. Reports indicate sales of fire pits, pools, trampolines, backyard games, gardening supplies, and even egg-laying chickens are through the roof, as families search for ways to entertain themselves at home.

Photo Courtesy: ©2020 Thomas James Homes,

From “Want” to “Need”

Interest in the Outdoor Room was already climbing in pre-pandemic times. In fact, outdoor living spaces topped the list of the most-popular home features in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2019 Home Design Trends Survey, with 68% of architects reporting an increase in homeowner requests for an Outdoor Room. And, last year’s “Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ State of the Industry Report on Outdoor Living”, indicated 64% of designers are seeing growing interest in outdoor living spaces among their clients.

A study by finds first-time homebuyers rank additional square footage, outdoor space and a quiet neighborhood as the top three must-have features when searching for a home. A private backyard and a backyard deck also make the top-ten list. Similarly, a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) study finds a patio is the third most-wanted home feature, with at least 80% of respondents considering it a desirable or essential home element.

Builders are taking action to meet this growing demand. “We have done a ton of consumer research about what people are looking for in a home today, and we know buyers want livability and private outdoor spaces,” says Gina Nixon, vice president, Sales and Marketing, at Thomas James Homes, the country’s largest single-lot, home-replacement builder.

The company, which specializes in buying homes in desirable neighborhoods where the housing stock is old, and then builds new homes designed with features and amenities for today’s lifestyles, now incorporates a covered outdoor living space, patio hardscape, and an outdoor kitchen as standard in all its homes. It also offers a long list of outdoor-focused upgrades, including fire pits.

“No matter where people live, they want to be outdoors as much as possible,” Nixon says. “Outdoor spaces are very popular and truly valued.”

So, what’s IN in the Outdoor Room?

Make that Rooms, with an S

Nixon says people are increasingly requesting multiple rooms within the outdoor space. “They want formal adult spaces, as well as kids’ spaces,” she says. “They want some areas to be covered or sheltered, and other areas to be uncovered and open to the sun. They want small, cozy nooks and intimate spots for private reading, relaxing, and conversation, as well as bigger entertaining spaces to accommodate a dining table for ten.”

Elements from Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens in collaboration with international architect and designer Daniel Germani.

Gimme Shelter

Pergolas and pavilions are trending in Outdoor Rooms. According to a study by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), 52% of Outdoor Room projects now include a fixed overhead structure; 30% of the structures are pergolas. The study also reveals 12% of consumers regret not “spending more time/money” on a shelter or shade enclosure for their Outdoor Room.

According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), pergolas can help delineate the perimeter of an outdoor living space and create a sense of enclosure. And, with retractable shade panels or louvered shutters installed overhead, today’s pergolas can provide additional protection from sun and showers.

Increasingly, people are recognizing an outdoor structure is worth the investment because it extends the season for enjoying the Outdoor Room. The design website Houzz says pergolas and pavilions help to maximize usage of an outdoor space, particularly when the structure is customized for the climate, such as with a solid roof, ceiling fans and/or heaters.

Outdoor Kitchens

Just as an indoor kitchen is the center of home life, an outdoor kitchen is the hub of the Outdoor Room, and it is becoming a must-have amenity. “Like indoors, an outdoor kitchen is where we cook, hang out with family or friends, drink wine,” says Ryan Bloom, co-founder and president of Urban Bonfire. “It is an outdoor space for living, cooking and entertaining.”

The 2019 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey, indicates outdoor kitchens are now the most popular specialty feature in a home, with 49% of architects reporting an increase in client requests for the amenity, up from 45% in 2018. Outdoor kitchens beat out butler’s pantries, wine storage, and a smart/connected kitchen.

Faulk says rather than creating “one monolithic kitchen,” the trend is to break up the outdoor kitchen into sections that serve different activities. He says dividing the outdoor kitchen into task-based stations, each with sufficient storage and countertop workspace, “keeps your grill, sink and pizza oven from being crowded together and makes the outdoor kitchen a more enjoyable place to cook.”

This image from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet shows areas for relaxing, dining, and cooking.

Multiple Appliances

“People are beginning to think of an outdoor kitchen not as just a grill, but as a real, functional kitchen,” says Bloom. “A gas grill is a given in an outdoor kitchen, but more and more, consumers are adding a whole suite of supporting appliances.”

In fact, according to NKBA, 31% of outdoor kitchens today have two grills, and about a fourth include wine refrigerators and/or ice makers.

The “Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ State of the Industry Report” indicates consumers want an outdoor kitchen that can operate independently from the indoor kitchen. The finding might help explain why the company is now seeing an increase in projects that include multiple specialty appliances, such as pizza ovens, smokers, power burners, solid-top griddles, refrigerators, kegerators, and wine refrigerators. In addition, the company reports consumers want storage space for barbecue tools and accessories, and ample counter space for meal prep in their outdoor kitchens.

“One of the greatest advantages of an outdoor kitchen is the ability to create restaurant-quality meals at home,” says Faulk. “Specialty pieces, such as a Kalamazoo Gaucho Grill, undercounter smoker cabinet, pizza oven, or even keg tapper, make staying at home a lot more like going out.” He adds that premium grills can provide commercial-grade heat in an outdoor kitchen, achieving hotter searing and faster cooking than is possible indoors and furthering the restaurant-like experience.

Photo Courtesy: ©2020 Thomas James Homes,

By the Numbers

An NKBA study finds the average outdoor kitchen budget is $13,000, but 14% of homeowners spend between $20,000 and $30,000 and 14% spend more than $30,000. The most popular size for an outdoor kitchen and dining area is between 100 and 400 sq. ft. (66%), while 22% are greater than 400 sq. ft., and 12% are less than 100 sq. ft.

Blanco says outdoor kitchens and outdoor living rooms are a smart home investment with high resale value.

A study of 4 million home sales nationwide in 2016 and 2017 by online real estate company Zillow, found homes with outdoor kitchens sold for 25% higher than expected, providing a substantial return on investment.

“An outdoor space adds tremendous perceived value to consumers that is disproportionate to the actual cost,” suggests Bloom. “The activation cost of an outdoor space per square foot, is about 25- to 30-cents on the dollar compared to indoor space. Historically, the return-on-investment for an outdoor kitchen area is very high.”

Glass Houses

According to Forbes, one of today’s biggest architectural trends is to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor living. An AIA survey indicates 57% of architects report an increase in clients requesting blended indoor-outdoor spaces, up from 52% the year prior.

To facilitate this, Outdoor Room projects are increasingly incorporating floor-to-ceiling glass window-walls, accordion-type fold-and-stack doors, or sliding glass-panel doors to bring in light and nature, while seamlessly linking interior living areas to outdoor spaces.

“Indoor-outdoor living is very important to people because it makes the home’s living space feel larger,” says Nixon. “Glass walls are very popular today because they create that sense of indoor-outdoor living by extending the interior living space outdoors. And, since people want access to outdoor spaces from multiple interior points, they are using glass walls in multiple rooms.”

Undercounter Refrigerator & Freezer Drawers in Saffron, Undercounter Refrigerator, Beverage Dispenser in Cobalt, and Dual Zone Wine Cabinet in Emerald by True Residential.

Fit, Finish and Design Trends

According to Bloom, as use of glass walls grow, so too does consumers’ desire to maintain a cohesive design esthetic indoors and out. “The esthetics and functionality of the outdoor area takes on much greater importance when you’re in your living room looking through a wall of glass into the backyard,” he says. “People are realizing they shouldn’t consider indoors and outdoors as two separate spaces; they are two parts of the whole.”

“People don’t need a large outdoor space, but they need a well-designed space that’s flexible and multipurpose, with functional storage, and elements selected to suit a family’s lifestyle,” says Marchant. “The smaller the space, the more sacred it is for people, and the greater the need for good design.”

Appliance manufacturer TRUE Residential finds people are tiring of heavy brick and stacked-stone outdoor kitchen islands, and are turning to modular cabinet systems that resemble indoor cabinetry.

“Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ State of the Industry Report” forecasts modular outdoor cabinetry systems will continue to gain traction as homeowners desire to bring indoor styles and elements into their outdoor spaces. According to the report, transitional and traditional styles such as beadboard door designs remain in demand for outdoor kitchen cabinetry, but contemporary designs are gaining in popularity, particularly in urban areas.

Finish preferences vary by region: woodgrain looks are most popular in the West, while the South prefers textured finishes, and the Midwest and Northeast go for metallics, the report reveals. The company has also seen growing interest in finishes with the look of cement, stone, or aged metals, in part because the color variations in the patina are visually interesting and more forgiving than solid-color finishes in outdoor environments.

The Wall Street Journal indicates matte finishes, leathered textures, and unpolished metals such as oxidized Cor-Ten steel and dark zinc, are becoming more popular outdoors, because they lend “earthy elegance” and require less maintenance.

TRUE Residential notes that color is becoming a “huge trend” in outdoor kitchens, with vibrant hues such as Saffron, Cobalt, and Emerald, and sophisticated finishes such as matte white and brass are catching on.

As for countertops, the NKBA reports natural stone is still the top choice, preferred by 57%. Quartz counters are used in 23% of projects.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) report of “Top Landscaping Trends for 2020” notes that hardscaping with intricate and detailed patterns such as chevrons, lattice, and basket-weaves, are now being incorporated into patios, walkways, retaining walls, and fire features. People are also requesting more edible gardens as part of the landscape.

According to the International Casual Furnishings Association (ICFA), 2020 outdoor furniture trends include more luxurious, “living room quality” furnishings, such as fully upholstered modular sectionals; performance fabrics with intricate patterns and trims; marine-grade plastics with realistic wood grains; outdoor furniture with reclining features; and indoor-like throw pillows, and other decorative accessories.

Interest in sustainability is driving interest in outdoor tables made from reclaimed wood, and in chairs and tables made from recycled plastics repurposed into board lumber.

Elements from Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens in collaboration with international architect and designer Daniel Germani.

Photos Courtesy: ©2020 Juli Ordower Landscape Architecture,
Geoff Chen Photography,

Rooftops Are the New Backyards

Outdoor living spaces are becoming more prevalent in urban environments with installations increasing on balconies and rooftops in multifamily buildings.

“Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ State of the Industry Report” says rooftop outdoor living spaces – often tricked out with outdoor kitchens, fire pits and/or fireplaces, pergolas, sheltered dining pavilions, and high-end deep-seating furnishings – are key differentiators in the super-competitive, luxury multifamily housing market. The report indicates the trend is being fueled by the growing availability of lighter-weight, outdoor kitchen cabinetry systems, and ADA-compliant grills, a requirement in communal settings.

A rooftop Outdoor Room amenity adds value, usable living space, and close-by access to nature, and is a highly desirable perk for residents. It also pays long-term benefits; residents develop a strong desire for an outdoor living space and expect one in any home they purchase down the road.

According to Forbes, rooftop Outdoor Rooms are beginning to transition from multifamily residential properties and hotels to private residential homes. The article points out that utilizing roof space is a smart idea for homes with a compact footprint; built on a small lot; situated on uneven land that may be too costly to grade; or simply to add a “wow” factor.

Beyond the Rooftop and the Backyard

Outdoor Rooms are growing at commercial and corporate locations, too, a trend that is being escalated by the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, in locales where indoor dining is prohibited or subject to capacity restrictions, restaurants are looking to add supplemental outdoor dining. According to the restaurant and bar industry newsletter “The Rail,” restaurants are purchasing outdoor dining tables, umbrellas, patio heaters, lighting, and other amenities to spruce up these newly created outdoor dining spaces.

Office buildings are looking to convert rooftops, sections of parking lots, and courtyard areas into outdoor living space for workers, often incorporating outdoor kitchens, seating lounges, dining areas, and even exercise areas.

Bloom was seeing “tremendous interest” in this before COVID-19, and he says it has grown even more since, as companies look to alfresco areas to help with social distancing, and entice employees back to the office.

“Companies are realizing they can add space without spending another dollar on rent,” he says. “They are creating outdoor spaces where employees can work, have meetings, and eat lunch outside, or bring in caterers for conferences without having the expense of going offsite.”


Millennials are “coming of age” when it comes to outdoor living. According to the ICFA, nearly a third of Millennials (32%) want to renovate their outdoor spaces to add value to their homes.

The generation is beginning to drive sales of outdoor furniture. Over half (53%) indicate they plan to buy multiple pieces of outdoor furniture in the next year, compared to 29% of Baby Boomers. They are also more interested than Baby Boomers in outdoor furnishings with indoor-like designs, such as outdoor sofas or sectionals (40% vs. 17% Boomers), bars (37% vs. 17% Boomers), and decorative accessories such as rugs or throw pillows (25% vs. 17% Boomers).

The Washington Post reports Millennials prioritize outdoor spaces when shopping for a home. They want a covered patio where they can entertain friends, and space for a fire pit.

One thing they don’t want is maintenance. According to the article, an outdoor space that requires a lot of time and effort to maintain “is something that repels Millennial buyers.”

Lemonade in Newport Beach, California, has eight Infratech WD-Series heaters for comfortable year-round outdoor dining.
Photo Courtesy: ©2020 Ilan Dei Designs,

Low Maintenance

Many others feel the same way. “Today’s consumers are asking for low-maintenance, high-performance products,” according to Marchant. “They don’t want to put a lot of work into maintaining the Outdoor Room or repeatedly re-sealing or re-staining finishes. People are looking for robust and durable products that can withstand harsh outdoor elements, including salt air.”

The “Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ State of the Industry Report” finds durability is increasingly a key consideration in product-purchase decisions, particularly for consumers and designers in the Northeast and South, where they demand low-maintenance materials that hold up well outdoors.

Ease of maintenance and cleaning is “a big trend” in outdoor kitchens that is becoming even more important, says Travis Rotelli, Strategic director of Trade Partner Management at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. In addition, he says, if the budget allows, designers now frequently incorporate a sink and faucet, and a waste and recycling station into outdoor kitchen plans to help keep the area tidy and eliminate trips indoors to wash dishes and clean up.

One high-maintenance issue that remains unsolved is the nuisance of pests. The NKBA reports 30% of consumers say that bugs and mosquitoes are the biggest challenge in their outdoor space.

Extra Features

The “Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ State of the Industry Report” indicates fire pits and fireplaces are the most popular upgrade to outdoor kitchen projects throughout the country. A recent survey by the NALP also finds gas and wood-burning fire features continue to rise in popularity, as a source of both ambiance and warmth to extend use of the outdoor space in cooler months.

Market research firm The Freedonia Group says other heat sources, such as ceiling-mounted infrared heaters, freestanding propane patio heaters, and heat lamps that provide comfort and extend use of the outdoor space, are trending, too. In climates where excessive heat is a factor, cooling products such as fans and misters are popular.

According to the NKBA, 62% of Outdoor Rooms now include a television.

Lighting is becoming another increasingly important element in the outdoor space. According to the 2019 annual “NAHB Builder Practices Survey,” the use of outdoor lighting has more than doubled, from an average installation of five fixtures in 2005 to 11 fixtures in 2018. The study attributes this growth to “the increased attention given to outdoor living spaces over the last decade.”

A gas grill and kamado grill form the perfect couple for serious grillers.

Photos Courtesy: ©2020 Danver, Diamond Valley Custom Homes,
Zoon Media,

Project Inspiration and Assistance

When homeowners embark on an outdoor living project, 64% use a designer, 41% use a landscape architect or landscape designer, and 10% use an architect to help with planning, according to a study by the NKBA.

The study shows consumers also get inspiration and ideas for Outdoor Room projects from a variety of other sources, including home or design magazines (40%), TV home-improvement programs (39%), and friends/neighbors (45%). The latter is a compelling argument for the power of word-of-mouth recommendations. If you can get into one backyard in a neighborhood, other sales will often follow.

Growth Opportunity

Experts expect the Outdoor Room will continue to gain momentum in light of the coronavirus pandemic, as people remain hesitant about traveling on vacation and socializing in restaurants and bars, or as new virus spikes restrict out-of-home activities in some states.

The trend specialists at Sphere Trending predict at-home “staycations” will be “must-cations” for the foreseeable future, fueling homeowners’ desires to create enjoyable outdoor living areas at home.

“Working from home is not going away,” says Nixon. With that in mind, Thomas James Homes is now merchandising outdoor living areas as multifunctional spaces, suitable for remote working. “We give thought to the placement of the technology hub in the home so people will have access outside if they want to work from their outdoor space,” she says. “This is becoming a greater point of interest since the crisis.”

The pandemic also has created a longing for private outdoor living space among city-dwelling renters, leading many of them to search for a home of their own outside the city.

According to, the April 2020 “America at Home Study” of 3,000 renters, ages 25 to 74, with household incomes of $50,000 or more, found 46% of current renters would prefer to own a home, with the majority in the 25-to-44 age range. The respondents indicated access to private outdoor space was something they were “very interested” in, even if it was just a balcony, porch, deck, or patio, as opposed to a big yard.

According to the report, this is “a sizable shift since the NAHB first-quarter “2020 Housing Trends Report,” which indicated just 16% of Millennials were looking to make a home purchase in the next year.”

If the finding pans out, it could mean 7.4 million households will purchase homes in the near future, and create a significant number of new Outdoor Rooms.

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