outdoor living

How can you create the ultimate outdoor living space?

Featured Question by KOHLER: Barbeques, pool parties, Fourth of July. With the summer season quickly approaching, many homeowners are looking to transform their outdoor space into an entertainment mecca.

How can homeowners utilize their outdoor space and make it perfect for entertaining? What should they think about in terms of design, installation, keeping it green, and costs? We’re turning to our experts for the final word on the issue.

Why We’re Asking:

Lynn Schrage of The KOHLER Store suggested our 11th Blog-Off question. KOHLER’s mission is to improve homeowners sense of gracious living in every experience they have with a KOHLER® product or service. To make this happen, it tries in each of its businesses to live on the leading edge in the design and technology of product and process. KOHLER maintains a single level of quality regardless of price point across its many product and service categories. From sustainable products in kitchen and bath to some of the most beautiful furniture of Baker and McGuire, from engines for lawn tractors and generators for marine and home standby, and power systems that protect data centers and urban landscapes, to a headquarters hotel for a golf Major, this is what KOHLER Co. is all about.

Since the weather is getting warmer and our economy is slowly pulling itself back together, homeowners are looking to celebrate with friends and family. Homeowners finally have some extra funds to put toward their homes and they are looking for areas to put their dollar to work. In our 2nd Blog-Off, our experts pointed out that outdoor living spaces are one of the main areas homeowners are looking to renovate in an attempt to maximize their usable living space.

So experts, it’s time to weigh in:

What ways can homeowners renovate their outdoor living space and make a big impact?

With summer entertaining season around the corner, what suggestions do you have for homeowners looking to create the ultimate outdoor space?
Any design ideas? Installation advice for things like hot tubs, lighting, etc.?
Any ways to make your outdoor living space as green as possible?

No matter what perspective, we want to hear how homeowners can make the most of their outdoor living space and create the perfect summer entertaining environment! Budget ideas are always appreciated, too!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!

  • Steve Mickley, AIBD, CPBD 06/10/11

    I believe the economy is such that those who may have gathered together at commercial establishments in the past are now entertaining more frequently at home. I have a friend who sells wine wholesale. Yes, I agree, he is a great friend to have and his reported wine sales confirm this theory in my mind. Therefore, designing a relaxing yet inviting outdoor experience is my goal toward addressing this trend.

    Giving suggestions on how to accomplish this goal, however, is almost as unique as the space given to work with. There is a growing trend towards having covered areas; whether it is done using a trellis style structure or a fixed roof. Unfortunately, much of the production homes build over this past decade provided such a space by forming a niche with indentations of the exterior walls or by leaving a corner of the footprint absent. The result is more functional for protecting the doorway than providing shelter and entertainment space. But all is not lost if the experience is expanded beyond the drip line.

    If expanding the patio from beyond the roof is an option, I suggest not stepping down to a new level. Instead, a step down is visually defining and draws attention to the possibly unattractive and probably dysfunctional covered area you are trying to ignore. Adding additional patio space at the same level is more visually pleasing when the space overflows out into the open causing a more comfortable and resort-like effect. Then, if the ground undulates, introduce steps or a multi-level deck or patio design for interest or segregation. By separating a seating area from the grilling or outdoor kitchen, you have created an opportunity for a transition of themes or a subtle change in materials. Or maybe the shift is not so subtle. For example, the seating could be arranged on a stone patio, the grilling on a deck constructed of composite materials, and stepping stones leading to steps is the connection.

    Finally, go crazy with uniquely designed solar or low voltage lighting fixtures accenting the perimeter of the patio, deck and stepping stone pathway…pay special attention to softly illuminating the step. Just in case my friend brings a case of wine.

  • Nancy Keenholts Dalton @ Baywolf Dalton, Inc. 06/10/11

    Five years ago I designed an addition to our own home that included a 1000 square foot rooftop deck. We enjoy my outdoor room for almost five months a year. We live in Seattle which isn’t always warm or dry so there are issues with these kinds of spaces in our climate. I use the same technology when designing for super bright UV areas of home and for kids. I would also encourage anyone planning this kind of space to spend the money it takes to do it right. It will cost as much and in some cases more than an indoor space.
    My tips of designing a space you will love to use are:
    1. Always include a cooking and dining space; if you have the budget plumb for your gas barbeque and a sink. Remember to use heat tape on your waterlines if you’re in a cold climate.
    2. Include more electrical outlets than you think you need and more hose bibs; you’ll be happy later.
    3. Include outdoor lighting in layers. Up light plants and trees and include lighting for walkways or paths. Include really big and good quality (statement pieces) pots for your plants. You’re going for less quantity but big impact. Add a humming bird feeder and plants that attract them; everyone enjoys watching them.
    4. I like to include a water feature and in Seattle we don’t have many swimming pools.
    4. Use materials that can withstand the elements and understand that nothing lasts forever. Bring in cushions and umbrellas over the winter if you live in a wet and cold climate.
    6. Take advantage of the incredible fabrics that are UV resistant. They now come in chenille and great patterns that I also specify for super bright areas of clients homes or kids rooms.
    7. Add texture and interest through decorative pillows and throws to stay warm at night. I design spaces to look as comfortable and well done as any family room.

  • Christopher Rose, AIA, ASID @ Chris Rose Architects 06/10/11

    We are located in coastal South Carolina and one of the reasons people relocate here is that you can entertain 12 months of the year. Our outdoor spaces can be maximized by creating outdoor rooms through the use of covered porches, screened porches, trellises, patios and raised decks. We can put sheer outdoor “curtains” on porches that can create more privacy from neighbors or be open to allow cooling breezes or closed to cold winter winds in different seasons. Much like interior spaces creating gathering or interesting places always have a focal point. A hot tub that creates white noise as it has an overflow into a swimming pool. A outdoor fireplace to warm a winter evening or roast oysters. Firepits and seating areas or a trellis that has a porch swing underneath all help clients utilize different areas of their property not just a deck off of a family room. Full outdoor kitchens with eating pavillions with built-in grills and refrigeration maximize the useage. A simple bench at the edge of a pond with a built-in shelf for a pair of binoculars can allow a client to utilize an underused edge of their property.

  • Jennifer Dusina @ freedomRail 06/10/11

    Homeowners can make the most of their outdoor spaces by keeping them tidy. Many of our clients have beautiful outdoor spaces that they enjoy, but often are stumped when it comes to organization. They come to us because they realize that being organized saves them time and stress and that by keeping their outdoor spaces neat, they’ll have more time to enjoy outdoor activities.

    Whether their outdoor spaces are used for summer entertaining or simply as a quiet place to relax, having the right organizing systems in place will make time spent outside more enjoyable. Here are recommended tips for keeping outdoor spaces stress free.

    1. Keep things clean-up friendly. Portable bins and baskets make clean-up quick so that there is more time to spend with guests.
    2. Stash grilling tools together so they’re easy to find in a space that’s near the grill for quick access.
    3. Fill a container with entertaining supplies such as napkins, silverware, paper plates and spices. Store them in waterproof storage containers and keep then outside so they’re ready for impromptu parties.
    4. Add outdoor cabinet spaces to store anything from beach towels to extra bottles of wine. Having these things handy without spending time searching for them adds to summer fun.
    5. Keep your garage tidy too (after all, it’s an extension of your outdoor space). Divide activities into categories such as gardening, sports and work tools and store them on adjustable grids and shelves. After all, you never know when the urge to play a little Bocce ball outside with guests might arise and if things are organized, you’ll have quick access!
    6. Splurge on outdoor cushions. By spending a little more on them, you’ll save time and agony of cleaning them and keeping them mildew free.
    7. Always keep a stash of sun screen, bug spray and citronella candles on hand just in case.
    8. Add fans to your outdoor space too keep cool. Plus, it’s a great way to keep outdoor spaces bug free.
    9. Match outdoor spaces to your personal style. An outdoor room has to be functional, but it also has to be engaging or you’ll never use it.
    10. Make sure there’s plenty of seating. A lot of times, outdoors is where you end up spending most of your time with friends and family, so keep the space inviting.

  • Peter L. Mosca, Green Realtor 06/10/11

    Comfort and convenience, more than cost, will help shape the design and installation features of the ultimate outdoor living space for homeowners, even in this challenging economic market space. Many, too, will consider GREEN strategies if they make sense both financially and aesthetically. No matter the budget, the homeowner will need to protect their investment from the elements, create a maintenance-free environment and reduce the amount of waste associated with outdoor living. For those who like to imagine, consider if you will that you won the lottery, then here’s what your outdoor living space could include: a wet bar with six-to-eight stools and flame-retardant palm trees and propane patio heaters surrounding the exterior as weatherproof wicker chairs, couches and tables, a large barbecue with stove fill the interior space. In the background, there is a hot tub and in ground pool, while off to the side is a theater complete with all the latest wireless video audio and gaming appliances, consoles and hookups, all built to specifications for protection against the elements and covered by a Vegas-style canopy.

  • Mary Kennedy Thompson @ Mr. Rooter Plumbing 06/10/11

    Enhancing the backyard for entertaining has become more popular. Homeowners find outdoor kitchens make their homes more convenient, and it gives their backyards a nicer look. Mr. Rooter Plumbing has these tips when creating an outdoor kitchen.

    Select a stainless steel sink:
    It withstands weather better and doesn’t damage as easy since it’s sturdier.

    Select heavy duty brass fixtures:
    They don’t corrode and are rust free.

    Install a water line for outdoor kitchen sinks, refrigerators and icemakers:
    This can be a DIY project, but hiring a plumber is recommended because professionals know the best location for installation.

    Put in a drain line for the kitchen sink:
    For those who are not DIY savvy, hire a plumber because the drain needs to connect to a sewer source to dispose of waste water.

    Set up a gas line for outdoor ranges and grills as well as patio heaters and fireplaces:
    t’s best to hire a plumber because professionals have the training and experience to ensure proper and safe installation.

    Enjoy creating your outdoor oasis!

  • Michelle Zuniga @ Zuniga Interiors 06/10/11

    Outdoor spaces are the ultimate for summer entertaining! What we consider when designing an outdoor space:

    – Mix up the elements- stone, woven material, outdoor fabrics, metal or iron- it’s nice to see a mix!

    – Plants and flowers in beds are great- but we prefer oversized pottery for small trees, flowers, grasses and horsetail!

    – Lighting is must! Lanterns- Moroccan Lanterns are a favourite! Also hang strands of lights (like an outdoor cafe in Italy), Metal Tiki Torches are great too!

    – We love comfy seating areas- sectionals and chaise lounges in woven/wicker materials specified for outdoor use, with plush cushions and pillows- all in outdoor fabrics.

    – Garden Stools are perfect for side tables and extra seating- great for keeping outdoors.

    – We are loving fire pits made from oversized pottery bowls and filled with pebbles or glass!

    – Don’t forget when entertaining outdoors- Moroccan Votive Holders for candles, petite vases of florals or potted succulents add a nice touch on outdoor tables.

    – A source for playing great music is another must! (make sure the source is hidden- no oversized speakers allowed!)

    Enjoy and have a fabulous summer!

  • Eric Bramlett @ Lake Austin Homes 06/10/11

    In Texas (especially near the lakes) it’s all about BBQ! An outdoor kitchen is a perfect addition to your killer outdoor living space. If your homebuilder thought ahead and put a stub out for water and gas, then it will be easier to install your grill & sink, but you’re not sunk if you don’t have these features. You can always retrofit your patio to include water and a propane tank makes it easy to add a gas grill (and charcoal purists don’t have to worry about gas at all.) Make sure and provide plenty of covered space for the hot summer months and be sure to match whatever brick or stone you have on the exterior of your house. Finish it off with a great outdoor living room set, and you’re, well, set!

  • Lauri Ward @ Redecorate.com 06/09/11

    Whether you live in a warm climate all year long and have a big yard or you enjoy balmy weather during the summer months on a small patio, there are several things to consider if you want the most stylish and functional outdoor living space.

    First, be sure to coordinate fabrics and use uniform metal and wood finishes. Outdoor furnishings can be seen from the inside of your home so it’s important to carry your interior color scheme through to the outside areas. With so many chic outdoor fabrics to choose from today, it’s easy to find a solid color that will match your interior decor. Use one of the hues from your interior for canvas umbrellas, chaise lounge pads, seat cushions and ottomans. For small throw pillows and awnings, select an accent stripe or simple pattern that incorporates the same color.

    Uniform metal finishes are key to achieving an elegant look, too. Whether for lanterns, pathway lights, furniture or hardware, use just one finish – all bronze, all steel, all black – for the most cohesive look. If you opt for wood furniture, do not combine teak or other wood pieces with metal. Paying attention to details like these can have a surprisingly big impact on making your exterior living space look its best.

    Outdoor accessories look sophisticated when they are coordinated, as well. For example, use one type of container or flowerpot for all of your plants, instead of a distracting mishmash. Whether grouped together or in different areas, using one material for planters and window boxes throughout your outdoor space will put the focus where you want it – on the plants and flowers.

    Next, unless you have a small bungalow or country cabin, “cute” is not a word that should be used to describe the outside of your house. To help your home look refined, try to avoid lawn ornaments, windsocks, whirligigs and plastic accessories.

    Good lighting is also vital outdoors, for functional and aesthetic reasons, so be sure to illuminate all pathways, conversation areas, as well as eating and grilling areas. In addition, be sure to use uplighting on specimen or unique trees, sculpture, and stone columns to create the most pleasing and dramatic effect.

    Finally, to create the ultimate outdoor space it’s important to consider how it functions through every season. Be sure there is adequate closed storage to hold smaller items in bad weather. Built-ins or even a small structure can be very useful if you don’t have a lot of storage space in your garage or basement.

    No matter if it’s elaborate or modest, an outdoor space that looks refined, feels comfortable, and functions well, both day and night and throughout the year is truly the ultimate.

  • Charlene Storozuk @ Dezigner Digz 06/09/11

    Living in an area where you can only enjoy your outdoor living space for approximately one-half of the year [the other half is spent in our igloos] ;-) you have to make the most of the warm weather.

    Here are some tips for making your outdoor space the best it can be:


    Two things to take into account:

    (1) What are the demographics of your household? Do you have a young family or are you empty nesters? If you have small children, you may want to incorporate items for their entertainment as well. An attractive wooden playset erected on your back lawn will keep the little ones amused and give you a few minutes to enjoy your favourite book outdoors. If you’re an empty nester and coming up on retirement, you may want to consider making your outdoor space easy to get to. Give some thought to future access as steps may become a challenge over time.

    (2) What will your outdoor space be used for? Intimate dinners for two or large family and friends gatherings? This will help you determine how large your space should be and assist you in choosing the appropriate furnishings.


    Containers look great on patios, decks and balconies. However, annual flowers can become costly; especially when they need to be replaced each year. A great alternative is to plant boxwoods in the centres of each pot. The pots should be at least 12”-14” deep to protect the roots. If you want a splash of colour, all you’ll need are a few small annuals planted around the outer edges of the pots. Once the cold weather arrives, remove the annuals and place the potted boxwoods in a shed or garage for the winter. In the spring, when it’s time to start your planting, bring the boxwoods back outside. They go somewhat dormant while stored away, but after a week or two outside, they will green up again and be as good as new. As the boxwoods grow each year, eventually you may not even need to add any additional annual flowers to the pots. We’ve been doing this for 5 years straight now – it works, they still look fabulous!

    For your garden, invest in perennials. Yes, they are more costly up front, but they will come back each year and gradually fill in your garden. Overall, they will be less expensive than purchasing annual flowers every year. Be sure to do your research and check with your local garden centre to select plants that will thrive in your location. Include some natural ground cover as well. This will help to fill in the empty spaces and reduce the amount of time you’ll spend weeding.


    Music plays a big part in setting the stage. Be sure to bring your docking station outside and choose a playlist that will appeal to everyone. Keep it lively, especially during afternoon gatherings.

    Make your guests comfortable. Be sure to bring out all cushions for your chairs and recliners. If you don’t have enough seating for everyone, purchase some attractive outdoor throw pillows and scatter a few of them strategically on the patio for an informal, yet comfortable seating place for overflow. If you are going to be entertaining into the evening, include a basket of rolled up blanket throws for your guests.
    Be sure to include some candles to set the mood. Tea lights in jars work great and aren’t easily blown out by the wind.

    “Bring the indoors out” – literally. On a perfect weather day, bring out a few of your indoor chairs and decorative items. Go so far as to bring out a few pieces of contemporary artwork for the day – display them on the fence or if very large, lean them against the wall. STYLING YOUR OUTDOOR SPACE WITH SEVERAL UNEXPECTED INDOOR ITEMS WILL GIVE A LUXURIOUS FEEL TO YOUR PARTY. Just remember to bring these items back inside before retiring for the night.

    If you have unsightly patio tiles, but don’t have the money to replace them just yet, purchase an outdoor area rug. Not only will it detract from the tiles, but it will give your outdoor living space some warmth. Don’t do this if you’re selling your home though, you can’t conceal flaws.


    Be sure to incorporate solar lights as part of your lighting plan. They have come a long way from the first generation of lighting. Solar nights now produce a much softer, cleaner light. When grouped together, they can really make a statement. For a little drama, place some groupings close to your seating area.

    As part of your landscaping plan, include some drought resistant plants that don’t require watering as often. As well, buy rain barrels and use what you collect for watering your garden.


    As I mentioned previously, the window of opportunity for enjoying the outdoors in our neck of the woods isn’t as long as I’d like. To extend that timeframe, consider including a gas fire pit into your design plan. In many municipalities, it’s illegal to have a real fire burning outdoors; therefore, in our latest design project we had a stone fire pit and surrounding seating area built. A gas insert was added and the piping was run underground to the gas source. For those cool nights, there’s nothing like sitting around a fire. This definitely isn’t a “green” idea, but if it can extend the amount of time that you’re able to enjoy your outdoor living space, then in my opinion, it’s worth it.

    These are just a few tips that can help make your outdoor living space the best it can possibly be and hopefully, without breaking the bank. Use your imagination, put your own personal spin on it and most importantly, take pleasure in doing it. The outdoors is supposed to represent fun, carefree times, right?

  • Vicky Sanderson @ Toronto Star Newspaper's "On the House" 06/09/11

    What’s does the ultimate outdoor living space look like? For more and more people, it’s a place where nature can be enjoyed, but isn’t injured. If that sounds too earnest, and you’re worried that being eco-friendly will take the fun out of al fresco dining — fear not. Getting a green and gorgeous outdoor space isn’t hard — you just have to mindful of what you choose.

    Start with a beautiful table, big enough for lots of friends and family. No heirloom picnic table? What about getting a new one made from responsibly grown Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood that will work for the next few generations. Look at Home Depot for Martha Stewart’s seven-piece Plum Island dining set, made from FSC Eucalyptus.

    Who doesn’t love sitting in front of a cozy fire in the evening? For spots where air quality concerns prevent outdoor wood fires, or where it’s not feasible, a firebox that uses a clean-burning fuel, such as ethanol, can be a smart, sleek alternative. Portable outdoor fireplaces can be used for gardens, courtyards, terraces, patios, and pool decks. (And they’re way cool-looking. You can see some examples on my Flickr Gallery.)

    Gardens of riotous color may be pretty but they often require excessive water, as well as weeding and fertilizing. The practice of Xeriscaping — using drought-resistant plants and grasses native to your region — is worth trying. Get the right grasses, for example, and when the wind blows softly on a July evening, you will be entranced by the sound and sway of graceful, dancing grass. Pull out the overly enthusiastic shoots every once in a while, and consider it exercise.

    Naturally, you don’t want to bring Grandma’s Spode out into the garden. Understood. Still, you can at least step away from Styrofoam, ladies and gentlemen! There are so many biodegradable options. To wit — Wasara — available through Branch. Single-use yes, but, biodegradable and compostable. Take a look at the fun collapsible cork fruit bowls, too.

    If you’d rather reuse than recycle, try Melamine — it comes in fantastic patterns these days. Check out the Gingham Grilling design at Williams Sonoma, a shatterproof blend of melamine and bamboo. And there’s some nice metal tabletop stuff, like Stefania di Petrillo’s handcrafted Variopinte Dinnerware at Design Within Reach. The vibrant colors come from crushing natural pigments mixed with glass powder and applying it by hand to the metal before firing. That means no two firings produce exactly the same result, and each plate is a little piece of original art. It’s also is nontoxic and dishwasher safe, which satisfies my housewifely side.

    Look for artisanal, eco-friendly pieces to get a signature tabletop look. Etsy is a great source for these. Camille Storch for example, watches over an Etsy site from a bucolic perch in western Oregon, and from where she sells her one of a kind cutting/serving boards. She uses only locally-sourced and salvaged urban and forest wood to shape these sculptural boards, which she coats with a non-toxic finish. They beautiful, unique and sustainable – perfect for your outdoor green space.

  • John@SolarTown 06/09/11

    Outdoor living is a part of life no one really wants to give up! Whether it is a friendly bbq, family gathering or just lounging around talking with friends nothing beats doing this especially when it is in backyard or garden. How we create an environment that is fun and cost effective is not as challenging as it seems. During the day, a solar fountain offers a cost effective approach in creating a soothing and relaxing atmosphere in your garden. When you wake up with your coffee and walk outside, the water trickle and birds chirping around the solar fountain will help create a soothing atmosphere especially after a long week at work. And nothing beats a fountain!

    Whenever we invite friends or family over, when dusk rolls around we tend to relocate back into the house because of poor lighting. As much as it is great to spend time inside, it is nowhere near the freedom of being outside. Solar table lights and solar lamp posts offer an inexpensive approach in solving your lighting challenges at night. Powered during the day, solar lights can operate hours after dusk to provide additional nighttime lighting. Although solar table lights offer you the opportunity to stay outside, at some point your spouse will expect you to come back in the house. If you want to browse and need information on solar lighting, then you can visit us at solartown.com.

  • Lori Gilder @ Interiormakeovers.com 06/09/11

    Summer is just around the corner and everyone is anxious to spend some serious time outside. Here in Southern California warm summer weather tends to last a good 7 months or so – substantially longer than many other parts of the country – so outdoor living is a way of life around here…. and gaining in popularity particularly in parts of the country with more temperate climates. 

    If you love entertaining family and friends, what better way to make that happen, than by transforming your back yards, decks and patios into spectacular living spaces.  It instantly expands the architecture of your home and seamlessly connects you to the environment.  But consider these important tips before you get started.

    Designate Zones That Reflects Your Family’s Lifestyle – Know the activities that you want your outdoor space to have:

    -Playing: Sports Court, grassy area or swing set.
    -Lounging: Pool and/or spa, chairs and chaises or built-ins.
    -Cooking: Outdoor kitchen or simple barbeque area.
    -Entertaining/Dining; Dining area, fireplace or firepit.
    -Elevated deck or patio.
    -Outdoor Kitchen Details.

    If at all possible and layout allows, plan your outdoor cooking areas as close to your indoor kitchen as possible. A shorter distance of travel transporting food back and forth will make outdoor entertaining easier.

    Connect your grill to a permanent fuel line and avoid those propane tanks all together.
    If budget and space allows, keep the indoor/outdoor traffic to a minimum and install a sink, refrigerator and even dishwasher with extra space to store your outdoor tableware.


    If space is at a premium build in your seating.
    Nestle a banquette-like sofa into your deck or patio, and build them out of the same decking material to give them a more architectural and integral appearance. Provide storage below for seat cushions and pillows.

    Don’t Forget the Shade.

    For protection from the mid-day sun and those long hot days – add a trellis or pergola overhead. Umbrellas and awnings will also do the trick and shade you and your guests as well.
    Wrap vines or bougainvillea up the trellis or pergola for some additional shade cover and color as well.

    Extend The Summer.

    If you feel that summer is short lived and tends to fly by, extend the season by designing a permanent outdoor fireplace, firepit and patio heaters to keep you warm during the cooler autumn temperatures.

    -When supplementing plumbing and electrical attempt to hook into existing lines and sources.
    -Select materials that are best suited to your climatic conditions, and will withstand the test of time.  Slab countertops of granite, soapstone, concrete and stainless steel all hold up well to the elements.  Tiles work as well but the grout tends to crack over time and if not sealed properly could create problems down the road.
    – Its vitally important that new materials work with the existing architecture of the home. How does it look from the inside looking out?

    Having said all this just remember-research is the key and like any home renovation project learn which codes and restrictions pertain to the scope of your project…..and enjoy your ultimate outdoor living space!

  • Jeff Meyers- President Mr. Electric 06/08/11

    Make it YOUR space – and make sure it’s safe

    As an electrical installation and repair company, we’ve seen a lot of cool ideas throughout the years from customers regarding their backyards. And when someone has a new idea, Mr. Electric loves to embrace the challenge.

    Of all the great ideas we’ve seen, two concepts stand out to me as enjoyable, practical AND affordable for more than the majority of homeowners looking to improve their patio.

    This has been explored liberally in regards to pools. Color filters and other lights intended to allow homeowners to take a dip even after the sun goes down. However, this can also be advantageous for those who don’t have the luxury of a pool in their backyard.

    Lights at the base of trees, bushes, flower beds and waterfalls can highlight favorite aspects of your garden at night. Haven’t you always wanted to relax on your patio on a summer’s night and just enjoy your garden? With lighting throughout the garden and around the patio, you can. You’re limited only by your creativity in this aspect, and a quality electrical service company like Mr. Electric can ensure not only that your dream becomes a reality, but that your backyard remains safe for your family as well.

    When entertaining guests, nothing can break the silence like great music. After gracious hosts, music sets the mood for any party. Now your music can lend itself to the ambience of your outdoor party. Strategically located speakers don’t just emanate sweet melodies. They do it without being seen. Speakers in your trees, inside a lawn ornament, and along the walls of your home can be installed by a certified electrician, like those from Mr. Electric in order to ensure that the wiring doesn’t prove dangerous to your children or pets. Few things in life are better than relaxing outside with your favorite songs in the background.

  • Sohail Hassan @ One Stop Green 06/08/11

    The sun is shining and flowers are in full bloom, so who wants to stay indoors on a day like this? Outdoor living areas are all the rage this summer and you are slowly running out of time to create your perfect space. Creating the ideal outdoor living space can be both an exciting and complicated project as there are a number of choices to choose from. Whether it’s an elegantly styled terrace with lounge chairs for watching the sunset or a modern outdoor kitchen complete with a counter top grill, this is one trend you’ll be happy to be a part of.

    Your process should begin by establishing a budget for your project. By setting aside a budget, you will be able to eliminate your range of choices to more realistic alternatives. Decide which features are most important to you, and invest your funds there.

    The next step is to make a plan. In order to effectively and efficiently use your resources, you’ll need to come up with a plan before you break ground or even begin purchasing materials. Having a sound strategy before you begin the project ensures that you simply don’t run out of funds or determination halfway through the job. This plan should include your vision and basic layout for your outdoor space, as well as identifying what resources you already have to work with.

    The third and final step is to make it Green! Not only ‘Green’ an in eco-friendly but ‘green’ as in plant life and atmosphere. Make your outdoor space look like an indoor space to make it perfect for entertaining, but keep it green to emphasize nature. This means you need to take into consideration your lawn, plant life, and garden to add that perfect outdoor feel. Put on those finishing touches by using natural lighting techniques such as candles or torches, and add to the décor by using recycled materials made from stone or wood!

    So get ready, put on your new summer outfit, and take the fun outdoors!

  • Krista Flock @ ServiceMagic 06/08/11

    The following items can enhance a homeowners outdoor living space and are perfect touches to consider for outdoor entertaining this summer:

    • In order to fully enjoy the backyard, homeowners should invest in several patio lanterns that repel bugs, such as mosquitoes or black flies. The patio lanterns can fit in with any outdoor décor, such as this one from ThermaCell.com and it costs only $31.99.

    • Deck entertaining usually runs into the night, so it’s important to have proper lighting. Many places, such as Home Depot or Lowes, sell solar lighting that ranges from $20 to $60.

    • Staining and sealing a deck is essential to ensure it lasts for many summers to come. By continuing this maintenance each year, homeowners will prolong their deck’s life and avoid unnecessary repairs. Stain can cost from $15 to $30.

    • It’s important for homeowners and their guests to be comfortable, and after several seasons, outdoor furniture will wear out. Consider investing a little more money, and purchase a comfy outdoor sofa or loveseat for the deck. A good outdoor furniture site is: http://www.buyoutdoorfurnitureonline.com/

    • No matter what size your deck is, there is always room for flowers! Flowers will brighten-up a deck and make it look more put-together. Homeowners can purchase flower boxes or pots, and either hang them or simply place them on the deck floor. SimplyPlanters.com has a good selection to choose from.

  • Robert McMillan, Director Merchandising and Marketing – McGuire Furniture Company 06/08/11

    What should they think about in terms of design, installation, keeping it green, and costs?

    Living outdoors should be an extension of living indoors. Consider the designs you choose for outdoor as carefully as you would for your indoor living room…comfort, quality, function and original style are equally important no matter where you choose to entertain, relax and come together with family. When furnishing outdoor living spaces, look for lasting quality to withstand the elements such as thick gauge aluminum construction, drainable foam cushions and heavy duty extruded resin. These quality design elements will allow for years of use in the most challenging climates, they’ll reduce your carbon footprint and over the years, save you money on replacement furniture. Up front costs will generally be higher for the best quality, but the investment more than pays for itself after the first one to two years.

    When planning your outdoor space and installations, consider how you, your family and guests will engage with the space. First, determine key lounge and dining locations. Then, develop a flexible furniture configuration and plan that will meet your range of needs. Choose adaptable furniture components such as sectional groupings that allow you to adjust and flex seating to accommodate for parties as well as smaller social gatherings. Create an outdoor living room and incorporate the same creature comforts you normally enjoy indoors…an entertainment center, a table for playing board games, and a relaxing chair and ottoman for reading or napping. Push the limits and create the perfect space to take advantage of being outdoors more often. After all, utilizing outdoor space is an excellent way to expand the total living space of your home.

  • Lynn Schrage @ The KOHLER Store 06/08/11

    I love planning outdoor kitchen spaces. Not only do they expand the living environment for the entire family but allow for more casual entertaining and enjoyment. Outdoor kitchens much like our open interior kitchen plans are centric to the outdoor landscape. Consider planning areas for staging, prep, serving, and seating.

    Staging food and cooking tools are an important part of any outdoor kitchen space. Nothing is more of a hassle than running back and forth for supplies and utensils. Consider both open and closed cabinets, allow for deep drawers to accommodate oversized grilling utensils, and pull-out dish storage for dinner ware. Compact appliances such as refrigeration and freezer drawers and beverage coolers make entertaining outside a breeze.

    Even though much of the prep may take place inside, you still want to plan for a generous sink that can double as a bar sink and allow for easy clean up. Stainless steel makes a great sink choice for the exterior. Be sure to locate accessible water shut-offs to winterize the kitchen as needed.

    Consider generous serving areas and even mobile carts. Different counter heights can allow for a terraced landscape design, bar and counter seating areas. Stainless steel, granite and concrete offer durable surfacing choices.

    Prepare a furniture plan in your outdoor kitchen layout so you can incorporate comfortable seating options and covered eating areas while considering proximity to the grill. Built-in seating areas can be planned and also serve as additional storage for cushions.

  • Stuey@ToolGuyd 06/08/11

    I think that the biggest improvement, in terms of value and payoff with respect to cost, is to install some nice shading. Have you ever sat out in the sun and tried to have a conversation? It’s tiring!

    Outdoor shading, whether an extended awing or free standing canopy or whatnot, makes it more enjoyable to lounge or have people over, and especially when it’s time to throw that annual weekend barbecue.

  • Cindy*Staged4more 06/08/11

    It’s incredibly important to set your goals and intention first:
    -What are you going to use this space for?
    -How will this place serve you? And people you live with?
    -Is this a place where all your family members will hang out? Or it’s your bachelor guys’ BBQ and poker area?
    -How do you envision living in the space?
    -How much upkeep are you willing to do? Will you do it yourself or have a professional to do it?
    -How much time will you spend outdoors?

    Once you determine those criteria and what you need vs. want, it will be easier to define the next step:
    -What are some of the things must be fixed right away? Like still water infesting with bugs? Broken retaining wall?
    -What are some of the small, budget friendly fixes/ add on I can tackle next?

    Once you finish the must and repair lists, then you can move on to your dream item like outdoor wood pizza oven, a full kitchen, swimming pool, cabana, etc.


  • Terry Peterman @ Electrical Online 06/07/11

    With the nomadic lifestyle that my wife and I lead, outdoor living is a large part of our lives, so I’ll tell you what’s important from my perspective.

    We spend half of the year in western Canada living in a 40ft. motor coach. We spend time out on Vancouver Island in the spring and at Gleniffer Lake in Alberta for the summer months.

    I tend to spend as much time as possible outdoors, so having open space to enjoy the sunshine when available, and shelter to get out of the elements are two important considerations. Here on Vancouver Island the weather can be spectacularly beautiful, or cool, wet, and nasty, all in the same day. We have an open area with optional coverage from the awning. We also enjoy some privacy, and that can be difficult in an R.V. park. A portable shelter with optional side walls gives us covered area for outdoor dining, and with the side walls on it provides a windbreak from the ever present ocean breeze that blows up the channel from the south. When the weather is cool the use of a propane table-top patio heater extends the length of outdoor time well into the evening hours. Furniture choices revolve more around portability and functionality than style and beauty. The center piece of the patio area tends to be the flat screen television, the handy beverage fridge, and the Margaritaville frozen concoction maker!

    Moving on to Alberta for the summer, our home base consists of a lot in an ownership R.V. park. Here we have more permanent furniture and nicely landscaped outdoor living space. We have a permanent enclosed deck / sunroom (A.K.A. Arizona room) that provides a larger indoor living area that gets used extensively. Outdoor furniture is arranged with a focus on our outdoor fireplace, or around the outdoor cooking area. Again, changeable weather requires that everything is either readily stored out of the elements, or is not too adversely affected by wet weather. A typical summer day in Alberta has you waking up to a beautiful blue sky, light winds, and mild to warm temperatures. Enjoy the early part of the day as daytime heating usually boils up the clouds over the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and by mid to late afternoon you are preparing for the inevitable thunderstorms that can bring hail, rain, wind, thunder, lighting, and the threat of tornadoes. The skies usually clear in the evening, but cools the temperature down so it’s time to stoke up the outdoor fireplace and ignite the propane patio heaters to keep off the chill. Daylight here extends well in to the evening but as darkness falls, landscape lighting provides nice accents around the stone retaining wall, and highlights the trees. A small water feature provides some soothing background noise, occasionally interrupted short but loud outbursts from the Margaritaville, the squeaking hinges of the late model beverage fridge in the Arizona room, or the audio from the outdoor television.

    On to San Tan Valley in sunny Arizona for the winter months. Here we move out of the R.V. and in to an actual house. Our outdoor living area here consists of a covered patio area, spilling out to the pool, spa, gas fireplace, and outdoor cooking and bar area (yes, the Margaritaville, bar fridge, and television are here too). Furniture is well suited for outdoor use, but doesn’t have to be removed or covered daily as the table and chairs are in the covered area, and main concern shifts here from keeping things out of the wind and rain, to minimizing damage from the sun’s UV rays. Keeping cool is more of a concern so the pool gets much more use than the gas fireplace, but mid-winter weather and cool evenings see many dips in the heated spa, and occasionally the fireplace is used as well. Nightfall is relatively early here so landscape lighting provides just the right combination of functional and accent lighting around the yard.

    I love being outdoors, and am very fortunate that Sandy and I have been able to design a lifestyle that allows us to follow the sun, maximizing the time spent outside the confines of 4 walls.

  • Steve Robinson @ Axios Architecture 06/07/11

    Rather than specific suggestions, I offer three ways of thinking about your outdoor project:

    BE REALISTIC: There is a lot of romance in all the things an outdoor space can be. Keep in mind what you can reasonably afford as a first cost and as an ongoing maintenance cost/effort. Put your energy into those elements that provide a lot of value and that will see a lot of use.

    LEVERAGE THE NATURE YOU ALREADY HAVE: Don’t fight what is already there! Every outdoor space, even a tiny courtyard, has some distinct type of light, view, native plants, local materials or other natural qualities. As you consider your “wish list”, balance it with what nature wants to have there.

    CONCENTRATE YOUR RESOURCES: This is difficult to do if you have a larger space, but not a larger wallet! If necessary, think of your outdoor space as a gem within nature, rather than trying to recast nature to a new idea. In the outdoors, small with high quality really pays off…going inexpensive over large areas really shows. Do you really need a 1,000 SF deck when 200 SF could be done exquisitely and for less money? Small outdoor spaces are often nicer…so concentrate your resources and keep the quality high!

  • Melissa Galt @ Melissa Galt Interiors 06/07/11

    I often dive into the landscaping and exterior design of my client’s homes, it is after all a natural extension of their interior lifestyle. The same questions need to be answered as in the case of any room:

    How do I want to use this space?
    How often will I entertain in this space?
    How many people do I want to accomodate?
    Will I include dining?
    Will I include cooking?
    Do I want outdoor entertainment (yes, you can get climate proof audio/visual today)?

    You can make it a living, dining, and cooking space or all of these depending on how much space you have to work with and what your goals are. Some must haves include:

    Comfortable seating
    Climate proof fabrics (the selection available today runs the gamut from plush chenilles to tailored stripes, vivid florals, to subdued abstracts)
    Tables for catching a book, a drink, a plate of food

    Be sure to design it to suit your style. My personal style is casually elegant and I tend to steer clear of actual dining tables in favor of a cocktail table that I can put my feet, food, and refreshments on. You may be more formal and prefer a full on dining table, and include a separate seating area.

    Options to consider include:

    Outdoor rugs (you don’t have to settle for plain old patio)
    Outdoor lamps and lighting
    Outdoor fans (helps keep bugs at bay)
    Outdoor misters and heaters
    Outdoor fireplace (stunning in the cooler climates like the mountains of North Carolina)

    Using a mix of finishes, like stone, wood, and iron keeps your outdoor scape looking balanced and harmonious. You can include glass in the form of clear or colored garden ornaments. Outdoors instead of wallpaper and paint you get to create your own backdrop with trees, flowering shrubs, perennials, and annuals. It’s like creating a living interior outside.

    Be sure to consider covers for your furnishings and cooking elements when not in use for extended periods of time. Even the sturdiest will get dust or pollen covered, and be impacted by an abundance of falling leaves, storm debris and more.

    Before you dive in, make sure you are creating a space you’ll use and enjoy. Design for the sake of design is a wasted investment. The great outdoors is great whether you interiorize it or just enjoy it as is.

  • Trish Holder @ Greenspiration Home 06/07/11

    From a “green” perspective, I think the perfect outdoor space starts with a screened-in porch! My own informal research indicates that screened porches get used much more than decks and patios and extend the outdoor dining and entertaining season. Screened in porches can also help reduce the heat gain of a home, if they are fully covered, especially when they happen to be on the east or west side exposure.

    A screened-in porch acts as a nice “in-between” area that pulls the the family outside when weather is suitable and the bugs aren’t too bad. Porch doors that open to a lovely patio with space for seating and eating is the next layer. You don’t have to leave patio furniture out if you don’t want to — you simply bring it in and out of the porch area as needed, so it lasts longer.

    Ideally, the patio would be created with a variety of materials and include some sort of semi-permeable surface. These blend with nature more and are easier to maintain. Plus, they help return rain water back to the water table as opposed to having it run down a street gutter or in a drain.

    An herb garden inside the porch, outside the porch, or both would be a nice touch, as the fragrance again would help draw the family outdoors.

  • Emily Widle @ Pegasus Lighting 06/07/11

    Incorporating well-placed lighting into your outdoor space is a smart addition. First of all, it creates a pleasant ambiance that can accent any outdoor living space, whether you have a backyard pool with perfect landscaping or a small apartment balcony.

    More importantly, outdoor lighting enables you to actually use the space more. You can linger after dusk without feeling like you are sitting in the dark.

    There are countless possibilities, and the best outdoor lighting depends on your space. Step lighting, wall sconces, candelabras, battery operated lanterns, string lights, barbecue lights are all available … the list goes on.

    One thing that many homeowners don’t know much about in the realm of outdoor lighting is LED lighting. You probably have heard about its energy-efficient qualities, but there’s another important quality that makes it ideal for outdoor lighting: It does not attract bugs.

    Bugs are actually attracted to the ultraviolet rays that light emits, and LEDs do not emit UV rays. As far as outdoor residential applications, LED rope lighting is the most popular choice: it looks great on porches, gazebos & deck railings. http://www.pegasuslighting.com/rope-lights.html

    Whatever fixtures you choose, lighting is an essential component of the ultimate outdoor space!

  • Pablo Solomon, Green Designer 06/07/11

    When thinking about an outdoor living space, you should ask the same basic question you ask for any design work–How do I want this space to make me feel?

    For different people of course the answer will vary–I feel safe and peaceful after a stressful day at work, I want to feel free, etc.

    However, there are some elements that every good outdoor space should have–water, mystery places, color, balance, privacy, framed highlights, views if possible, etc.

    Since I have spent most of my life working with stone as an artist, I love stone work.
    Stone is virtually maintainance free and lasts forever.

    While the initial installation of stone benches, fountains, steps, etc. can cost more, in the long run it is worth the investment. Stone just ages so beautifully and adds such presence and elegance.

    If you cannot afford the real thing, concrete benches, statues,etc. are almost as good as stone.

    As I mentioned, every good outdoor space should have a water element. You can buy recirculating pumps from under $20. You can create a water wall, water fall,interesting series of pools,flow shelves, fountains, etc. But dollar for dollar nothing adds a soothing feeling like the sound of water.

    The only thing that I will go into in this limited venue on plants is to go to the woods and get ground mosses and lichens. Over time these organic elements will add a timeless quality to your space which few plants can match.
    I look forward to hearing ideas from all of the great contributors.

  • Barbara Tako/Clutter Clearing Choices, LLC 06/06/11


    Have you ever decided to simplify your outdoor entertaining with beautiful lawn furniture that is fashionable yet classic, detailed yet easy to maintain, and sturdy yet convenient to store? Maybe you want to impress your friends and family with your effortless outdoor parties and your terrific outdoor furnishings! It is just that easy if you buy all the right stuff, right? Maybe. Consider these thoughts to minimize outdoor clutter.

    “Outdoor living rooms” are supposed to be all the rage right now. But I’m not buying it, well, let me modify that and say that I am not buying all of it. Do “they” forget where we live? Thunderstorms, pollen, humidity, bugs, dirt, and the shortness of the summer season all take their toll on ourselves, our outdoor guests, and our outdoor furnishings and decor. Outside is, well, outside—outdoors, in the elements, with bugs, with moisture… You get the point. Yet, I too have succumbed to the visions of a backyard that looks like it is straight from a landscape magazine, and, I do like pink plastic pelicans, wind spinners and chimes, and solar powered glow-in-the-dark décor.

    When my family moved into our first home, I conducted careful research and purchased (for more money than I am willing to admit) many pieces of fine enamel-coated steel outdoor furniture from a well-known manufacturer. Our deck was over-crowded with furniture before my husband had even finished construction. And, I will not even discuss the problems of where to store and stack all this stuff for the rest of the year.

    Over the years, the enamel chipped, the steel rusted, and the thick cushions mildewed and became stained. The glass-topped tables rarely looked clean. I learned how much “fun” it was to sit on cushions that looked dry but still had water in them from the rain two days ago. Our large round glass-topped table took numerous trips across the deck when strong winds caught the umbrella that had been left open. Winter navigating around these pieces was no fun either.

    Something had to be done. There had to be a better solution. I began to eliminate pieces that were wrecked or rarely used. It turned out that many charities have zero interest in rusty old lawn furniture. We finally gave up and used the city dump. I solemnly vowed not to repeat my mistakes. And, yet, fifteen years later I began to look longingly again at lawn furniture.

    Where trendy styles and fabrics couldn’t hook me in, new technology did. I have gone from an expensive twelve-piece set to four folding sling chairs and a mesh-topped metal table. This time everything was purchased for under $200. The chairs are nylon mesh rather than cushions so they won’t retain water. The metal on everything is now “powder coated” which is more durable and less prone to rust. And, best of all, everything (even the table) folds for convenient storage during the rest of the year.

    I didn’t know what color to get. I knew I didn’t want clear glass tabletops because the tops and undersides of them never stayed clean. My old white furniture showed the rust horribly, yet sometimes white can hide more dirt than darker colors. Never mind. I was ready for a change. The table is a black metal with a metal mesh top, and the metal chair frames and plastic armrests are dark green. After all the pollen we had the first spring, I began to be sorry, but then I realized my regret was outweighed by the pleasure of looking at something new after fifteen years!

    Maybe that’s the problem. The first time I purchased deck furniture, I wanted it to “last forever.” The reality is that “stuff” (especially outdoor furniture) doesn’t last, and I enjoy change. Maybe the trick is to let “stuff” flow through my life rather than let it get stuck on my deck for fifteen years. Who knew? Consider these tips for lawn furniture:

    1. Stay within a reasonable budget. You really won’t want to keep this furniture forever or pass it on in the family someday. You are more likely to want to change it out after a few years.

    2. Keep it simple. Less is more. Yard clutter won’t be functional or attractive for you. Clutter doesn’t look any better outside than it does indoors.

    3. Sometimes inexpensive items are actually more durable and take up less space. Consider simple plastic stacking chairs and folding woven mesh metal tables for starters.

    4. Don’t forget to have fun! If the pink pelican or rainbow spinner or something else really tickles your fancy, go for it!

    Barbara Tako is the author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book that provides a variety of doable clutter clearing tips that readers are encouraged to pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Go to http://www.clutterclearingchoices.com to sign up for her FREE monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter.

  • Patricia Davis Brown, ASID, CKD, CBD @ Dig This Design 06/06/11

    Living in Florida, I do a lot of outdoor entertaining and so do my clients. I think the ultimate outdoor space has everything your indoor entertaining area has and certainly more. The more would be a pool of course! With that said, you need a summer kitchen for the optimal outdoor living! What you must take into account when building an outdoor kitchen is the climate that you live in. In Florida, many of our homes are on water, salt water and that is not friendly to many materials. You would want to construct your boxes out of water and salt resistant sub straights such as all-marine plywood or stainless steel. There are lots of countertop materials that do well outdoors and they are offered in an array of beautiful finishes, Granite, Corian and tile just to name a few. I always like to create a nice bar top for serving and having a social gathering spot. Just like your indoor kitchen your outdoor kitchen should have all the modern accessories that make preparation work a breeze. Remember to design some sort of shade to protect your summer kitchen from the outside elements such as the rain and sun. Again, in my region automatic hurricane shutters work great and protect from the wicked hurricanes. I recommend working with a professional designer that specializes in outdoor kitchens because they bring a lot of great ideas on the best ways to spend your money in the right place!

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