Outdoor living spaces are now seen as an extension of the home, requiring design and products that help homeowners live, work, and entertain outside—at least that's what four residential pros told us.
Lines between the outdoors and indoors are now blurred. Outdoor spaces are held to the same standards as the indoors, a shift that had been growing for years but accelerated during the pandemic. Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens’ 2021 Outdoor Living Report found 82% of surveyed Americans are more interested in updating their outdoor living spaces than before the pandemic.
A large share of consumers surveyed see outdoor kitchens as a very important part of outdoor living design. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2021 Design Trends Report, 65% of surveyed residential professionals are experiencing an increase in outdoor living projects.
[ Read More: 9 PRODUCTS TO ELEVATE OUTDOOR KITCHENS ]
Staci Munic Interiors | Photo: Lance Gerber
The majority of these projects are updates to existing outdoor areas, but 40% of professionals have been creating entirely new outdoor areas for their clients. The study found that clients request outdoor kitchens, patios/decks, and three-season rooms the most, which aligns with what we heard from four residential pros.
“Since the pandemic, it has just skyrocketed,” says Staci Munic, ASID, principal and lead designer of Staci Munic Interiors. “Everybody has really changed their mindset, especially in the Midwest, about indoor/outdoor living. In California, it’s been consistent all along, but most of our clients are wanting to either enhance, expand, change, some part of their outdoor living space.”
Sarah Jacquelyn Schwuchow, ASID, NCIDQ, RID, owner and principal interior designer for the Chicago-based high-end residential design team Sarah Jacquelyn Interiors, says her clients are requesting spaces with zoned and designated areas for cooking, dining, entertaining, and relaxing.
“In the past we saw this trend of bringing the outdoors in and now I want to call it bringing the indoors out,” says Schwuchow.
Drees Homes | Photo: Maxine Schnitzer
Founding Principal of full service dSPACE Studio in Chicago, Kevin Toukoumidis, sees the same trend, and notes it’s important to think about the designated areas’ relations to both the indoors and each other.
“Part of the fun is connecting these different living zones with landscape, hardscape, lighting—there’s this wonderful challenge and beauty in creating an experience as you enjoy the outdoors,” says Toukoumidis. “And also drawing you through the outdoor spaces is so important to us in how we design and curating this path, or journey, as you leave the outdoor kitchen, go down to the swimming pool, and then end up at the end of the night by a roaring fire in the firepit on your lounge chairs.”
Another key idea shaping outdoor living design is the need for flexibility. More builders are ensuring there are flex rooms and home offices to meet any changing needs, but the backyard is being held to the same standards.
“We’re seeing an increased demand for outdoor living spaces to grow and evolve with homeowners’ needs, especially as many people move towards a more permanent remote working environment,” says Brian McGinnis, sales manager for Drees Homes in its Washington D.C. division. “The backyard isn’t just a place for leisure anymore; it can be someone’s office, classroom, streaming area, or yoga studio.”
Flexibility can also apply to future needs, not just current. For clients with families, for example, children may require additional space for outdoor activities, but as they grow, those needs change.
Aside from the most popular types of projects, the most popular products installed in outdoor living projects, according to the designers we spoke to, include fire pits, specialty cooking appliances (including pizza ovens), pools, and durable tiles.
Here are some favorite products from the designers we talked to and why they love them.
“We have seen quite a few clients want multiple levels of barbecues, smokers, but also pizza ovens, outdoor refrigerators, outdoor ice makers are very popular,” says Toukoumidis. “And we’ve been working a lot with Kalamazoo outdoor barbecues, which is truly an exceptional product on the market. Their focus is outdoor living, outdoor cooking, and their products truly are best in class for quality and unbelievable performance, and they offer a full line of everything we need outside. Working with them, they take our design work and can put their products into our design seamlessly.”
“It’s a terracotta tile, it’s a black star and cross pattern, and it’s just such a durable, great product,” says Schwuchow. “It’s got a Moroccan, Meditteranean feel and it’s a super durable product, it patinas nicely–that’s really one of our favorite go-tos for tile right now.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of porcelain indoor and running the same tile outdoors, in California for sure, we’ve been working a lot with Roca Tile,” says Munic.
“Flexibility in shading is so important,” says Toukoumidis. “We often will build structures and pergolas, but the Tuuci Umbrella product is one we have come to appreciate for the minimalist design, which matches our architectural language, and the flexibility and adjustability of a highly engineered umbrella for outdoor spaces can be fully integrated into our architecture so that you don’t see a base on the umbrella system and can even be put away in the winter months, so it’s fully removed from view.”
“I’m in love with Evo cooktops,” says Munic. “It’s like a flat cooking surface, no fire comes out of it. It gets your food incredibly hot and it’s really good looking, so we just put one of those in an outdoor kitchen in Palm Springs and I can’t wait to specify it again.”
“Every project we’re designing in the past year now has a swimming pool or a plunge pool and this may be a result of the pandemic or coincidence, but our clients, all of them, without question, are looking for pools and spas in their backyards,” says Toukoumidis. “Whether it be urban or vacation homes, we’re seeing that trend for outdoor living. One product we’ve been using is Diamond Spas out of Colorado, which is a stainless steel system and is a wonderfully engineered spa product that can be used on roof decks, in backyards, and they can make larger sizes as well. We like that they’re made in a factory with high tolerances and quality control, and our contractors like that they can be delivered to the site in one unit.”
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“More often than not, we’re doing outdoor showers,” says Toukoumidis. “It’s the idea of people wanting their outdoor spaces to feel like they do when they’re on vacation and the outdoor shower is a really exciting opportunity for having that feeling like you are on vacation. We’ve been using a product that is beautifully designed by Cea, and they’re a minimalist plumbing manufacturer out of Italy and they have a beautiful line of outdoor shower fixtures. There’s not a lot of selection for outdoor shower fixtures, so it’s one product we’ve discovered that offers good design and is available for outdoor use.”
Drees Homes | Photo: Greg Grupenhof
Technology Enabled Privacy Walls
“Another favorite product is technology-enabled privacy walls with outlets and low-voltage cables,” says McGinnis. “These are more popular than ever since the pandemic has caused people to spend a lot more time at home. It is really valuable for homeowners to enjoy an outdoor space where they can plug in their laptops and phones for remote working and learning. These types of privacy walls are also a great option for incorporating entertainment outdoors like TVs, smart devices and speakers.”