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The Edge Magazine February 2014


The Outdoor Room Boom
By Scott Cohen


The biggest trend in home improvement is the breaking up of backyard space into different outdoor rooms. I call it the "Outdoor Room Boom". It's not just about the pool and spa anymore, as home owners are asking their designers and contractors to help them divide the backyard into distinctly different outdoor spaces.

Clients today want outdoor living rooms, dining rooms, and outdoor kitchens, in addition to their pool decks. Savvy designers of pools and spas can capitalize on this growing trend by learning more about concrete patio sizing, flooring finishes, flow through the yard, patio covers, barbecue counter construction, and the clients' entertaining needs.

OUTDOOR KITCHEN TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT

The Green Scene Landscaping and Pools designs and creates many different types of outdoors rooms, but Ithe outdoor kitchen is stealing the show. People have always congregated around food and drink, and outdoor kitchens take advantage of this tendency.

Whether it's a night of revelry with a crowd, a relaxing evening with the family, or a romantic alfresco dinner for two, the outdoor kitchen serves as a natural gathering space for people. There's another reason outdoor kitchens are booming: property value. Homeowners recognize that an outdoor kitchen adds significant value to a home with a comparatively low investment. In some areas, outdoor kitchens have even become an expected amenity for a comfortable home. In others, an outdoor kitchen is a standout feature, offering a valuable edge in any housing market.

But practicality aside, outdoor kitchens are just plain fun. They’re here to stay and the creative possibilities are endless.


To keep everyone in the right zone, it’s important to choose a layout that not only works well for cooking, but also makes space for a fun, comfortable party. The grill itself is often the central attraction. Make sure there’s plenty of space nearby for several people to sit and watch the action. "Nearby" doesn’t mean "next to". Your guests shouldn’t feel like they’re risking singed eyebrows when they're supervising the cook.

DESIGN THE SPACE FOR SMALL GROUPS

In addition to spaces at a bar or dining counter, many backyard kitchens include additional areas for full-scale dining and relaxing. Again, don’t think you need a space big enough to accommodate all your guests in one large expanse. Instead, the zone approach works best here too. Think about human party behavior and observe it at the next get-together you attend. Instead of gathering in one big ‘herd’, people at a larger party will naturally group together in small conversational clusters. Design your dining and mingling areas around this tendency by providing several outdoor rooms to accommodate small groups. A series of interconnected spaces is a better fit for many yards and also creates a more inviting atmosphere.

Provide destinations in the garden (called “wayfinding”) by connecting these gathering spots with welcoming pathways. Use focal points, seat walls, fountains, ponds, arbors, and fragrant plantings to create interest at different locations and draw guests out into the yard space.

There are many other types of rooms you can add in conjunction with your outdoor kitchen.

OUTDOOR DINING ROOM

Size this patio based on the number of people you plan to host regularly. A 48" round table can seat 6-8 people depending on the size of the chairs. The minimum patio diameter that will accommodate one 48" round table is 10’ 6". This allows enough space to pull out chairs, but not much walk-around space. For larger patios designed to accommodate more than one table, leave a three foot buffer zone to accommodate passing guests. A minimum 12’ to 14’ diameter allotment for each 48" round table will provide this buffer.

OUTDOOR LIVING ROOM

For a living room patio, size the space around the furniture that will be used. A big trend in outdoor living room furniture is using "deep seating" patio furniture. Deep seating mimics your indoor couch, love seats, lounge chairs, and coffee table styling. A good rule of thumb is to size living room areas at approximately 16’ by 18’. Where possible, leave a 3’ pathway clear of furniture to allow for good traffic flow through the garden.

BISTRO PATIO

Many homeowners and their guests appreciate a small, more intimate space to enjoy a meal for two or a quiet conversation. A small patio that accommodates a two-seater bistro table works well here and can be created almost anywhere, including a side yard or in little back corner destination spots. A good standard size for a patio area like this is about 6’ to 7’ in diameter.

FLOORING FUNDAMENTALS

A beautiful, functional outdoor room really does start from the ground up. Choosing appropriate flooring will give you a long-lasting, great looking, trouble-free backdrop for all of your outdoor celebrations. Let’s start with some options.

Poured Concrete is one of the most affordable, versatile, and durable choices, and is also one of the most popular because of its endless design possibilities. It can be expertly colored, stamped, and finished in an infinite variety of textures and patterns – some that convincingly mimic real stone.

Today’s manufactured concrete paving products come in an extensive array of colors, shapes, and surface textures to fit every décor, from old world to contemporary and cutting edge. Tumbled finishes capture the appearance of aged stone while pavers with smooth, crisp edges can be used for a more formal attitude.

Pavers come in just about every color imaginable to reflect styles that are Mediterranean, Tuscan, French-country, Caribbean, Asian, and everything in between.

Due to their thickness, concrete pavers offer high compressive strength—they are so strong, in fact, that they’re commonly used for driveways. Because they are set in sand, pavers can also shift and move without cracking. This makes them a great choice for areas with clay soil that expands and contracts as moisture content varies. Pavers also offer an important environmental advantage in that they allow water to percolate through to the ground below, keeping rain water on site and out of storm-water systems. Finally, they can be easily lifted and replaced, allowing better access later on for utilities and repairs.

Many product lines include pavers of different shapes, colors, and sizes that are meant to be used together in one patio. They can be laid in decorative designs that incorporate borders, swirls, circular medallions, fan arrangements, or in patterns that appear completely random.

Concrete tiles are another attractive option. These are wet-molded, shaped, and colored to mimic authentic cut stones that run the gamut in appearance from sleek to antique. Because they are created in molds, concrete tiles allow a more decorative textured surface than pavers, and they can be cast in any color. Tiles can be created to replicate flagstone, slate, travertine, and cobblestone, yet they are much more resilient to changing weather conditions than their natural counterparts. They also offer superior slip resistance over ceramic tiles, making them a versatile, practical, and beautiful choice for outdoor rooms.

Brick is a truly timeless building material. These molded clay pavers have been used for literally thousands of years, and the look never goes out of fashion. Brick is especially suitable for a formal or classic design or for landscapes where the house itself incorporates brick. When it comes to color, there’s more than "brick red." Like the clay they are created from, bricks come in a diverse assortment of earth tones that naturally blend into an outdoor setting. This makes brick easy to coordinate with many color schemes.

For a head-turning outdoor floor with an organic aesthetic, natural stone is hard to beat. This is the real deal – the material that other products imitate (many do the job quite well). The soft colors of stone range from yellows, golds, and browns to reds and pinks, to blacks, blues, and even greens. While this palette isn’t infinite, stone gives the designer plenty of possibilities. The strength, texture, hardness, slip resistance, and maintenance requirements of each type of stone vary considerably. Some don’t bear weight as well as others. Some are slippery when wet. Some stones are easy to seal; some are so porous that sealing is nearly impossible.

These differences count. For example, in the cooking area, the priority is for stone that is both slip-resistant and truly sealable. Therefore, if you’re considering stone flooring, a trip to the stone yard to talk with an expert is in order. An expert can tell you what options are available and how they differ in appearance, texture, fade resistance, care required, and, of course, price.

Stone can be cut into irregularly shaped flat slabs, like flagstone, or in rectangles or squares, like slate. It can also be fabricated into consistently shaped tiles and pavers. The consistency of the shape, size, and thickness of your stone pieces will impact the look of the flooring and the labor and expertise required for installation.

With so many great choices, it’s easy to want them all. The good news is you don’t have to limit yourself to one type of outdoor flooring. With thoughtful combinations and careful coordination, you can integrate several of your favorite choices into one cohesive design. In fact, mixing it up this way only enhances your outdoor room. Creative combinations enhance the outdoor room concept.

COORDINATING COLORS

Colors should always coordinate, but don’t be afraid to stretch the boundaries of your imagination. For instance, in one recent project, exposed aggregate flooring is used in the outdoor living room, tumbled concrete pavers for the outdoor kitchen, stamped concrete pads for the pathways, and wet set pavers for the sundeck.

There are many options for turning an outdated or bare landscape into a backyard retreat. All it takes is a designer who has the ability, product and design know-how, and an experienced, licensed contractor to make that dream a reality.

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Scott Cohen is a garden designer, author, and licensed contractor in landscape, pool and general construction whose award-winning work has been frequently showcased on HGTV and in numerous books and national magazines. A charismatic and entertaining speaker, Cohen is also the author of 10 design and construction books, including the award-winning Outdoor Kitchen Design Workbook, Poolscapes, The Candid Contractor, and Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits.

A 3-time Masters of Design Award winner, Scott has been featured on several Home and Garden Television shows such as Cool Pools and Get Out, Way Out! He also serves as a member of the California Contractors Board Industry Expert Program, as a construction defect expert witness, and continues to lobby for ethical Workers’ Compensation practices in the construction industry.