Planning an outdoor living area requires as much effort as a remodeling project inside the home. Technology has significantly expanded the range and number of products which comprise the outdoor living category, making the task more complex. Yet, it is this new era of products which makes outdoor living so enjoyable.
Many of today’s “Outdoor Living” spaces include an outdoor kitchen, a dining and deep seating area, fire pit and conversation areas.
For example, Infrared or radiant heat in cooking and space heating has changed the way we grill, and extends the time we spend outdoors. Sophisticated plastic weaving is the main component of stylish furniture which is long lasting, impervious to weather and looks like original wicker. The introduction of fade resistant breathable fabrics has allowed the development of deep seating furniture which can be left out doors and awnings that provide shade on the patio, as well as inside the home, yet automatically retract if left alone during high wind.
Improvements to traditional materials like teak with new methods of cleaning and restoration, and new hardwoods that need no maintenance, are now available. Lastly, there is furniture compounded from plastic, made largely from recycled materials that do not stain, warp, or need painting.
Here we briefly consider the different elements of an “Outdoor Lifestyle” in the Midwest.
Each section and options within should be considered in a patio plan. A landscape plan is a separate consideration.
Design: Begin with an idea and a budget. Consider what outdoor activities you enjoy and want to do more frequently. Develop a plan of implementation; not everything must be done at once, then seek professional advice. Much as you would employ the services of a professional to design your indoor kitchen, select someone who specializes in outdoor lifestyle planning and has resources available to put the plan into action. For instance can your current deck or patio be integrated most efficiently with your new ideas for a new “Outdoor Living” area?
An outdoor lifestyle planner determines the ideal flow of traffic, the activities which need to be accommodated and where best to locate them. Time of day and typical duration of activities are considered. Together with your designer, you work within your budget to build a plan based on your lifestyle needs. Your designer is trained to ask the right questions to identify what is most important to you.
Elements of an Outdoor Living Plan:
Shade: The time of day will determine when to use (or not) your patio area; the introduction of shade may be a first requirement. If a permanent structure is not feasible, then an awning could be the answer. Popular today are retractable awnings, which offer all the benefits of shade, yet can be used at will, negating the need to remove the awning upon a change of season. Also, you may want one that retracts automatically in the wind should you be away. Please also remember that shade is equally beneficial to your interior space.
Appliances: Today’s outdoor kitchens are as simple or complex as your budget will allow. Grilling itself has choices: by convection with Charcoal or Gas which can dry out food, or radiant infrared heat, offering high temperatures and little airflow. Each form has benefits, so all might be used in a kitchen design. Consider energy use. What else you may require: Sink, Warming Drawer, Refrigerator, Ice Maker and Dishwasher, new this year. Quality and durability of the appliance products need to be factored into the “Total Cost” calculation.
Food Prep and Storage: There are 2 approaches to creating cabinetry for your outdoor kitchen. One is to build the ideal fixed structure, with cabinets encased in wood or stone to enclose your appliances and provide preparation surface. Modular cabinetry is a second option. Select a watertight cabinet style of material such as double wall steel that offers the stability of stationary cabinets, yet can be purchased and rearranged as you expand the appliances in your center.
Furniture: Here the Designer inquires about entertaining, relaxation, conversation, and dining. One of the first questions to be answered is whether the activities take place in areas unprotected from the weather. This determines the kind of finish, seating, and frame material. Wicker is a generic term for woven furniture; however it can come in wood such as rattan, or paper wrapped wire, neither of which are suited to exposure to the elements; whereas a woven resin can be used under any conditions. Fabrics for cushions are an important consideration, as there is great variability in how quickly material can fade or dry. Frames vary: Wood, Steel, Cast or Extruded Metals, and Plastic, each presents its own features and benefits. A final note on good quality outdoor furniture; it is as sturdy as it is good looking. As a result, it is not inexpensive.
Heating: In the mid-west summers, an outdoor gathering need not move inside should the night turn chilly. Outdoor heating units come in many forms. Gas fire tables and fire pits (some to burn wood) have become very popular. Portable and fixed heaters are options in Propane or Infrared radiant heat. Infrared units burn far less energy, (less expensive), are quicker to start and to reach a warm temperature, and are far less susceptible to extinguishing in a breeze.
Lighting: Consideration needs to be given to how and when the area is going to be used. Ambient lighting, mounted on a pergola, lamps which are attractive and weatherproof, and gas fixtures mounted to a wall giving off a most pleasant flame are possibilities.
Accessories: A final component to consider in one’s new “Outdoor Living” center is the use of personally chosen decoration. Items to think about include wall art, sculpture, and water features. Moving water is one of the most peaceful and lovely sounds when added to the conversation area.
In summary, “Outdoor Living” is a way of life for families in Michigan. The elements of this lifestyle are varied and complex. If you want to enjoy the outdoors more, first define your goals and consider all components available. Then seek a designer who will play a vital role in developing resources, understanding your vision, and who will create the solution for your outdoor dream.