CALL OF NATURE
Seven outdoor living trends shaping the future of luxury design
The desire to spend time in the outdoors has been part of the human spirit since the beginning of time. Nature not only has the power to make us feel better emotionally, but it also contributes to our physical well-being. But what if we could spend more time outside, living with all the same comforts that we enjoy inside? It’s the dream of many luxury homeowners today.
The backyard — long an afterthought in architectural design — is basking in the spotlight. According to a national survey of more than 500 residential-architecture fi rms in the fi rst quarter of 2016, the American Institute of Architects found that 69% of fi rms saw increased demand for outdoor living space — the second-highest response since the question was fi rst asked in 2005. Industry analysts even predicted that the market would top $5.7 billion in 2016. Decks and patios are getting bigger. Pools with waterfalls and air-conditioned cabanas rival those found at fi ve-star resorts. Outdoor kitchens are hot. Homeowners are adding not one, but two outdoor rooms — one covered and one uncovered. All across Florida, high-end homeowners are incorporating elements like motorized screens and fl at-screen TVs — previously relegated to the indoors — to maximize enjoyment of their outdoor spaces today. No doubt, builders, architects and outdoor living designers are leading the charge across the Sunshine State, where demand for posh outdoor playgrounds has increased tenfold.
“There was a time when Realtors® couldn’t sell a fl oor plan without a master tub — it was considered a must-have in a home,” remembers Tony Weremeichik, principal of Orlando-based architectural design studio Canin Associates. “Homeowners are sold that dream, whatever it is, and then they are willing to pay the price for that dream. It’s the same with outdoor spaces today. Homeowners are saying, ‘My dream is to entertain outdoors.’ And so now, we are seeing this proliferation of outdoor living rooms and kitchens — sometimes over the top. The outdoor living space has become the modern-day master tub.”
In terms of resale value, there is an upside to having a professionally designed outdoor space. When comparing two homes with similar features — view, square footage and bed/bath count — the house with the enhanced backyard will usually have the edge, says Weremeichik. This is especially true in Florida, according to Kevin Keene, president of Boca Raton-based Outdoor Living: “People want to take advantage of the very reason why they’re living in Florida — otherwise, they would live in Michigan.”
As a result, outdoor design in Florida has become much more sophisticated and customized, requiring thoughtful planning from experienced design professionals. Notes Weremeichik: “You’ll see a lot of architects and designers focusing on the interior fl oor plan but who do not give the outdoor spaces much thought, if at all. It’s a lost opportunity. You really need to design an outdoor living space as bonus square footage and an extension of the house.”
With that in mind, we asked Keene and Weremeichik to help us identify the most exciting trends making a splash in the outdoor living world this year.
1. Resort Style
One trend that will continue to gain ground in 2017 is the focus on resort-like outdoor living spaces at home. Many residential architects and designers are even taking cues from the hospitality industry, where much attention is given to creating beautiful outdoor settings where people can relax and unwind. Desiring to create that same vacation lifestyle at home, affl uent homeowners are adding outdoor pavilions — sometimes with a full bathroom and shower — to their backyards. They also like the idea of having two living spaces, one shaded and one unshaded.
“When you look at the Miami hotels, for instance, there is a pool that’s uncovered, and then there are usually covered cabanas if guests don’t want to lay out in the
full sun,” says Weremeichik. “Homeowners want that same resort feel at home.”
2. Made in the Shade
Building off of the resort design movement, Keene says “comfortable shade” is a hot-ticket item right now. “What this entails is a separate structure that is designated just for outdoor lounging and often includes the outdoor kitchen and a bar,” he says. “These shaded structures typically range from 18 to 20 feet wide, and 28 to 30 feet long, to make it feel like you’re outside and yet you’re still comfortable in the shade. You’re more likely to see this in ultra-high-end residences in areas such as Boca
Raton and larger estates in Miami.”
3. Indoor Meets Outdoor
Maintaining a seamless indoor/outdoor connection is another key component for creating an attractive outdoor living space today. “Designers are blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor as much as possible,” says Weremeichik. “Many homeowners also view the outdoor space as extra footage.”
Like Keene, he is using wider openings to connect un-air-conditioned outdoor space to air-conditioned space. He is also seeing a lot of glass or use of accordion glass doors, which open up to the outside. “The idea is that the two spaces are completely open to each other and flow seamlessly between each other,” he says. “Your friends or family can be lounging in the living area, watching TV, while you’re cooking in the outdoor kitchen, and it’s all open.”
Keene agrees: “The overall design fl ow is how it relates to the inside of the home. From an aesthetic perspective, I want to design a space so it looks bigger. But I also want to make sure the vantage point of the outdoor space can be seen when people walk into the house — so people are pulled outdoors.” Keene says it’s important to keep the placement of the outdoor living space in mind, “so you’re not making 10 trips back and forth from your interior kitchen to your grill when you’re entertaining.”
Weremeichik says it’s also really important to pay attention to proportions. “It’s vital to design those outdoor spaces for the right dimension, as you would a living room or a dining room,” he says. “You might have large outdoor living room furniture or dining room furniture, so you must design the circulation around that furniture for comfort. You can’t have a 10-foot patio and call it an ‘outdoor living room’ if you can’t walk around the furniture comfortably.”
4. Fire Power
The element of fi re has had an effect on humans since prehistoric times. It represents energy, warmth and passion — and in the backyard, it’s a place where people naturally want to congregate. Homeowners are fi nding new ways to incorporate fi re into their outdoor spaces.
“It’s an emerging feature,” says Keene. “In my experience, people are more comfortable sitting by fi re than by water. Fire is more social than water, if you think about it. It’s a great gathering place for people.” Built-in fi re pits at the bar or kitchen, and fi replaces built into the wall are common touches to modern outdoor spaces. Some design-savvy homeowners are even blending water and fi re by placing fi re pits in the center of their pools for a dramatic effect.
Weremeichik is also seeing a rise in requests for fi re elements at his fi rm. Modern gas fi replaces, placed at the outdoor living room, are often installed for ambiance and style — especially in markets like Miami, he says. Fire bowls by the pool or fire pits in uncovered spaces, placed off to the side of a pool, are common. Fire tables are also popular, “since they can be brought indoors,” says Weremeichik. Another key fi re element is the outdoor grill in the kitchen.
“People want to cook,” says Keene, who has built and designed over 2,000 outdoor kitchens in Florida. “In our experience, people barbecue more than they cook inside. The outdoor kitchen tends to be the heart of the outdoor living space.”
5. Material Beauty
Everyone knows it’s the details that distinguish an ordinary outdoor space from an extraordinary one. In Central and South Florida, both Weremeichik and Keene have been warmed by a number of new and exciting materials gaining appeal. Manufactured materials such as wood-look porcelain tile and composite plastics are enjoying a moment. Weremeichik has begun to receive a lot of requests for porcelain tile that is made to look like wood slats, which can fl ex from indoor to outdoor easily.
“You can do the fl oor of a large family room in the tile, and it just continues out to your outdoor living space,” he says.
On decks, he’s heard of some builders using a composite plastic material from a company called Trex.
“It never warps and it doesn’t get moldy, and you can screw it right in, just like wood,” he says. “It’s a great solution, especially for second-fl oor balconies in Florida, because it’s so humid here and wood decks so often rot out over time. Builders like it, too, because they get fewer callbacks. It just makes sense. Some people may view it negatively because it’s not ‘the real thing.’ But homeowners are not going to need to replace their deck or balcony in 10 years. I’ve had clients specifically ask for it.”
In South Florida, Keene doesn’t install much composite. Instead, he says ipe wood from Brazil is quite popular among his clients because it can “stand up to the elements.” He does add, however, that there are some new luxury wood products from Italy, which have been dried at 1,400 degrees, that excite him. “There’s little maintenance with this product,” he says.
Another manufactured product that excites him: artistic concrete. “It’s made of GRSC fi ber cement,” he says. “You can create some really cool countertops out of it. It’s pretty exciting and challenging to work with, too.” However, both Keene and Weremeichik report that the overwhelming majority of their outdoor projects still use pavers — concrete, brick or stone, such as travertine. Keene does not set his pavers in concrete but sets them in sand for longevity.
“If they’re not using the wood-look tile, they’re using travertine in living rooms and using the same fl oor so that it continuously fl ows from indoor to outdoor for one
continuous space,” says Weremeichik.
6. Going Green
Believe it or not, artificial grass has enjoyed great improvements over the years and has cropped up in outdoor living designs throughout South Florida, especially in cities like Miami where contemporary style is king.
“I’m seeing it — especially in areas where there is a lot of shade,” says Keene. “We like to use it in between travertine pavers to create diagonal patterns. The reason we’re seeing it more and more is because it doesn’t require irrigation. Sprinklers will keep the pavers wet all the time, and they can get moldy. Artificial turf manufacturers have really come along in the advancement of turf; it’s hard to tell the difference.”
For the finest Florida homes, technology is not a “nice-to-have” but a “musthave” feature — and it’s just as important for the outdoors as it is for the indoors. Wiring for outdoor TV screens is a given — and TVs are everywhere in today’s luxury backyards: above the bar, above the fireplace in the lounge area, in the dining room.
“TVs are becoming the norm, because on a really nice night, you can watch a movie outdoors while in the pool or sitting by a fire feature,” says Weremeichik. “That’s part of entertaining.”
Keene agrees: “Nine out of 10 of my projects have a television built-in. TVs are very important. It’s part of entertaining. People also see the outdoor living area as
an extension of the house. It’s just another zone.”
Other favorite outdoor technical features in Florida are permanent aluminum screens that are motorized.
“Controlled via remote, these retractable screens drop down in between the columns of the outdoor pavilion, and you can enjoy the evening hours outdoors without the worry of insects,” says Weremeichik. “Those screens, in some cases, hold in 80% of your air-conditioning if it’s an indoor/outdoor space. You can keep our doors open and let the air flow to your outdoor patio.”
All of Keene’s luxury residential projects have some sort of smart home technology integration, he says. Weremeichik has seen an uptick, as well. “This technology is slowly creeping its way into new homes, and home design and building professionals must adapt new plan designs to accommodate these needs,” he notes.
Lighting is another important consideration. From task lighting (so you can grill at night) to dimmable ambient lighting, the trend is moving in one direction and one direction only: “Everything is LED right now,” says Keene.