by Brenda Miller, Designer of Interior Spaces, The Miller House
Even though landscape and patio space is often overlooked, outdoor renovations and redesigns make for perfect outdoor spaces for family and fun. An outdoor space is a great way to give your “blah” house a much-needed boost while creating a place to enjoy the sunshine.
Define what you really want from your outdoor room. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to begin designing a space just for one purpose. Some people love being out in the elements, while others are sensitive to wind and sun; some love entertaining, while others want to enjoy a space as a spa-like retreat.
These questions may help you to get a better sense of what you really hope to get out of your outdoor room:
- Do you prefer to spend time in your yard with family and friends or alone?
- How do you want to use your outdoor space — to cook, dine, lounge and play? Or do a combination of those?
- Do you mind carrying food, utensils, etc. from the house to the yard, or would you rather have easier access?
- Do you like the feeling of sitting out in the elements, or do you prefer a more sheltered space?
- How important is privacy to you?
- What times of day do you like to use your yard?
Set your budget ahead of time, and work carefully with your designer to make sure you stick to it. You may want to do some research ahead of time on materials and landscaping techniques that are appropriate for your location and style.
Have you ever found yourself running back and forth between cooking indoors and cooking outdoors on a warm afternoon? The best way to prevent this from happening is to properly design your outdoor kitchen so that it can function like your indoor kitchen. Now, this doesn’t mean you need a large outdoor kitchen. In fact, a small one might be just what you need.
Benefits of an outdoor kitchen
- It’s a great entertaining source both for social and family gatherings.
- Cooking outdoors in the summer can keep your air conditioning bill down. Cooking emits heat which warms the home.
- It keeps both the mess and clean-up outdoors.
- All your cooking is done in the same space.
- Elaborate outdoor kitchens can also add to the real estate value of your house and may help you if you plan to move away after a few years. According to the Property and Environment Research Center, in the Northeast, 43 percent of homeowners report having an outdoor room.
Though all these numbers do not all include outdoor kitchens, these statistics show the growing trend among Americans: let’s take the kitchen outside!
The location should preferably be near the house to save walking and carrying of supplies. An existing backyard patio can become a great foundation for your kitchen and avoid the need of making structural modifications. You could also make a backyard deck for a more elaborate setup.
There are three common designs of the outdoor kitchen grill islands which form the core of your outdoor kitchen.
A basic island features a grill, a sink and a little space where you chop or store supplies. It works great for light cooking.
This configuration allows separate spaces for cooking and preparing food.Seating arrangements are usually next to the grill island.
U-shaped Center Island
The third common design is the U-shaped kitchen island. It provides specific areas for cooking prep and eating food. An advantage of this design is that food can be served straight from the grill while still conversing with guests/family.
I suggest that you place your beer or water tap at the end of the bar. This will allow people to come up to the kitchen without interfering with the cook. Proper placement of the mini fridge is important, too. You don’t want too many people in the kitchen, and keeping these types of appliances at the end of the bar will control where people congregate near the kitchen.
An outdoor kitchen can help you slow down and spend more time with family and friends by putting all the ingredients for outdoor dining close at hand. It can be as simple as a storage cabinet for cooking gear or as elaborate as a full kitchen with grill, refrigerator, sink and eating area. Either way, your yard will gain an outside “room” that’s a natural gathering spot for those beautiful sunny days.
More than nearly any other outdoor feature I can think of, a fireplace (or fire pit or bowl) instantly makes the yard the place where everyone wants to be. It easily becomes the focal point of a space, drawing friends and family together around its warm glow. Your vision might include kids roasting marshmallows over a fire pit, or relaxing with a glass of wine in the evening in front of a beautiful fireplace. Just be sure to design the “just-right” fire feature for you and your family.
Whether you are building your own fire pit, or hiring pros to install a custom version, it is important to know how to make your outdoor fireplace safe for all. Be sure to keep a wide area around the fireplace or pit cleared of plantings, fencing and even the siding of your house — anything that could potentially cause a fire to spread. And be sure to check local fire safety codes before starting your project.
Extend your indoor living space with a deck. No matter the size of your yard, pay attention to the transitional space between indoors and out. Having large windows or French or sliding glass doors leading onto a deck will lure you outside. Even a small deck can be enough space for a few pots of herbs and a pair of chairs.
Most modern wicker furniture is made of a very durable, synthetic material that resists sun damage much better than natural (wood) wicker does.
However, it requires regular cleaning, as dust and dirt can get stuck in between every little woven piece. Use basic dish washing soap, rinse and dry to prevent long-term damage and mildew growth. The paint on wicker may start to peel after a while as well. Remove peels with fine sandpaper and touch up the paint.
The sun can seriously fade wicker, so it’s a good idea to cover it if it’s going to be outside for more than two to three weeks. Invest in waterproof furniture covers if you’re worried about long-term care.
Wood furniture should be sealed with an exterior varnish for ultimate protection, with the exception of teak and cedar. The best way to protect wood from sun damage is to keep it covered when it’s not in use, or at least pull it into the shade.
You should also clean and rinse outdoor wood furniture at the beginning of each season. Gently sand it once a year to get rid of any discoloration from the sun, and then coat it with outdoor varnish or a wax with UV protection.
Most metal outdoor furniture resists sun damage fairly well. Rust is the biggest threat, although many new metal pieces are treated with a rust-resistant chemical needing much less maintenance. If yours isn’t rust treated, seal it with paste wax after gently cleaning it. Rust spots can be doctored with a rust remover from the hardware store. Damage to outdoor furniture is inevitable. Sunshine is one of the trickiest to watch out for. It’s difficult to remember that the sun’s rays don’t just age your skin — they age your furniture too.
The best way to keep outdoor furniture looking its best for many summers is to maintain it regularly. This means cleaning and applying surface protectors and covering up furniture when it’s not in use.
Finishing Touches with Sunbrella
No outdoor space is complete without accessories such as a collection of throw pillows. Pillows tie the look of a room together with color and texture and can easily be changed.
Fabric is very susceptible to sun damage. Cotton and acrylic fabrics can turn almost all white in a particularly hot summer. If you’re dealing with faded fabrics, there’s no good solution. Your best option is replacing them with a better-quality version like Sunbrella. Many of my clients have great pillows, but they just don’t fit the design plan. Why waste a good piece of foam? If you have a pillow that is faded or you just don’t care for the color(s), let’s make a pillow slip cover for it! I create pillow slip covers with a zipper so they can easily be removed. For outdoor pillows, I always recommend we make the slip covers from Sunbrella fabric.
Sunbrella fabrics do tend to be more expensive, but they won’t fade in the sun, they resist stains, and water just beads right off. Sunbrella fabrics are engineered for a lifespan of two to ten times longer than conventional fabrics.
History of Sunbrella
In the early 1980s the Sunbrella team was approached with the idea to make fabric for furniture. The idea was simple—take the winning formula of high-performance awning fabric with the look and feel of cotton, to outdoor furniture. The Sunbrella team had a vision of durable umbrellas and furniture cushions made of Sunbrella. At the time, vinyl was the most popular material for outdoor furniture and a high-performance fabric that looked like an indoor fabric was almost too good to be true. But again, Sunbrella became a popular choice. Over the years, all of the nation’s leading casual furniture manufacturers have adopted Sunbrella fabrics for their furniture lines. Thanks to intricate jacquard weaving, innovative yarn constructions and advanced fabric finishes, the design and manufacturing Sunbrella introduced fabrics that match the look and feel of fine interior fabrics. The same fabric that you trust for your outdoor upholstery is beautiful enough to transform the way you view the performance of indoor fabrics.
Today you will find Sunbrella throughout the home: from decks, patios and poolside, to dining rooms, family rooms and even kitchen and bath. The Miller House in Stephens City, Va., offers a wonderful selection of Sunbrella fabrics. Turning a yard, patio, porch or other outdoor area into a functional living space can be as complicated or simple as you desire, but it will expand your living space to the outdoors. With the right setup, you can spend more time in the sunshine and fresh air and host events for friends and family.