In the last few years, homeowners have shown an increased interest in expanding their living areas to the outdoors, whether it’s to relax, entertain, or simply enjoy nature. Chances are, you have a neighbor or friend who has built a patio, deck, outdoor kitchen, or fire pit area in their back yard.
If you’ve been considering an outdoor living space project of your own, you’re not alone if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Where do I start? What products should I use? Just remember, every project has a starting point and by going one step at a time, what seems like a daunting task, will become a much easier project.
STEP 1. Our first question to a client is always: How will you be using the space? The answer to this question, greatly helps to “narrow the field” of possibilities. Will your primary use of the space be for dining, entertaining, or lounging? If the answer is dining or entertaining, will you want an outdoor cooking area? If the answer is lounging, will you want to incorporate a waterfall, pond, outdoor fireplace, or fire pit? You probably already see where we are headed in asking this question, but each answer begins to create a vision of the finished area.
STEP 2. The next question is - When will you use the space? The answer to this question will determine if shade or lighting will be necessary. If this area receives afternoon sun, perhaps an umbrella in your dining table or a retractable awning makes sense. If you will be using the area primarily in the evening, perhaps some low voltage accent lighting would be a nice addition. This may seem like common sense, but you might be surprised how easy it is to overlook key details while in the planning stages of the project.
STEP 3. Who will be using the space? Will there be small children, teenagers, adults, or a combination of people using the space? Small children may enjoy a play area with a swing set. Teenagers may like to have some space dedicated for playing sports. Adults may like to have a quiet place to relax with a soothing waterfall.
STEP 4. Once the How, When, and Who have been addressed, it’s time to concentrate on What space is available. We like to create a sketch of the available space. What shape is the area? Is the space rectangular? Are there any “quirky” angles? Will there be a need for a privacy barrier? What is the elevation of the space, in other words, is the space flat or hilly? The sketch gives a shape, and the shape helps to create the way in which the area will “flow”. The sketch also helps give a perspective on the scale of the area. Much like decorating the inside of your home, you want your outdoor living space to make sense. You want this area to work for your lifestyle. Ultimately, you want this area to be just as comfortable for you as the inside of your home.
Let’s walk through an example to help tie all this information together. Our homeowners are a couple with no children. They entertain often, so the space will be used for entertaining purposes. Their objective is to create a patio space with a grill area, a dining area, and a fire pit surrounded by lounge chairs. The shape of the outdoor space is rectangular. The area receives strong afternoon sun. The time of day that the space will be used most often is late afternoon and into the evening hours.
We like to work from the foundation up, so the first issue will be to decide what material will be used to construct the patio. Since the area receives strong sun, products like stone and brick are preferred because they stand up better over time to the sun’s harsh rays. There are many “cultured” stone/brick products available which can be a more affordable option than natural stone. At this point, we are not concerned with the color or specific product. These selections will be made as the individual products are selected.
We know our couple would like a grill area. To decide the best type of grill to use, we would ask what foods they regularly grill. Do they grill hamburgers and hot dogs, or are they more “serious” grillers. Having an understanding of their lifestyle is helpful as well. Busy families that are “on the go” will probably prefer a gas grill because it heats up quickly. Whereas retired couples may enjoy the slower pace of a charcoal or pellet grill. The type of cooking coupled with lifestyle, will determine if a gas, charcoal, or pellet grill will be the best option. Our couple happens to be “serious” grillers and would like to have a grill island constructed.
When designing a grill island, first determine what appliances to include. Perhaps a sink and a refrigerator are selected. In this case, a water supply and electric supply will be necessary. If a gas grill is selected, will it operate with natural gas or propane gas? How will the gas source reach the grill? If a pellet grill is selected, an electrical source will be required. It is important to know what supply lines will be needed so that the lines can be placed in the ground before the patio construction begins. This is also the perfect time to address the need for any electrical supply for outdoor lighting.
Now that we have our supply lines under control, we can move on to selecting outdoor furniture for the space. Our example calls for a dining group and a fire pit surrounded by lounge chairs. In selecting the dining furniture, think about how many people on average will require seating.
Our couple wishes to have seating for six people. Since the shape of our area is rectangular, an oval or rectangular table which is 72 to 84 inches in length can comfortably accommodate six people. In addition to the table size, a helpful hint is to allow 2 feet per dining chair. This will allow ample room to move the chairs while giving room to maneuver around the table.
Most outdoor furniture is constructed of some form of aluminum. Aluminum is very popular because it will not rust. If the paint finish is compromised, it may be unsightly until the area is repaired, but no harm will come to the furniture. Wrought iron is very durable, however if the paint finish is compromised, the furniture will rust. A more recent product available in outdoor furniture is Marine Grade Polymer (MGP). This product consists of 70% new polymer and 30% recycled polymer. MGP was first used in the construction of sailing vessels for over 20 years before it’s debut in the outdoor furniture industry. The Marine Grade Polymer is extremely fade resistant because the color is through and through, not a topical treatment.
In addition to the selection of the outdoor furniture frame, there is the choice of fabric. Most frame materials are available in a sling or cushion style. A sling is where the fabric is attached to a weather resistant dowel and the dowel runs through a channel of the frame. Sling outdoor furniture has been available for close to forty years. The advantages of sling furniture include easy cleaning and breathability. In recent years, cushion style furniture has become more popular. The current trend in outdoor furniture incorporates over sized, over stuffed cushions which provide maximum comfort. In addition, accent pillows such as lumbar pillows are a very popular accessory. In our example, sling furniture for the dining space makes sense due to it’s easy maintenance. As far as the seating around the fire pit, cushion action chairs will offer maximum comfort. An action chair is basically a chair that moves. The chair may swivel, glide, rock or be able to do a combination of movements.
To shade our patio, one option would be to use an umbrella designed to go through the dining table. This type of umbrella would be stabilized by using a weighted base underneath of the table. A second option would be to use a cantilever umbrella which is freestanding. Most cantilever umbrellas are a diameter of 10 to 13 feet and are designed to not only cover a larger area, but possibly a dining area at certain times and a seating area at other times. The cantilever umbrella may rotate 360 degrees so that the umbrella moves as you do. Many cantilever umbrellas have a tilt and lock feature as well. A third option would be a retractable awning. The awning frame may be mounted to the outside of your home in a number of ways. When the awning is not in use, the arms retract tight to the frame and are usually covered by a hood for protection from the weather.
Our last component to our patio is the fire pit. There are fire pits for burning wood or gas. If you are using a wood burning fire pit on a wooden deck, make sure to use a noncombustible mat underneath the fire pit for added protection from sparks and embers. As far as the wood you choose to burn in your fire pit, one of the more popular species of wood that is available is Pinion. This wood has a very pleasing fragrance and is available in sizes specially cut to work appropriately with the size and shape of most fire pit models.
Today, gas fire pits are increasing in popularity. A gas fire pit may include logs, lava rock, glass, or stones as the media which covers the burner. Most gas burning fire pits are shipped for use with propane gas, however natural gas conversion is an option. Since there is no production of sparks or embers during the burning of gas, they may be located directly onto a combustible surface. However, they do require a location that is not under roof. This is due to the byproducts of burning gas which includes soot. If located under a roof, the soot will coat the ceiling and create a big mess. The burner assembly is constructed of stainless steel and most fire pits include a protective cover. Some fire pits even have remote control options available.
Come see our large display of grills and outdoor furniture!
Come see our large display of grills and outdoor furniture!