By Carline Martin
Welcome to The Real Scoop. This monthly column is intended to help homeowners and potential homeowners in our community address a variety of home related and real estate issues. As a Realtor, I am often approached by many homeowners and buyers to provide answers for a variety of questions pertaining to all things home related. In my quest to provide answers, I have relied on my own expertise, as well as that of many trade professionals I have come to know in our community. The information I have provided has been deemed very useful and greatly appreciated, so I have decided to share what I know with the Greenwich community. Here is this month’s selected question:
Q: Every spring I contemplate how I could make use of unutilized yard space outside my home. I love spending time outside in warm weather months and would like to create more outdoor living space. Although I have some great ideas, I am overwhelmed by how to turn my ideas into reality. Can you offer some guidance that may help?
A.: Because we are limited to only a few months of mild weather in the northeast,
we are eager to make the most of our time outdoors while we can. Outdoor living
spaces are becoming increasingly popular, allowing us to maximize outdoor
enjoyment. We are no longer limited to a few lawn chairs and a charcoal grill. With
a little vision and some careful planning, you can turn any outdoor space into an
open-air, mirror image of your comfortable indoor living space. With the inclusion
of an outdoor fireplace, you could enjoy relaxing outdoors well into the colder
months. You did not say how much space you have to work with or the scope of
your intended project, so we will explore a few scenarios to get you started.
First, you need to decide what kind of living space you are envisioning. While the
Covid quarantine had made us all a little stir crazy, people were inspired to move
outdoors while staying at home. Many hatched some very creative ideas for how
they could utilize outdoor space by constructing cozy outdoor living rooms, elegant
dining and entertaining areas, full-service kitchens and “she shed/man cave”
structures from which to work or just get away for some privacy. Your possibilities
can be virtually endless.
Tying the theme of your outdoor living space to the interior of your home will allow for seamless flow. This will give the illusion that the outdoors is a continuation of the indoors. Folding or sliding doors leading from your home to the outdoor living area will enhance the flow. Bi-folding patio doors, in particular, achieve a more seamless transition to the outdoors because the absence of a vertical support beam allows for a clean opening. Nana-wall, Jeldwen, Pella and Marvin are among the manufacturers of these type of door systems. It is important to choose an installer who is skilled at installing these types of doors as additional support will be necessary.
Lighting will also add to the ambiance of a cozy living space. Warm, understated lighting can be achieved with outdoor table lamps, string lights, lanterns and candles. If you do not have outdoor outlets and do not wish to install any, there are many solar options that work quite well in a sunny location.
For additional effect, consider adding lighting that will accentuate plantings or sculptures. Use a single spotlight to create a focal point of larger plantings or sculptures or a series of smaller lights to create a halo around smaller plantings or objects. Upward lighting at the base of a lovely tree will add a nice highlight, or string lights along it’s branches. Lighting will be the backbone of your outdoor ambience. Play around with it, if necessary, until you have achieved your desired effect. It is important to remember that when using lighting outdoors, to only use outdoor fixtures and bulbs.
Just as lighting is the backbone of your ambience, furniture will be the backbone of your comfort. It is important to invest in furniture that not only looks nice but feels nice. The importance of cozy couches and chairs that swallow you up, that are comfortable enough to fall asleep in, should not be overlooked. While Rattan furniture with deep, soft cushions makes a lovely statement, authentic Rattan will not fare very well outdoors in our northeastern climate. However, there are outdoor sets made of resin that rival the look of Rattan, that will fare quite nicely. This aspect of your project should not be skimped on. If you are not comfortable in your outdoor space, it won’t matter how nice it looks.
Depending on your budget and the scope of your project, there are additional things that can be done to further expand your outdoor living experience. The creation of an outdoor kitchen, bar or the installation of a pool and/or pool house are very popular trends in outdoor living. These projects, however, are not simple DIY projects and should be considered under the direction of an architect or proper developer.
I recently spoke with Dimitry Melnikov of Putnam Design, LLC. Putnam Design is a local kitchen design firm located in Cos Cob. According to Dimitry, creating an outdoor kitchen follows the same principles as creating an indoor kitchen. The project should be approached with lifestyle in mind. Consider how you like to cook and entertain and how you like to spend your outdoor time. Your outdoor kitchen can be as simple or as sophisticated as you’d like.
Start by choosing the appliances you will need to meet your cooking and entertaining vision. Stainless steel appliances are most weather tolerant. Sub Zero and Wolf offer a nice line designed specifically for outdoors. Essentially, any appliance you like to use indoors, you can install in your outdoor kitchen, provided it is made for outdoors.
Once your appliances have been chosen, the rest of the kitchen should be designed around it. You should try to incorporate your kitchen into the surrounding landscape. As with appliances, materials chosen should be made from a weather tolerant material such as stainless steel or a composite that is weatherproof. If you prefer quartz counters, there is a type of quartz used in outdoor kitchens that is more durable and will withstand weather better than quartz used for indoor kitchens. It is a bit more pricey than indoor quartz but will save you aggravation and money in the long run. Discuss your options with your kitchen designer.
Finally, just as with any indoor cooking space, it is important to install proper ventilation. There are a variety of outdoor range hoods and ventilation systems available. Again, you should discuss your options with your kitchen designer so you may choose the best option for your kitchen.
If your outdoor entertaining plan does not include cooking, you can still create a welcoming space to enjoy the warm months with friends and family. The addition of a bar to your outdoor living space can make your parties the hit of your social circle. Poolside bars are no longer limited to a bar cart or cooler. Today’s outdoor bars can include all the elements of a proper indoor wet bar, complete with refrigeration and taps. The addition of an outdoor television can bring everyone together to watch sporting events or your favorite shows and movies. Again, it is important to discuss this with your designer to make sure that you are choosing materials that are suited for outdoors. You cannot, simply, move your indoor television outdoors. Samsung and Furrion are only 2 manufacturers who make televisions for outdoors. It is advisable to have the installation done by a professional. Depending on how sophisticated you would like your outdoor entertainment system to be, you may wish to consult an installer of outdoor theater systems.
In the northeastern United States, most of us spend months indoors, pining for the few, short months we can move outdoors to enjoy the summer weather. It seems all too soon that the cool weather returns and we must migrate back indoors. Outdoor living can be extended well into the cooler months with the addition on an outdoor fireplace or fire pit. Fire pits and some outdoor fireplaces can be purchased at local DIY stores. However, depending on your budget, you can have a fireplace incorporated as part of your outdoor living space
that can be as much of an architectural focal point as your indoor fireplace. If this is part of your plan, you should discuss this with your designer or architect when beginning your project.
One important note, projects such as outdoor kitchens and pool houses require a permit and must adhere to municipal guidelines, it is important to consult an architect or your local municipality before beginning your project to avoid any violations. If you are planning an outdoor project and are seeking a referral for a professional who can assist, please contact me.
Carline Martin is a Greenwich native and Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway/New England Properties in Greenwich. She may be reached at email@example.com or at 203-249-9975.
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