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Homeowners Warming Up to Outdoor Living

Homeowners are opening their wallets to upgrade their outdoor living spaces. More than 70 percent of residential architecture firms said outdoor living spaces top the list for most-desired home features, according to the latest Home Design Trends Survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects. From decking to kitchens to detached living areas, here are the key elements and considerations when taking on an outdoor living project.


Decking Outdoor Kitchens Detached Living Areas
Decking creates an appealing transition between indoors and outdoors. Because they are directly exposed to the elements, decks will not be as durable as the rest of the home unless they employ weather-resistant materials. Pay special attention to how decking attaches to the house and consider the amount of maintenance that will be required of homeowners as their deck ages. An outdoor kitchen transforms exterior living space into a true entertainment area. Homeowners can access vital appliances without reentering the house, which affords them more time to interact with guests. The most important consideration when specifying outdoor kitchens comes down to functionality—or how well the space serves the people who will use it most often. Separate from the home, detached living spaces can take on any number of identities. From office space to a mother-in-law suite, or just a place to relax and hang out with family and friends, detached living spaces offer homeowners a clean slate with ample opportunity for an upsell.


Wood and composite are the two most common decking materials. Maintenance is the biggest issue; wood decking demands the most maintenance, while composite decking requires little-to-no maintenance. Of course, different materials have vastly different price points as well. When working with homeowners on a decking project, it's critical to determine their budget and whether they plan to put the time and effort into deck maintenance.

Folding Door

A folding door establishes continuity between interior and exterior living spaces. It makes a room seem much larger than it is and creates better access from indoors to outdoors—and vice versa. Folding doors also employ an operating system that enables them to be moved to the side smoothly and stowed away neatly so they don't obstruct views when open.

Railings/Sight Lines

Railings provide safety and support for a deck, but they can also set an outdoor living space apart from the neighbors. Choose railing that requires little-to-no maintenance and doesn't hinder sight lines once people take a seat on the deck. Railing designs that use materials such as glass and steel cable ensure that sweeping views are preserved.


A pergola frames views and openings and can give outdoor living spaces a strong vertical element. Pergolas also produce shade over areas set aside for entertainment and relaxation, particularly when they're covered with climbing plants.


Ambient lighting is essential for any outdoor living space, and it's important to include enough lighting in the keys areas of an outdoor layout. These areas include gathering points on the deck such as the grill, outdoor kitchen and dining spaces. Lighting should even be considered for the patio surface.

Stair Lighting

Illuminating the stairways in outdoor living areas is critically important as well. Whether it's just a few stairs or multiple stairs, lighting is one way to enhance the space and create a safer environment. Specify lighting that has automatic dusk-to-dawn sensors.


A grill is the anchor of an outdoor kitchen. Make sure to specify a stainless steel model for improved durability and ask homeowners about their cooking preferences so the space can be optimized for functionality.


Installing a dishwasher enables homeowners to clean up after meals without having to carry dishes back into the house. Recommend a stainless steel dishwasher so that it can withstand harsh weather.


An outdoor sink gives homeowners ample room to prep meals and provides space for dirty dishes before they go into the dishwasher. Encourage clients to select a size and style that fulfills both aesthetic and functional desires.

Ventilation Hood

If the outdoor cooking area is located under a roof, proper ventilation becomes a must. The size of the hood and the capacity of the fan should properly match the cooking equipment.


The ability to store perishable items outdoors eliminates the need to go back inside every time someone asks for a cold drink. An outdoor refrigerator can also cut the time it takes to gather ingredients.


If homeowners believe they need a lot of ice, it's wise for them to invest in an icemaker. Portable icemakers are also available, with the benefit being that they can be stored away when no longer needed.

Waste or Recycling Bins

Stashing the trash in an outdoor kitchen can take up valuable space. Flush or proud mount waste and recycling bins with full-extension slides and removable drawers for easy cleaning.


Durable, low-maintenance, water-resistant cabinets in stainless steel, polymer or teak are the best options for an outdoor application. Ensure the interior fasteners and slides are weather-resistant as well.

Food Prep Area (Countertops)

Countertop space is at a premium in outdoor kitchens. Be sure to remind homeowners that their outdoor kitchen is going to be smaller than the indoor kitchen. As a result, it's important to specify ample countertop space.

Dining Area

The dining area can be constructed in a number of ways. Does the homeowner plan to entertain large groups? Is bar seating at the countertops an option for additional seating? Ensure the dining area doesn't overwhelm the outdoor kitchen in order to allow people to move freely throughout the space.

Fire Elements

Outdoor fire elements provide the focal point of a relaxing atmosphere for entertaining. They also allow homeowners to spend more time outdoors throughout the year, as they offer warmth and light during the colder months. Location, function, design, size, material and fuel options for the fire element are all critical aspects to discuss with homeowners.


If the homeowner is looking to make an outdoor TV a permanent fixture, it should be rated for outdoor use. Outdoor TVs differ from indoor models because they have extra-bright panels and can reduce glare to produce a better picture. It is important to ensure the TV, mount, electrical and cables are all waterproofed. Size and weight of the TV also matter, so make sure the installation area can handle the load.

Ceiling Fans

As with any electrical installation, the wiring and components must be rated for outdoor use, which includes the junction box. Most outdoor ceiling fans offer the same features as indoor ceiling fans, but they are designed and built to withstand a wide array of weather conditions to provide ventilation and circulation in outdoor applications.


Homeowners will tell you they want beautiful landscaping that is practically maintenance-free. Flowers, trees, shrubs, lawns and gardens all provide a calming aesthetic to any outdoor living space. Consult with homeowners to incorporate their personal needs into the natural characteristics of the landscape.

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