Patio Pleasures

By Chelle Cordero

January 2, 2009 5 min read


Turn your patio into a lounge area, an outdoor kitchen or both

Chelle Cordero

Creators News Service

Home is a place of refuge. Maybe it's because of gas prices, the cost of movie tickets or the high price of babysitters, but today's family prefers to stay at home to entertain, relax and otherwise "chill out."

While the backyard barbecue may be old news, more and more families are moving their living spaces to the outdoors and looking for all of the creature comforts of home. Turning an otherwise simple patio into a fully equipped outdoor kitchen makes for easy and fashionable entertaining.

Even non-gourmet cooks seem to produce more flavorful meals when cooked over a bed of coals or a grill. Depending on the investment, outdoor living areas can be turned into year-round resorts.

There are also those who prefer to eat indoors but still lounge outside. Either way, the choice is yours. "Home is not where you live your life -- it's HOW you live your life," said Wendy L. Perry, consultant at Outdoor Living based in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Backyards can become your personal oasis with some planning. Fire pits can be used for warmth on a chilly fall night. Overhead awnings can be used to shade you from the hot sun. Careful landscaping can turn a stone walkway into a tempting journey.

Today's home-building vocabulary includes words like al fresco (in the fresh air), patio (Spanish for back garden), lanai (Hawaiian covered room), veranda (open-walled roofed porch) and portico (covered walkway with columns supporting it). Perhaps you would want a simple courtyard or terrace, or a freestanding pavilion or a cabana? The outdoor extensions might be just off of your home's kitchen or around the pool.


Chris Heiler, a landscape designer for Fountainhead Gardens in Zeeland, Mich., said that his first priorities before starting work on any outdoor kitchen or leisure are is to first learn what the client want from the area. "For what exact activities do they want to use the space?" he asked. "What time of day will they use the space? How many people will use the space? How do you want to feel in the space -- relaxed [or] energized? What specific elements do you require -- a built-in grill, fireplace, screening, overhead coverage, etc.?"

His sample client questionnaire that must be filed out before any plans are made asks for the client's visions and the three most important reasons for landscaping.

Budget is also important. Heiler makes sure that the client understands what the ultimate costs will be to complete the project. He takes into consideration the size of the patio, climate and location. For example, an outdoor kitchen should ideally be located immediately outside the indoor kitchen.

"A complex project such as this should really be completed in one step, not multiple stages," he said. "However, one possible way to construct the space in phases is to add plantings, landscape lighting and furniture in the second year as the finishing touches." Even so, Heiler said, "70 percent of the budget will be spent in the first phase of the project."


Robert Milani, a senior landscape architect with Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, Ill., said the basic trend is to "create a space outside to mimic a kitchen and dining room. The amenities would include a gas grill, sink, wet bar and fridge." He stressed that, depending on the year-round climate, it would probably be necessary to winterize the furnishings.

Most homeowners are building these outdoor extensions onto already existing homes. "They are making an investment in the home and enhancing their family space at the same time," he said.

There is also a big trend towards lounge areas with fire pits or outdoor fireplaces. The extension becomes a focal point for family activities and informal parties.

The difference between a simple patio with a barbecue grill and an outdoor kitchen, explained Milani, is the permanency of the area as well as the cost. Amenities such as gas grills, running water and outdoor appliances need to have special cut-offs for safety.

"It is critical that people understand what they want," he said. Milani estimated that the outlay may run up to $15,000, but he says it is well worth it to increase the home's value. The biggest reward for the homeowner, Milani added, is "bringing families together."

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