Outdoor Dream

Outdoor Dream

This article appears in the March 2010 issue of CincyHome

How to plan the project that’s right for you.

View Project Photos View original article



It was actually the creation of an indoor room that led Gary and Lisa Allen to expand their outdoor space.

After two years in their River’s Bend transitional home in Maineville, the couple turned to Neal’s Design Remodel in Blue Ash to finish the lower level, creating a great room with a theater section, pool table, bar, wine cellar and gaming area.

So thrilled were they with the results that boosted their entertainment and hosting abilities, that they began thinking about a way to tie their basic slab patio into the finished lower level to create a complete indoor-outdoor retreat.

“Their backyard was fine,” says Alan Hendy of Neal’s Design Remodel. “It just didn’t provide them with as much entertainment space as they wanted.”

Up until Neal’s came on board, the couple sat on the kidney-shaped, stamped-concrete patio to grill, but would usually go inside to eat. “It was fine,” Lisa says, “but we wanted some flexibility to do multiple things out there, as well as an area to sit and enjoy the outdoors, even if it’s raining. And we wanted something that looked like it was part of the original construction.”

Their initial wishlist included a built-in grill, fireplace, bar, hot tub and TV. Later, out of concern for small grandchildren entering the scene, the hot tub was subbed out for a fire pit; it has turned into Lisa’s favorite spot.

The resulting series of flowing, cozy spaces earned Neal’s recognition as the regional winner of the 2009 Contractor of the Year Award.

To meet the challenges of a severely sloped site and the desired connection to both the first floor kitchen and the lower level, architects sketched out a 675 square foot outdoor room with a vaulted ceiling of tongue and groove wood and cedar-wrapped cross beams that continued the pitch of the original home’s design. Divided into three levels, the space includes a kitchen area with Viking grill, refrigerator and beverage sink, fireplace and TV; a fire pit trimmed in graceful arches framing the backyard views, several protected seating areas and an outside patio.

The project is a tribute to cultured stone and its advantages in creating a lodge-like setting without the structural complications required of natural stone. Walls, arches, counter bases and fireplace are covered with handsome stacked stones in taupe, sand and grey, while floors are either stamped concrete or tile. Ceiling fans mounted between exposed trusses give it a rustic look, and furniture from Patio & Hearth was carefully planned to create several seating conversational spots.

“We spend a lot more time out there in warm weather,” Lisa says. “It’s the first place we go when we come home or have people over, especially after golf. With the flowers, the trees and grass, it’s so relaxing, so quiet and so tranquil. And yet we have room for big gatherings of family and friends that can spill over into the lower level.”

“It’s really made a difference in where we spend our time now.”
In the past ten years, many new products have made outdoor living more stylish, including NanaWalls, glass doors that slide away to open a room. Though they have been around many years, they’ve been regularly showing up in plans in the past five years, Hendy says. “The important thing is the installation. It takes a lot of design to figure it out and has to be done correctly.”

  • Furnishings for outdoors have radically changed. Seating, rugs, even lighting, can stay outdoors all summer with little care.
  • Fireplaces and fire pits are outpacing hot tubs in the accessories category, and many families are opting for outdoor living rooms to keep teens at home. “Yesterday’s family room in the basement has become today’s outdoor living room,” Hendy explains.
  • Water features are still at the top of the list for creating a relaxed atmosphere, especially wall-mounted fountains. The newest trend is a green one – water features that incorporate storm water run-off into water features.
  • Artwork gets in on the design plan with more companies, including Target, providing weather-proof artwork that can hang out through sun and rain without fading or damage. Take a peek at www.theoutdoorartstore.com.
  • Flat screen and LCD TVs now come with all-weather technology to protect from water and heat.
  • Gamers can even find outdoor pool tables with acrylic fiber cloth that protects against water and sun.

What makes a successful outdoor living room? The first thing people need to know is how they want to use the space,” says Alan Hendy of Neal’s Design Remodel. “Laying out an outside space is just as important as laying out an inside space.”

A good way to start is to think about what you need to create spaces for cooking, relaxation and conversation, and build on them with good traffic flow and accents designed for your site.

How much you spend depends on how much you want to invest in your home. There’s no set formula, Hendy says. “You should create a design, create a budget, then stick with it. If you don’t know what the budget is you can’t make a decision. They have to go hand in hand.”

Questions To Ask Yourself:

  1. How much shelter is needed? Open-sided buildings, awnings, umbrellas, gazebos and pergolas supported by decorative concrete columns are ways to provide shelter from bright sunlight and rain.
  2. Do you want to eat and cook outside? That will determine if you want full electric and plumbing. Outdoor rooms should be convenient to the indoor kitchen to reduce trips back and forth, especially if outdoor plumbing is limited.
  3. Hate bugs? You may want a screened-in structure, or perhaps one with motorized screen walls.
  4. Do you want a TV, a bar, a fireplace, a hammock? Paging through magazines and web sites for ideas is always helpful before meeting with a designer or contractor.
  5. Do you have a view, or do you need to create one with flower beds, a fountain or water feature? If privacy and noise are concerns, you’ll want walls, tall shrubs or landscaping barriers between you and your neighbors.
  6. What’s your home’s architectural style? The most successful outdoor rooms are those that look like they have been there forever. Choose colors, materials and landscaping that complement your indoor spaces.