All-Season Outdoor Living
A fresh, new lifestyle trend blurs the line between indoors and out

The upside of having our normal leisure activities curtailed by the pandemic is that, by necessity, we’ve spent more time in nature—and we’ve developed a taste for socializing outdoors.

By: Lisa Rosen

To make such entertaining more comfortable, homeowners have spent the past year creating beautiful outdoor living spaces with luxury amenities they can use year-round, from pergolas to kitchens. “The outdoor room is definitely a booming priority and has re-shifted people’s perceptions and expectations about what their outdoor space can be,” says L.A. architect and landscape designer Bill Nicholas. “We used to have this notion of using the outside in a romantic way, but in this era, that has transitioned into a more social concept: ‘I can see my friends if I have fresh air around.’”

“The outdoor room is definitely a booming priority.”

In order to make the fresh air comfortable even in winter, Nicholas recently used hydronic radiant coils beneath stone paving for an outdoor dining area. “Your whole core and legs and feet stay warm, but your head isn’t getting scorched by the overhead heaters,” he says. “That takes a separate boiler, but if you plan it when you’re building your deck, it’s not that big a deal.” Interior/exterior designer Dan Zelen is also a fan of radiant heat. “It’s very efficient and low-profile, not like obnoxious standing space heaters blocking an area,” says Zelen, whose studio is based in San Francisco. He installs radiant heating in the corners of dining room pergolas. And that’s just the beginning.

“I’ll hide LED lights up inside the slats, and then add beautiful grapevines, so in the summer there’ll be grapes hanging over the dining table.”

If a pergola isn’t big enough, try a pavilion. New York architect Valerie Schweitzer created the Outside-in Pavilion, complete with Wi-Fi, on the grounds of a house in Watermill, New York. “It allows you to work, to stargaze, to gather, to eat, to possibly even sleep, so it’s practical, not just beautiful.” Living and dining rooms have been common additions this past year. L.A.-based interior designer Gillian Lefkowitz advises choosing one line of furniture so that the eye travels smoothly around the entire outdoor area. “That also elevates the space,” she notes. Schweitzer feels the same way about incorporating firepits. “If you’re using terra cotta pavers, you might also do a terra cotta facing for your firepit so that it becomes integrated and gives a sense of calm and connection with the earth.”

Outdoor screening rooms are another frequent request. Lefkowitz has been creating them all over Southern California, with seating, semipermanent projectors, and large screens. “One, in Santa Monica, is for a client with two teenagers, so they’ve been able to visit with their friends.” She’s also handled a number of requests for outdoor showers. The most surprising request? “Pizza ovens,” says Zelen. He, Lefkowitz, and Schweitzer have been installing them from coast to coast. “It’s especially fun if you have kids,” says Schweitzer. “Obviously, we did full kitchens and outdoor barbecues, too.” Seating around the barbecue is popular as well, so people can socialize while cooking.

Foliage plays a key role in setting the outdoor mood. “In Montecito, we’re espaliering figs against a stone wall for both foliage and fruit,” Zelen says. “On the East Coast we can do espaliered apples, pears, and cherries. I have bosc pears blooming, and they’re gorgeous, even in the winter—the bones of the trees form an elegant pattern against a wall.” Lighting is another important consideration.

“I’m obsessed with white Christmas lights around trees,” says Lefkowitz. “I love making spaces look magical and dreamy, so at night it’s a fantasyland. That’s such a simple thing that anyone can do.” Even with the reopening of the country, private outdoor living space is going to remain a focus for homeowners. Nicholas believes innovations in heating will lead the way. “Bringing comfort outside is at a real premium these days. Heater technology is probably going to be greatly improved,” he says. “Everyone loves alfresco dining. It’s such a great experience and we have forgotten that. The Italians and Spaniards embrace that, but we Americans tend to hermetically seal ourselves in, and we’re rediscovering the joy of being outside.”

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