March / 2010


Outdoor Escape
by: Debra Gibson

With the ease of the outdoors and the comfort of the indoors, you'll never want to leave your new outdoor room

"We just about live out here all year long."

Ask the Elders of Nicholasville and the Wilsons of Henderson about the newest addition to their homes, and you will hear this virtually identical response, even though the families live in different parts of the state and do not know each other. They share an enthusiasm for one of the newest trends in home improvement--the outdoor room.

Outdoor rooms are the home version of the hybrid craze. Like hybrid cars or the new wood/iron hybrid golf clubs, outdoor rooms bring the best of two formerly separate options together. In this case, outdoor rooms combine the ease of the outdoors and the comfort of the indoors, creating a space that is versatile, comfortable, and easy to maintain. In Kentucky, outdoor rooms have the added benefit of being usable in all but the coldest months.

Like any home improvement, however, creating the perfect outdoor room for your family requires a thorough knowledge of how you want to use the space and some solid planning. Come with us on a visit to the Elders and the Wilsons for some inspiration and ideas to get you started.

Creating a family retreat
In 2007, Reid and Sarah Wilson purchased a home on Henderson's historic Main Street. The location was perfect for them--just one-half mile south from Reid's office and six blocks south of the hospital so Reid, an orthopedic surgeon, could get there quickly in case of an emergency. It also had the big back yard that Sarah wanted for their two active sons, Hayden, 9, and Cooper, 6.

However, the house, which was built in the late 1880s, needed considerable work. In January 2008, the Reids kicked off what became a yearlong renovation. Part of that overhaul was transforming a small porch that was falling away from the house into an elegant extension of the house.

First step: removing the 1950s porch completely. In doing so, the Wilsons found an unexpected bonanza--unpolished marble that covered the old concrete. Their contractor removed the marble square by square and poured a new concrete base. The marble went back down over the concrete to complete a beautiful yet durable floor for their new outdoor room.

The ceiling for this addition was to be rich, dark wood, so they installed skylights to keep from obstructing much of the overhead light. Floor and ceiling came together with square columns that resemble the ones on the front of their home, tying the front and back of the home together visually.

On one side of the porch, they installed a tall brick fireplace with room for firewood on each side. A large couch and chairs surround the fireplace to create an intimate sitting area. An LCD television equipped with surround sound hovers cattycorner to the right of the fireplace. The sitting area turns into a rooting section easily: just add a good game, a few people,
and some snacks.

The other side of the porch contains the work center--an outdoor stove and grill with storage underneath, refrigerator, and a work surface to prepare food. A few feet away, a rectangular table seating six juts up against the back of the couch.

"This is my husband's favorite room," says Sarah. "We all love to eat out here and have many meals here. It is a really nice area to come together as a family, and it tends to get the boys outside and active instead of inside playing video games."

Keeping track of the kids is easy. Look out from the porch and you see a large grassy area where Hayden and Cooper like to practice soccer and play baseball and football. To the left is the original swimming pool. The Wilsons cleaned and renovated the pool, removed a chain-link fence that once enclosed it, and added a new slide and landscaping. There's room to lounge there as well, with umbrella-topped tables.

Because this is a historic property, it also contains what was once servants' quarters. The small brick structure originally had old wrought-iron columns, which the Wilsons removed in favor of white columns that mirror the main home. The structure now serves as a guesthouse. So far, however, they have had no takers; their guests all want to stay inside the main home, so the beautifully redone space mostly serves as a pool house where family and friends shower after coming from the pool. New wraparound steps make that short trek more inviting.

Newly planted oak and maple trees also dot the yard. In a few years, they will provide shade and more of the outdoor ambience typically found with older homes.

The Wilsons won't have to wait for the trees to grow to enjoy the space. Reid and his college football buddies make a regular habit of rooting on the Georgia Bulldogs and Kentucky Wildcats. The kids host swimming parties, and the entire family enjoys the company of numerous guests. Not bad for an area that a couple of years ago was nothing more than a concrete porch with a well-worn awning covering it.

From dodging golf balls to having a ball
About 200 miles away in Nicholasville, the Elder family's new outdoor room is also a magnet for guests. On any given weekend, neighbors and friends are frolicking in the pool, chatting around the fire pit, watching television, or simply grooving to the music that emanates from the powerful entertainment system that includes music, movies, and television--all of which can be controlled with Mike Elder's iPhone.

A short time ago, however, the Elders' back yard was hardly used. Although they had planned a new swimming pool and already set up a new swing set for their two young children, Mike and his wife, Paula, were afraid to let the kids use them. As many as eight golf balls from the adjoining golf course landed in their play area each day, and they worried that one would hit Lauren, 11, or Benjamin, 3.

About that time, Mike, co-owner of Sawyer Elder Construction, decided to add more garage space for the kids' growing collection of big, outdoor toys. But like most projects, this one evolved into not just an additional oversized two-car garage, but also a barrier for the golf balls and a state-of-the-art outdoor room.

The garage is a handsome all-brick structure that mimics the design of the house and is attached to the house by an arched and columned breezeway. In addition to this space, the Elders also added a half bath on the end facing the pool.

The back of the garage serves as the main wall of the outdoor room. An overhead mounted projector provides movies and television that are shown on a 102" custom-made screen designed for outdoor use. After three years of use, the surface, coated with paint specifically for the purpose, remains pristine.

Also attached to the wall is the ultimate in outdoor cooking--a summer kitchen (stove with grill), a glass-door, side-by-side undercounter wine/beverage cooler, and food prep area finished off with granite countertops. Sofas and chairs face the wall and surround a gas-operated fire pit that is as functional in the cooler months as it is pretty year-round.

Underfoot you find no concrete, since it can crack or fade. Instead, the Elders chose pavers that were hand-laid over compacted sand and dense grade, a fine gravel. Overhead is a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling.

The final touch was to tier a portion of the back yard for privacy. The Elders planted evergreen trees on the top tier that create a barrier from the golf balls but don't make the space seem shut in.

"We have everything we need out here," says Paula. "There's no need to go in."

Increasingly, the Elders plan social activities outdoors or the activities just happen as their friends and neighbors show up, knowing they are welcome to splash in the pool and enjoy the space. Some even have the code that engages the entertainment center by iPhone.

On Halloween, the garage area becomes a haunted house. Kids roast marshmallows in the fire pit, and the adults gather to chat and eat goodies. Birthday parties, soccer parties, end-of-school parties: they are all regular affairs.

"Our goal is that as our kids get older they will want to stay home," says Mike. "If we make it fun for them here, they won't want to be somewhere else."

And no one else will want to leave either, for that's the temptation of all well-designed outdoor rooms.





6 TIPS TO PLANNING AN OUTDOOR ROOM

Once upon a time, creating an outdoor room was as simple as buying some lawn furniture, adding a few plants, and settling in with a cold beverage. But today's outdoor rooms are much more akin to other rooms in the house, with distinctive styles, decorating themes, and special touches to make it your own. The Wilsons and the Elders offer advice for Kentucky Living readers:

1. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN Don't skip or cut this step short. You will probably make modifications along the way, but good planning is what makes the difference in an outdoor room that really suits your family and one that hardly gets used. Before you start, make a list of all the purposes for this room. Here are a few of the most overlooked items to consider:
* Walkways. How will you get in and out?
* Outlets: How many do you really need? Add a few more than you think you need.
* Ventilation: You may want a ventilation hood for your stove since fatty meat tends to create smoke. Also pay attention to which way fireplace smoke will blow.
* Materials: Consider how materials will stand up to weather and time. Vinyl, for example, will yellow over time.

2. CREATE A BUDGET It is easy to get carried away.

3. MIMIC THE HOUSE You want your outdoor room to look like it goes with the rest of the house. If you have a traditional home, a southwestern-theme room would probably look out of place. Smaller items such as lighting and furniture style can go a long way toward achieving this goal.

4. GET TECHNICAL ADVICE before you start. Today's outdoor rooms often make use of TVs, surround sound, and more. In many cases, they need to connect to cable services or, at the very least, electricity. It's a lot easier to figure this out before you pour concrete or lay brick.

5. PLAN ADEQUATE SPACE If you have a TV viewing area, for instance, make sure you have enough seating with a good view of the television and that it is not too close to the food prep area. Get a good idea of standard measurements for sofas, chairs, dining tables, and necessary clearances so that you plan your space to accommodate them.

6. SHOP FOR FURNITURE LAST Although it is tempting to make a trip to the patio shop first, limit yourself to getting an idea of what's available and noting standard measurements. Save the actual choices for after the room is complete; it is much easier to match your furniture style to the overall style of the room rather than try to make large items such as the fireplace go with the furniture.




KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: OUTDOOR ROOMS ADVICE

For five of the most useful online Web sites to plan your outdoor room, go to Outdoor rooms online.