Make your outdoors outstanding

From their screened-in back porch, Adam and Anna Drost enjoyed looking at their beautifully landscaped backyard. The Dunwoody couple also was satisfied with the functional and portable grill on the nearby deck.

But after “too many lattes,” the Drosts decided they wanted more out of their backyard, including an updated grilling area and more usable outdoor living space. The impetus: having young grandchildren and a desire to carve out multiple areas for cooking, relaxing and playing.

For help and ideas, the Drosts worked with Mario DaSilva, the owner of Cherokee Stone Center in Holly Springs.

For starters, screens were removed to open up the covered porch. Steps away, DaSilva created a grilling area, which includes a built-in Weber grill, prep area, stone pizza oven and a stone counter with stools. A fire pit and seating wall were also added. For convenient runs from the grill area to the indoor kitchen, a bay window in the kitchen was replaced with French doors.

In addition to the grilling area, the Drosts created several play areas for their five young grandchildren, plus one on the way. By incorporating lots of natural-looking stone in walkways, steps, columns and walls, multiple levels and areas were carved out of the lush backyard for different activities.

“We are using and enjoying the backyard so much more,” Adam said.

Like the Drosts, more American homeowners want more usable outdoor space, features and fixtures, according to a 2013 residential survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Across all categories, 97 percent of respondents rated fire pits and fireplaces as somewhat or very in-demand, followed by grills (96.3 percent), seating and dining areas (96.3 percent), and lighting (95.1 percent).

But backyard updates and entertainment spaces aren’t new.

“The American love affair with outdoor living started about 10 years ago,” said Larry Smith, the marketing manager of Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens in Wallingford, Conn. “And it continues to grow as the economy improves and more homeowners who want to maximize their outdoor living spaces enter the market.”

Outdoor living areas, no matter how small or large, can add value to your home. But they take planning. To create a space that is right for you, consider these tips from various sources, including the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens and Belgard Hardscapes.

Before you start

  • Use & location. Decide how you want to use the space. If you have the room, do you want separate or multiple areas for dining, relaxing and entertaining?
  • Convenience. Does the distance between your indoor kitchen and grill make frequent trips a hassle? If so, an updated, more convenient grilling area may help you use and enjoy it more.
  • On the surface. For steady footing, consider the smooth surfaces of stone, wood and interlocking concrete pavers. They also are easy to clean or hose off when spills occur.
  • Integration. Your grill and cooking area should flow seamlessly within an outdoor space. Think about the size and shape of a grill island or bar? Will it be conducive to the space you already have? Choose styles and colors that fit your home’s aesthetic.

Budget options

Professionally built outdoor kitchens that cost $20,000 and up are increasingly common. But you can save big bucks and have a comfortable grilling area with these budget-friendly options:

  • Pre-built, modular pieces that install quickly are usually less expensive than a custom-built grill area.
  • Set up a stylish bar-height outdoor table and chairs (vs. a built-in).
  • Portable refrigerators, gas grills with side burners and roll-away prep carts with built-in countertops in or near the dining area are handy, but if you don’t have them, use portable carts or side tables.
  • If your patio and grill area is small, but you’re set on having a room for eating and entertaining, use the area for both activities. After dinner, pull your dining chairs from the table and group them around a portable fire pit.
  • If your grill is near the house, create a pass-through (maybe with existing windows) to the kitchen. Add a counter and stools on the outside.
  • Forgo the fancy grill in favor of a stone fire pit with attached grilling grates.
  • If you can’t afford a covered structure, like a gazebo, consider an extra-large, free-standing umbrella that you can move around.
  • There are grills for every need, budget and lifestyle. Do you want your grill to be the centerpiece of your patio or backyard or just a useful appliance for basic burgers? Do you cook often? Do you cook just for your family, or do you want to entertain more? Answering these questions before you shop could save you big bucks.

Product updates

  • Cooking. Grills, wood-fired pizza ovens, smokers, refrigerators, sinks, ice-makers, cocktail bars and beer taps, warming drawers, and food prep areas. There are now dishwashers specifically designed for the outdoors.
  • Hearth. Wood-burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces, fire pits, plus fire and fountain combinations.
  • Furniture. All-weather, high-style dining tables, couches, chairs and loungers.
  • Entertainment. TVs with surround sound; music speakers; larger, outdoor theaters.
  • Flooring. Stone, brick, slate and stamped concrete pavers.
  • Shelter. Gazebos, pergolas, awnings and umbrellas.
  • Lighting. Custom scones and pendants; pathway and deck lighting.
  • Accessories. Water and fade-resistant rugs and fabrics on pillows and chairs; shatter-proof outdoor dinnerware designed to look like glazed earthenware.
  • Water. Ponds, waterfalls, swimming pools and outdoor showers.
  • Heating, cooling, plus. Free-standing patio heaters, commercial-grade heating and cooling systems; and automated mosquito-control systems.

Trends

  • Year-round grilling
  • Restaurant-quality grills and smokers
  • Stainless-steel and powder-coated cabinetry
  • Modular cabinetry systems
  • Cooking sheets that keep grill marks intact and the grill clean.
  • A robot deemed the “R2D2 of the grill” that gets the grease and grime off your grill with minimal effort.
  • Grills that offer dual fuel.
  • Fire pits that can be converted into stovetops.
  • Forks that act as an all-in-one baster, brush, bottle opener and flavor injector.
  • Elaborate stands that keep grills such as the Big Green Egg off the ground.

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