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Backyard Living with Style

The pandemic has prompted homeowners to creatively repurpose formerly underutilized outdoor areas into sophisticated living spaces

By Colton Martini
All images by Gibeon Photography. Architect: Studio H Design, Inc. Builder: Lohss Construction. Interior Designer: Shelter Interiors.

As the summer of 2021 arrives, the focus on home improvement and design naturally flows to the outdoors. Pandemic-mindedness has initiated a new homebody culture and backyard-centric lifestyle. More than ever, homeowners now think of their formerly underutilized outdoor areas as literal extensions of their home’s interiors. No longer just a spot for a plastic kiddie pool and a rusty charcoal grill, decks, patios, terraces and lanais are being transformed into sophisticated living spaces.

With travel restrictions and cabin fever in full swing, homeowners took the vacation vibe they had been deprived of into the backyard. Outdoor work, sleeping and kitchen spaces have become popular, along with functional, durable and comfortable furnishings. Teak, wicker and iron are no longer the only options for outdoor furniture, as hardy yet fashionable materials are increasingly available. Faux materials and performance fabrics mean that upholstered looks and rattan can be introduced outside, without concern over deterioration or the need to pull them under shelter or fuss with covering them in the case of inclement weather.

Furnishings aren’t the only advances in outdoor living. The implementation of electronics into these airy spaces has come a long way as well. Patio heaters, solar power and audio systems are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s always nice to stay warm and listen to tunes while hanging out in nature’s living room, and it’s also now more common to see televisions added into the mix. Weather-resistant, anti-glare televisions make a beautiful fall day football game in the backyard even more enjoyable, and allow for falling asleep to an after-dinner movie outside.

Architect: Pearson Design Group. Builder: Highline Partners. Interior Designer: Lisa Kanning Interior Design.
Architect: Centre Sky Architecture. Builder: High Country Builder.

Another trend spurred by the pandemic months is sleeping under the stars. Even if just napping, studies have found that sleeping outside leads to more recuperative sleep. Outdoor dozing has been said to align one’s sleep with the natural light and dark cycles, helping with falling asleep and waking more naturally. Coupled with advances in outdoor furniture and fabrics, outdoor bedrooms/sleeping areas can now be just as comfortable as the master bedroom.

Soft, comfortable and stylish don’t normally fall into the same category as durable. However, the push within the design community to bring the indoors out has resulted in an endless array of indoor-outdoor fabrics that work as well on a wingback chair in the formal living room as they do on a pool lounger. Fabric distributors have partnered with luxury designers and high-end brands to produce these performance fabrics, giving the consumer opportunities to make outdoor areas as beautiful and functional as any interior living space.  

Performance-based floor coverings for underfoot, under the open sky, can take the floor from drab to fab. In addition to much-needed comfort, an outdoor carpet offers another element of pattern and color, blurring the lines between the interior and exterior. Constructed of synthetic materials, outdoor floor coverings come in a variety of patterns and colors and are durable, easy to clean and made to withstand the elements.

A classic feature of the outdoor gathering space is the tried-and-true firepit. An essential blend of functional and ambient uses, the firepit gives the outdoor space a centralized meeting and focal point. Options are endless when it comes to the design and placement of these glowing gems. Whether you prefer the more natural look, evoking the vibe of a true campfire, or implementing the flame into a dining or coffee table, it’s the perfect place to kick up your feet with a glass of wine or cup of coffee.

Architect: Pearson Design Group. Builder: Denman Construction. Interior Designer: Thom Filicia.
Architect: Workaday Design. Builder: Mindful Designs.

Outdoor dining can take on many forms and is really based on the lifestyle of the homeowner and the space available. Those who prefer entertaining may want to allocate a much larger area for dining, allowing for a more expansive table and more substantial chairs. Multiple dining areas are also common in outdoor living spaces. Smaller bar-height tables may serve as a spot for quick appetizers and cocktails around the bar, while a round bistro table and four chairs off the kitchen could be the perfect spot for breakfast and morning coffee. Larger outdoor dining areas are commonly adorned with chandeliers and upholstered chairs, and can often be found under the cover of a dining structure. Drapes made from performance fabrics can also be added to line the space and give flexibility for either intimate dinners or casual sunny alfresco dining.

Finally, outdoor kitchens can now be elevated to an almost restaurant-level quality. In the past, they were seen more as a novelty and most often were centered around a large barbecue. Now we are seeing outdoor kitchens with proper work triangles, modern appliances and even central islands and functional cabinetry.

This summer, we’re looking forward to once again gathering with friends and family. So even if you are just adding some potted plants and a rug to your deck, or going so far as to build an entire outdoor experience, remember to sit back and enjoy the nice weather, the time you get to spend with loved ones — and even just by yourself — in the great outdoors.

Colton Martini studied architecture at Montana State University. He is a practicing interior designer in Whitefish and Missoula and can be reached at (406) 480-2375, coltmartini@mac.com and www.ColtonMartini.com. 

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