Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Stylish living goes outdoors

Folding lawn chairs and hibachis give way to entire backyard rooms

Summer is finally here and outdoor get-togethers have shifted into high gear. But instead of just dusting off the barbecue, pulling out a package of paper plates and setting up the folding lawn chairs, many homeowners are creating furnished outdoor rooms for entertaining their family and friends.

From simple areas to lavish multi-level affairs, today's outdoor living areas are akin to rooms without walls - inspired by, or an extension of, indoor rooms.

Outdoor kitchens can be fitted with many of the same appliances as indoors, including sinks. Seating areas feature comfy couches set out around a cosy fire.

"There are only two limits to outdoor rooms," says Mike Black, president of Capital Iron. "Your imagination and your wallet."

His store has seen sales of outdoor kitchen components triple in the past four years. The store previously carried only dining tables, recliners and umbrellas. Since 2008, however, Black has added high-end barbecues and modular kitchens, ranging in price from $3,400 to more than $70,000.

"Interest in outdoor rooms has grown," he says. "It's a trend we see in some new construction."

It's a trend for which interior designers are also seeing demand.

"Everyone should have at least one outdoor room, especially in Victoria," says Ines Hanl, principal of The Sky is the Limit Design.

"There is nothing like sipping early-morning coffee on a porch, or having dessert on a balcony in the early evening."

For her, a chandelier hanging from a tree or a lantern under a vine-covered pergola satisfies her love of vertical spaces.

"On a cool day, a quilt and a cat on the lap might be all one needs to keep the heart warm."

While most additions to a house can be expensive, a new outdoor kitchen or living area is easily retrofitted into an existing backyard in stages, making it more affordable for homeowners.

Here are the main components of an outdoor living area:

- Kitchen - Typically the centerpiece of an outdoor living area. While the standalone barbecue is still the most common, there are built-in cabinets similar to undercounter ones found indoors. Side burners are common and some new units feature an infrared element that sears meat.

The cabinets and drawers are typically made of stainless steel to withstand the weather. Countertops can range from tiles over treated plywood to granite. Custom kitchens can cost between $3,400 and $70,000.

- Refrigerators - Outdoor fridges have more powerful compressors because they are exposed to the sun and high temperatures. The larger compressors can recover more quickly if the door is opened frequently - as it is during a party. Many outdoor units have stainless steel linings inside. These can cost $1,300 to $3,000.

There are compact counter-height fridges as well as dedicated wine and beverage coolers.

A beverage station with an ice cooler and space to hold bottles and glasses can be had for between $1,000 and $2,000.

- Plumbing - Sinks are increasingly appearing in outdoor kitchens. Built-in ones need plumbing robust enough to survive the winter, which drives up the price. Some homeowners get around this by simply hooking up the water taps with a garden hose in summer. This doesn't require costly permits and plumbing that complies with the building code.

The wastewater then drains into a holding container, similar to one on a recreation vehicle.

The height of convenience is an outdoor dishwasher, but that does require plumbing, permits and the building inspector's seal of approval, and it can set you back around $4,500.

- Heat - With our cool evenings, and to extend the season, those establishing outdoor living areas are wise to consider some sort of heating. Electric infrared heaters start at about $100 but have a really bright glow, which some find annoying. Heaters that look like a flat-screen TV are available for $1,100.

Still popular are propane firepits, which range from a simple $150 unit to one with granite tops and matching chairs for $6,000.

- Lighting - Outdoor lighting can highlight the landscaping and provide illumination for paths and for cooking and eating.

- Shade - Dappled sunshine is the ideal. Pergolas and sunshades should be strategically placed to offer an area of refuge when the sun is out. Shade should be considered when locating the cooking, food preparation and beverage areas.

A bit of practical advice from Hanl: Don't forget that the more outdoor furniture you get, the more storage space you need to have for winter. You could leave the furniture outside, she says, but the cushions alone require a lot of space.

Victoria resident Darren Goodyear was an early adopter of the outdoor living concept. He set up his backyard room three or four years ago, and gets a lot of use out of the space, He likes to have a few close friends over to share a cold beer or two, enjoy a steak and relax in his spacious backyard.

It has all the components for outdoor cheer. The cooking area is L-shaped, with a built-in Vermont Castings barbecue with side burner, an under-counter fridge, sink, lighting and stereo. An umbrella keeps the sun off cook and guests in his south-facing yard.

A cedar gazebo features couches around a propanepowered fireplace that keeps the evening chill off.

"My wife and I like to entertain," Goodyear says. "But when we had guests over before, people would just congregate inside the house. Now everybody stays outside to enjoy the weather. For me, even the lawn has become a useful part of the outdoor living area, as opposed to just grass that needs to be mowed."

[email protected]