In this article we lay out some of the cultural factors that have lead to a boom in outdoor living spaces nationwide and also treat you to a number of outdoor fireplace ideas to help get you get inspired for your own outdoor living space project.
According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report produced at the turn of the millennium, Americans spent 87% of their time indoors and another 7% in a vehicle. Given the explosion of computer use and traffic delays on the road since then, those numbers have undoubtedly increased.
Is it any wonder then that one building and remodeling trend that shows no sign of slowing down is the popularity of outdoor living spaces? Walking from the living room into an attached open air kitchen or sitting area with a gas fireplace isn’t the same as hiking the Appalachian Trail, but it does get people outside and (presumably) away from their devices.
This outdoor living trend has slowly followed the jet stream from west to east across the country, taking root in areas with warmer climates and eventually making its way to colder climate regions like the Upper Midwest, Great Plains and Northeast. In fact, the publisher of the hearth industry magazine Hearth & Home recalls writing about it as a Californian trend 20 years ago. The rest of the country has clearly caught on.
The U.S. Census Bureau has tracked the recent growth of outdoor room building in the United States. It notes that the addition of outdoor living space to new home construction projects has skyrocketed from the years 2010-2017. Patios, for example, saw a 112% increase over that period. Decks and porches 40% and 28% respectively.
Those figures track with surveys conducted by the American Institute of Architects. In a survey of residential architects, 70% said that outdoor living areas are the number one “special function” room that their clients request. Home offices and mud rooms trail behind. This continues a six-year number one ranking.
Bring the Inside Out and The Outside In
It was inevitable that some editor would write a headline that said Outside Is the New Inside, as Realtor.com did last year. The days of sun-baked patios, faded Adirondack chairs and rusty Weber grills are receding into distant memory.
Instead, we’re seeing rooms that transition from inside to out, with matching indoor and outdoor furniture. Or floor tiles that continue from in to out with only a change in the finish to account for the weather.
We’re seeing more large modern windows, or windows and doors with seamless tracks that allow the spaces to flow together in a continuum. We’re seeing exterior materials like stucco, stone and wood becoming interior focal points, while interior color palettes are shifting to neutral grays, creams and browns to put the focus on the accessible exterior.
Along with this striking design toolbox, we’re seeing spaces that provide as much function as they do form. People these days aren’t content to sit in a canvas chair with a cup holder and gaze at the stars. They want to entertain, eat, play, and relax. Now is the time for full outdoor kitchens, entertainment centers, outdoor gas or wood fireplaces, home theaters, hot tubs and much more.
A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships
Just as they often are inside the home, the focal point of many outdoor living spaces is the fireplace. In fact, the lure of a fire – be it an open wood fire or an enclosed gas fireplace – seems even more compelling when the flames are dancing under a canopy of night stars. With the myriad of design options available, the number of outdoor fireplace ideas are as numerous as the constellations above.
Outdoor fireplace manufacturers like European Home, along with outdoor furniture, grill manufacturers and others are expanding their product lines for an outdoor furniture and accessories market that’s forecast to top $9 billion this year.
This blurring of the lines between residential home interior and exterior has created a huge cottage industry. A Google search for “outdoor living areas” produces page after page of striking photo galleries, links to furniture, grill, fireplace, fire pit, umbrella, decking, gazebo and a gazillion other manufacturers’ websites.
Let’s not forget all the professionals involved, including residential architects, landscape architects, interior designers, contractors and the like. In short, this yearning for Americans to fling open the doors and get outside has a huge financial upside.
They’re undoubtedly heartened by news that Americans are staying home far more than they used to. A recent New York Times article cites a study that shows that Americans spend an average of 7.8 days a year more staying at home than they did just a decade before.
The fact that people work from home more, shop online and binge watch Netflix are considerable factors. It could also be that they’ve extended their living space outside and feel they’re getting the best of both worlds, all under one roof.
Robert Conlin is a freelance writer living in Wiscasset, Maine. A former certified chimney sweep and retail stove shop owner, he has returned to his roots as a journalist/writer to produce enterprise reporting and online content for a variety of publications and companies.