The ultimate outdoor room: We asked designers to break down the trends

When it comes to designing outdoor living spaces, the sky is the limit.


Cooking under the stars, parties on rooftop gardens, cocktails near the fountain, and space for the kids to play. The backyard is where all of this can happen in a beautiful setting.

What’s most popular in outdoor spaces right now? We asked a group of leading designers about the features and materials that their clients want when designing for outdoor living.

“Outdoor kitchens, living rooms, fireplaces, televisions, bars … basically, everything they have indoors, but out,” said Thomas Wall of Mitchell Wall Architecture and Design in St. Louis, Missouri.

Key to bringing the indoors outside is choosing the right materials. Materials need to withstand the extremes of summer and winter, rain and snow, and the rigors of a grill or woodstove. And the material has to look good and last for years. Let’s see what designers are helping to build right now.

Remodeling the backyard with glass

So what are homeowners looking for?

“Durable materials with a natural feel. You see the usual wood and slate. We’re also seeing a trend with accents of more industrial materials like aluminum, copper, and glass,” said Larry Greene of Case Design/Remodeling, an award-winning design and build firm in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“Glass is now so versatile, shatter resistant, and easily cleaned that it is being used in more applications,” said Pablo Solomon, an internationally recognized and award-winning eco designer.

The backyard grill is one of those must-haves. As more manufacturers look into adding a viewing panel to their barbecues, glass-ceramic is enabling them to make those windows larger and safer. SCHOTT’s NEXTREMA glass-ceramic has an extremely high tolerance for heat and big temperature swings (like cool rain on a hot grill) that would cause other glass to crack. It’s also easy to clean, unlike other materials that suffer from a buildup of grease and grime. All of this enables manufacturers to create larger viewing panels that allow chefs to keep an eye on their steaks and burgers without opening the lid.

Another glass-ceramic is also bringing the indoors outside.

SCHOTT’s ROBAX fire viewing panels make amazing dual-sided fireplaces that nestle into an exterior wall, offering perfect views of the fire from inside and outside.

“One of the biggest trends for outdoor spaces is creating a seamless flow from indoor to outdoor,” said Evan Harris, CEO of SD Equity Partners, a lender specializing in fix-and-flip loans.

Urban versus rural: How do design concepts differ by location?

Unfortunately, those dual-sided fireplaces can’t fit every outdoor living space. But views of a fire are in demand no matter where homeowners reside.

“The first elements that I am asked for in every outdoor living space are fire and a place to sit. Where urban and suburban design concepts differ is in their interpretation of these things. For example, fire in an urban environment is generally open air, and usually surrounded by seating. In a suburban/rural area, fire gets enclosed into a fireplace with seating to one side,” said Wall.

Another option for smaller spaces is a woodstove. New designs and technologies make them 50 percent more efficient than woodstoves from the 1970s, and sized to heat any area. Some produce less pollution than a cigarette.

Craig Jenkins-Sutton, co-founder and president of Topiarius, a leading urban garden landscape design firm, sees the same need. “In an urban area, backyards and front yards are usually smaller and you need to maximize the space,” he said. “You may also see outdoor spaces play a dual purpose, such as a play space and area for entertaining. The key difference is being able to be more wise and thoughtful in urban spaces.”

Outdoor design trends

The best outdoor rooms for your money

Outdoor room designers can dream up whatever fantasy you might have. The only catch is, unless you’re a wildly successful businessperson, a professional athlete, a celebrity, or a recent lottery winner, the dream might crash into the reality of cost.

For most of us, this just means prioritizing quality.

“Spend time choosing the best colors and textures because once installed they are designed to last a lifetime,” said Hoyt Bangs of the Budding Co., a vendor of premium stone and masonry.

It also means choosing the features you’ll use the most, like a fireplace or grill, and putting other projects on the back burner.

“We receive a lot of requests for outdoor pizza ovens,” said Jenkins-Sutton. “However, when you look at the costs versus how many pizzas on average a typical homeowner would make, we find out there are other ways consumers would rather spend their money.”

What the best outdoor rooms do right

Using the right materials not only ensures your outdoor room will stand up to the elements, but also stands up to your vision as well.

As Solomon put it, “I always ask my clients what they hope to feel in their space, and what image they wish to convey to guests. Some clients are more interested in entertaining. Others want privacy and calm. In all good design, the goal is to combine form and function in a beautiful way.”

(26 Posts)

Hi there! I’m Karen Elder, Marketing Manager at SCHOTT North America. I’m responsible for developing and executing marketing and PR strategies for the Home Tech department. I also play a role in product development where I have the opportunity to work with our customers to implement innovation and design. Improving kitchen design is particularly exciting, partially because I love entertaining family and friends and the kitchen is the hub of every dinner party! Before coming to SCHOTT North America, I held communications roles at Coolbaker’s International and I also managed customer relations at CT Innovations. I’m an active member of the Emerald Circle, which supports the efforts of the green building and sustainable living industries. And I earned my bachelor’s degree from the University of Evansville. On the weekends you’ll find me outdoors, traveling, and attending music festivals and concerts.

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