The Other Side of the Windows

December 28, 2010
By Sam Morton

A freestanding fireplace warms the patio area.

Sitting on the front porch greeting your neighbors was the Facebook of its day before the invention of air conditioning drove us inside. It made us cool on a couple of different levels. Perhaps we haven’t come full circle, but we are going outside again and socializing more in outdoor living spaces.

On the other side of our windows and doors, a breeze sings its gentle harmonies through the treetops. Birds sing, bees buzz, the grass is green, and somewhere wafting through the air one can detect the smoky perfume of a grill. Marty Jewell, owner of Bart Fireside, said he noticed a trend. “When the price of gasoline rises, people have second thoughts about the price of land and second homes at the lake or in the mountains. They realize they already have the land right outside their door and decide to invest that money in their own backyards. They get a place to relax, and they don’t have to drive to get to it. They’re already there,” he said.

Mexican tile pavers create a beautiful floor for this outdoor area.

Outdoor living spaces are as individualized as their owners, and they range from a simple patio and lawn furniture to creations as ornate as anything inside a home. “We have been involved in some nice outdoor living spaces. There are truly endless possibilities. Spaces can include separate outdoor buildings, water features, beautiful patios, a fire pit, grilling areas, and many other items. This space defines the backyard and serves as a focal point for additional interesting spaces to branch off of,” said Joe Jur, owner of Vesta Builders.

“It truly is like adding another room and increases the usable area of a home. For me and my wife, the outside serves as an escape from the inside with a place to relax and enjoy each other’s company,” Jur added.

Except when summer is at its hottest, Columbia’s relatively moderate climate allows for generous use of outdoor living. The most common types homeowners request include outdoor porches, some screened, that incorporate a fireplace, seating, and dining, and typically an area for a television. In the yard, owners show a preference for defined patios and grilling areas with the occasional water feature creating both a sound and visual backdrop.

This garden patio overlooks a nearby stone waterfall.

Andy Ott of Rock Solid said the dollars involved are often the deciding factor on whether to build outside. “Adding outdoor living space costs a third of adding something indoors. People are looking to get back outside, and we can offer them the creature comforts to enjoy their property.”

Ott said prices, like design, vary by an owner’s desires. A 200 square-foot patio, installed, might start at $3,500. Prices rise as you begin to add features like lighting, retaining walls, planters, furniture, and fountains. To build these spaces, Rock Solid, like most companies, use a variety of materials ranging from natural stone, to manufactured stone, concrete pavers, tile, or acid stained concrete.

An outdoor kitchen can be as elaborate as the budget allows.

When it comes to outdoor kitchens, Bart Fireside can outfit or upfit just about any space. Jewell said homeowners generally construct outdoor kitchens in one of two fashions: ready built systems—a freestanding unit with, say, a grill, side burners, storage, and a small refrigerator—or modular system—countertops and cabinetry with cutouts to drop in individual components like a grill, deep fat fryer, or pizza oven. His grills come in all varieties from charcoal burning to gas to a combination of gas and infrared. He even sells one line that has a cook number. “You want hamburgers? Set the dial to ‘hamburger’ and it beeps when it’s done,” he said.

An outdoor kitchen can be as elaborate as the budget allows.

“The product lines we carry are affordable, they’re all quality built and will last as long as you want them to,” Jewell said. He was sitting in his store beneath a display made of a pergola, grill, table and chairs, and an outdoor fireplace. Because almost everyone enjoys the outdoors, Bart Fireside offers a line of outdoor items—furniture, grills, and fireplaces—that fit on apartment or condo balconies and which owners can enjoy, especially in places that prohibit charcoal or wood burning appliances.

Most of Jewell’s fire pits and fireplaces are available in models designed to burn wood, natural gas, or LP gas. Add an entertainment center with CD and DVD players, and you’re almost set for a perfect evening outside.

Black wicker patio furniture surrounds the cozy fireplace.

“Almost” only because we have to add furniture. Dottie Reynolds, owner of Casual Living, said the overall goal is to make outdoor living and dining spaces include all the accoutrements of the inside. Today’s outdoor furniture, Reynolds said, is manufactured better with improved products than in years past. “The foam in the cushions and covering fabrics are better at repelling moisture. There’s even a layer between the fabric and foam that wicks off a lot of moisture,” she said. The newer materials also resist fading and sun bleaching.

A screened-in patio provides warmth as well as ambience with a fireplace.

While Jewell said his customers are opting for more bistro sets that have tables and chairs for dining, Reynolds said her clientele is still demanding big chairs, sofas, and ottomans, all with the overstuffed look. Reynolds, who just returned from a trade show, said brighter and more colorful fabrics are in for the fall and 2011.

Casual Living can also help you accessorize your space with a complete line of lamps, occasional tables, ottomans and the like to complete your outdoor design.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t go any further than my own backyard; because, if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” Who knew that Dorothy Gale, the fictional farm girl from Kansas who flew over the rainbow would be a 21st century prophet?

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