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Upping yard oasis: Improved fabrics, products keeping pandemic trend hot

By KIM COOK, Associated Press
Published: April 15, 2023, 6:02am
5 Photos
The Fontaine Water Feature.
The Fontaine Water Feature. (Rottet Collection) Photo Gallery

A relaxing retreat just steps from the back door? Count us all in.

Outdoor home spaces serve a lot of functions, but Soothing Refuge is one that designers say is in high demand. Aromatic plantings. Romantic arbors. A meandering path. A yoga platform. Pergola daybeds. Prefab saunas. Plunge Pools. An outdoor shower. And comfortable furniture that can stand up to the weather.

“The outdoor living trend has been building for the last decade, but it got a major bump during the pandemic, “ said Dan DiClerico, home improvement and outdoor director for the Good Housekeeping Institute.

In response, manufacturers have made “huge investments in products and materials geared towards outdoor living” year-round, he said.

Seamless transition

There can be comfort and ease in keeping a flow between indoors and outdoors. DiClerico calls spaces that straddle that line “transition rooms.”

He spent much of the pandemic renovating his back terrace in Brooklyn, N.Y. Deck tiles laid on the diagonal echo the home’s parquet floors inside, and a folding door system (his is from NanaWall ) creates a seamless flow.

“When the doors are open wide,” DiClerico says, “the two spaces become one.”

Interior designer Anna Popov is also using folding glass walls in a client’s home, for a double-sided fireplace surrounded by indoor and outdoor seating.

Weather-friendly style

And outdoor seating can by cozy. Durable materials and new tech have made for weather-hardy furniture that looks just like interior stuff.

A few examples: Room & Board’s Rayo outdoor sofas are made of sturdy, recycled, high-density polypropylene, with cushions covered in performance fabrics. Their modern silhouette takes them about as far from a folding aluminum lawn chair as you can get. Article and Homary have sectionals with built-in side tables and convertible lounge features.

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Annie Selke’s new collection of fade-resistant, scrubbable PVC rugs features snappy geometrics and bright plaids. Southwestern, vintage traditional and midmod motifs can be found in Ruggable’s washable outdoor collection. There are jute-look rugs that wouldn’t wear out as fast as the real deal.

A permanent roof over an outdoor living area increases the number of months it can be used, and might merit the investment.

As for more temporary shade, pergolas and gazebos in kits can be assembled by a proficient DIYer. A retractable, weatherproof fabric awning in a pattern that complements your outdoor furnishings adds an aesthetic and practical element. Or maybe you just prefer a patio umbrella.

Heaters and fireplaces can extend the outdoor living season. Consider something beyond the standard pit style; Le Feu’s ovoid-shaped, steel fire vessels have a sexy ’70s vibe. Interiors maven Lauren Rottet has designed a dramatic firepit out of a pillar of basalt, and there’s a calming, bubbly water fountain in the same collection.

Zen amenities

Yoga platforms, hot tubs, Japanese soaking tubs and daybeds are more commonly found at resorts, but people are bringing the idea home.

“These experiences aren’t just reserved for high-end clients,” says Popov. “There’s a distillation of these elements happening throughout the design world, as the value of home and comfort increases.”

Don’t have the room or cash for a full-size pool? “One of the things we’re seeing more and more of,” says Apartment Therapy editor Danielle Blundell, is the addition of an outdoor tub or shower.

“This feels a little more doable in a small space than maybe even a plunge pool,” she says.

Cold plunge pools in particular have become popular with fitness fans, who find the water restorative. Among other examples, Redwood Outdoors makes a lozenge-shaped version, while The Pod Company makes a barrel-shaped one; both are portable, easy to assemble and off-grid — just bring the water and a few bags of ice.

And there are portable saunas that require just a hookup to electricity.

Green spaces

Romantic arbors, meandering paths and plantings can create a relaxing backyard retreat.

“An outdoor sauna combined with the soothing nature of a sensory garden is a big favorite of ours,” says Popov, describing gardens “designed specifically to provide a tactile experience with scent and color, for adults and children.”

Blundell cites interesting ways to create privacy, including salvaged shutters, wooden slats or greenery walls. With a tall planter of evergreens, microgreens, herbs or succulents, you’ve got privacy and added gardening possibilities.

Plant lavender, herbs, jasmine and mock orange for a fragrant oasis; ornamental grasses, ferns and lambs’ ears add texture; wind chimes, a bird bath and feeder, a tabletop fountain and a gravel path will introduce gentle sound to your garden.

“These little corners of calm are perfect spots for stargazing or starting your day off with a dose of nature,” says Blundell.