Backyard Luxury

June 27, 2013 No Comments

The latest trend in home outfitting takes the modern, modular living room – and puts it in the back yard.  Furniture, fixtures and fittings, entertainment, cooking and heating, are all being modified to be taken outside as luxury property owners seek to capitalise on their views and catch some air without the downsides.

While backyard entertainment spaces are nothing new – barbecues, hot tubs, fire pits and more have been installed across America and the world for years now – the six-year depression in the real estate market Stateside has provoked an interest among homeowners in a way to ‘invest in existing homes and make them something more useable,’ in the words of Mark Demerly, a board member of the American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Network.

Interior designers report that they are increasingly being asked to create climate-controlled outdoor spaces, which remove the baking sun, biting cold, mosquitoes, rain and other shortcomings that make the outside, well, outside.  Increasingly there’s a demand for an extra, wall-less room: ‘The homeowner basically wants you to duplicate what they have indoors, outdoors,’ observes Larry Smith, the marketing manager of Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens, a Wallingford, Connecticut-based company that makes cabinetry and other outdoor kitchen equipment.  One of their best sellers is a round, Benihana-style ‘social grill,’ designed for gathering round at outdoor parties.  ‘Strange as it may seem,’ Mr. Smith says, ‘it’s as popular in North Dakota and Montana as it is in Southern California.’

The most elaborate outdoor spaces can rival the costs of indoor rooms, since they’re essentially outdoor rooms themselves.  Designers and builders report that high-end outdoor kitchens can cost from $20k and reach $100k or even more for spaces with custom cabinetry, granite islands, multiple cooking surfaces and other premium features.  The costs can be even higher than for analogous indoor rooms, since materials and appliances have to be designed with weather resistance in mind, though homeowners can cut off water supplies in freezing temperatures and remove or cover movable furniture.

So how do ‘outdoor rooms’ stack up as an investment?  They don’t offer as strong a return as doing up an indoor room or basement, but so long as they’re not too personalised, they can still offer a substantial percentage of the returns on fixing up the interior of the house.  New York-based real-estate appraiser Jonathan Miller, of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers, says, ‘it becomes a contributing factor, but not a driving factor for the purchase,’ and Mr. Miller figures that outdoor spaces are probably worth about 50% of indoor ones in terms of dollars per square foot.

It’s a trend that seems unlikely to reach the UK in force, though: it’s hard to find a spot in these crowded islands where land is as cheap as in Southern California, let alone in Montana or the Dakotas, and the nearest thing the UK has to offer to the ‘outdoor room’ is companies like RoomsOutdoors.co.uk, whose major sales derive from single-storey ‘temporary’ structures that don’t require planning permission but boast modern conveniences and spacious appointment.  They’re more in the English tradition of the extension than the new American backyard penthouse mould, though, and the chances of fully-heated, mosquito-repellent, $100k patios coming to Britain soon seem slim.

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