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Beautifully blending indoor and outdoor living

by Debra Gelbart on Mar 6, 2015

A backyard swimming pool and a fired-up grill are no longer the epitome of outdoor living in the Valley of the Sun. In fact, they’re barely the beginning, according to new-home builders.

What’s more, backyards are likely to have as much “hardscape” (anything built into a backyard that isn’t living or made of water — including wraparound decks and porches, walkways, pool decking and pergolas) — as they do landscaping and water features. And more and more, buyers can have those features installed at the time their new home is being built.

“For buyers today, it’s not enough to pop a pool in the backyard and roll a barbecue up next to the edge,” said Hal Looney, president of Shea Homes’ Active Lifestyle Communities in Arizona. “Buyers want features in their outdoor space that extend the home’s living area and make a seamless transition between the indoors and outdoors,” he said.

Indeed, outdoor space is a critical part of a home’s appeal, according to Steve Soriano, executive vice president of Robson Resort Communities, plus it doesn’t factor into a home’s recorded square-footage so you can have potentially hundreds of livable square-feet outdoors that won’t increase your property taxes, he explained.

Relaxing alfresco living

The outdoor portion of a home can be compartmentalized by function, homebuilders say, and can include a cooking area, an entertainment area and a relaxation area. Buyers can opt for a full kitchen with sinks and warming drawers in addition to a cooktop and oven, an entertainment area with a fire-pit and TV, and a relaxation-focused section with a fountain, putting green and a pool or ‘spool’ (a combination spa and pool that has hydrotherapy jets to encourage swimming against the current), Looney said. In addition, some buyers like the idea of incorporating a free-standing patio or pergola that can shade the outdoor kitchen or pool, said Taylor Mize, general sales manager for PulteGroup, which builds Pulte Homes and Del Webb Homes.

If you’re adding a full-size pool, Mike Brekke, Camelot Homes’ director of design, has this suggestion: “Make the pool’s form the priority, not its function. You spend more time looking at a pool than being in it, so you want it to be visually appealing. I like to design a pool that looks like a fountain you can crawl into or like a European reflecting pool.”

Some builders offer the services of a landscape architect — in some instances a consultation is complimentary and sometimes it costs extra — to homebuyers who want to maximize the functionality and esthetics of their outdoor living space.

From courtyards to “sanctuaries”

And it’s not just the backyard where buyers want to enjoy outdoor living, Soriano points out. “With many of our floor plans,” the Robson Resort Communities executive said, “we offer a front inner courtyard that’s private and becomes a refuge where homeowners can enjoy their morning coffee while listening to the birds chirping. It’s yet another extension of the living space.”


Camelot Homes gives buyers the option of an indoor courtyard off of the main living space of the home. To better accommodate bringing the outdoors in, Brekke said, Camelot Homes focuses mostly on great rooms now because “it’s easier to blend the indoors and outdoors through one main living area.”


A large side-courtyard is a relatively new offering from Fulton Homes, said Dennis Webb, vice president of operations for Fulton Homes. “By placing a courtyard on the side of the house, it looks more integrated with the home,” he said, in part because it’s visible from a second-floor balcony. The courtyards, typically 20 x 20 in size, are intended to be spacious so buyers have room to add whatever features and accessories they may want, Webb said, such as a small outdoor kitchen, fire-pit or water feature.


At K. Hovnanian Homes, the builder has created an interesting way to enlarge the master suite by offering what it calls “sanctuary options” for the master bath, said Andy Pedersen, group vice president of marketing and merchandising for K. Hovnanian in Arizona and California. “Buyers have the option of an expanded tub, a shower only, or a shower or tub in an enclosed, private area outdoors just off the master bath,” he said.


Reminiscent of Hawaii

One of Robson’s newest home models is the Tesoro (available at Robson’s PebbleCreek community in Goodyear), which focuses a lot of its appeal on outdoor living space, Soriano said. Without the outdoors, the plan has 2,395 square-feet of livable interior space, he said. But when the outdoor space is added, “you gain up to 255 square-feet of outdoor living to enjoy our fabulous weather,” he said. “With the sliding bi-fold glass doors in the indoor living area, the total space created is reminiscent of what you might see in Hawaii.”


Enhancing the transition from indoors to outdoors is the flooring in the outdoor living area, Soriano said. “Instead of concrete, many buyers choose to upgrade to brick or cobblestone pavers, because they create more interest, character and texture.”


K. Hovnanian continues to offer an “urban oasis” concept that allows customers to select either an outdoor fireplace, outdoor kitchen or a barbecue, all covered by a patio, Pedersen said. “This is another extension of the family room or great room,” he said. “With some of our plans, customers can opt for both the outdoor fireplace and outdoor kitchen.” The options are available at K. Hovnanian’s communities Traditions at The Meadows and Fusion at The Meadows, both in Peoria, and at Montage at Ocotillo Landing in Chandler.


Making easy-living easy

Homebuilder executives agree that features and options available for expanding indoor/outdoor living continue to increase.


“We’re always looking for ways to make it easier for buyers to bring the outdoors in,” Soriano said.

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