Raymond Edler and his wife, Sondra, once dreamed of surrounding their East Brainerd home with lively, organic outdoor living spaces - serene settings for dining al fresco, sipping wine underneath a million twinkling Tennessee stars, and cozy, open-air entertaining by a crackling fire pit. In 2008, working closely with Craig Design Group, the Edler's transformed their once-blah backyard into an outdoor retreat reflecting their passion for nature and their penchant for entertaining friends and family.
"We are outdoor people who love to entertain," explains Edler. "So we extended the comfort and luxury of our home into the great outdoors, and we love it. "Before, we didn't use our deck that much, but now, if I had to guess, I would say that we use our outdoor spaces 70 percent more," Edler says. "Now we have people over for wine-tasting parties. We love that."
Their dreamy backyard design includes all the bells and whistles - a lofty cedar pergola with rustic beams, a network of stone retaining walls, Brazilian Ipe decking, iron accent railings, plenty of pavers, patio heaters, a fire pit, an impressive outdoor kitchen area, meticulous landscaping, well-placed lighting and many other features that have the Edlers and their guests lingering longer outdoors.
"I love to cook, so the outdoor kitchen is perhaps my favorite element of the entire yard," says Edler, who grew up in the restaurant business in Louisiana. "The outdoor kitchen space is the focal point of our yard. It just pulls everyone to it like a magnet."
Although the popularity of all types of functional outdoor living space is on the rise, landscape designers, architects, and builders around Chattanooga report a sharp surge in requests for outdoor kitchens.
"Today's outdoor kitchens can be magnificent spectacles rivaling their indoor counterparts," says Glen Craig, of Craig Design Group. "And although some homeowners just want a basic setup with a grill, a sink and a refrigerator, others request elaborate spaces incorporating pizza ovens, Big Green Egg smokers, wine coolers, ice makers, warming drawers, stainless steel cabinetry, abundant counter space, lighting, stereo systems and kegerators for dispensing draft beer to guests."
Craig's portfolio showcases an array of sophisticated designs that blend seamlessly with landscapes and feature a variety of natural materials. The grill remains the most important feature of today's sizzling outdoor kitchens. "It's really the heart of the space," he says. "They can cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000."
Mack Conley, sales manager at Stone Services on E. 34th St., helps homeowners select the perfect material for their outdoor surfaces. "Although there are many materials to choose from, for outdoor countertops, tables and bars, I recommend using natural stone products like granite or travertine," says Conley. "Granite comes in a wide variety of colors, and it keeps its color very well. It can be polished, or for a less formal look, granite can be leathered."
Conley adds that travertine, tine, a type of limestone, has an Old World appearance that fits with most outdoor living decor. "And travertine weathers well and doesn't stain," he says. "Natural materials are beautiful, low-maintenance, and long-lasting in outdoor applications. Just keep the surface clean, seal it each year, and it should last for a long, long time."
"There's a myriad of decking options to choose from today other than pressure-treated pine," says Micah Rayburn, who owns and manages Integrity Building and Design, Inc. "Siberian Larch is a dense wood that is incredibly strong and naturally resistant to rot and decay. Cumaru is a beautiful Brazilian hardwood that is naturally impervious to rot, decay and insects. And there are synthetic materials that are fade-, stain- and scratch-resistant and come in a variety of colors."
Today's decks and porches boast interesting curves and changes in elevations. They are much easier to maintain, and some even carry lifetime warranties. And Rayburn adds that homeowners are spending more on deck-cessories such as lighting, accent railing, planters, benches and heat-generating elements.
"We've installed a few louvered roof systems, too," notes Rayburn. "These products can be adjusted to vary the amount of shade, ventilation, and rain protection desired by the homeowner."
Rayburn is also getting a lot of calls inquiring about remote-controlled power screens - retractable screens that provide shade, offer instant privacy and keep insects out. "A nice, well-defined deck, porch or other outdoor living space is a great investment and can increase the value of a home by 15 percent or more," says Rayburn. "But really - the most important reason for a homeowner in Chattanooga to create an outdoor living space is that it's just too beautiful here to ignore the outdoors."