Gone are the days when tiki torches and rickety folding chairs dominated outdoor décor. Sleek fireplaces, flat-screen TVs and high-end kitchen appliances all are moving outside, allowing friends and families to gather in comfort and style. Modern outdoor spaces mimic interiors with furniture and fabrics. And around here, they come with built-in Gulf breezes.
Island architect David Mullican, who has been designing single-family residences in Galveston since 1985, cites as one of his influences French architect Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier was a pioneer of modern design who focused on the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces.
“The perception of indoor-outdoor space is achieved by removing as many visual barriers and creating connections between two very different environments,” Mullican said. “Easy access between the two is essential.”
The ultimate goal is to “provide privacy from the public but maintain the view,” he said.
To enhance continuity between spaces, Mullican suggests using the same flooring material inside and out, installing intimate lighting that doesn’t glare or blind, and covering or partially covering outdoor areas with a roof, deck or trellis.
League City residents Stephanie Colelli and her husband, Craig, hosted a family reunion before their patio cover was complete and met with an untimely Texas thunderstorm.
“It ended up raining all weekend,” she said. “So, we decided we needed a covered space.”
Now finished, the covered patio has become the place where the couple meets for coffee each morning to talk before they go to work. It’s the go-to movie night locale for their daughter, Meredith and her friends, and game day central when the Houston Rockets or the Astros play. It was from this space, protected by slats of cedar, the Colellis watched Hurricane Ike roll onto the Gulf Coast nearly five years ago.
With roots in Austin, the Colellis have carved out a slice of the Texas Hill Country in their neighborhood, Rustic Oaks. They bought their home for the backyard’s ranch-like ambience, made cool in the summer by the sprawling shade of a 150-year-old oak tree.
The view makes Colelli feel like she’s away, she said. “It’s the place I go to forget about tasks.”
As the Colellis learned, when designing an outdoor space, one important consideration is climate, experts advise.
“The breeze is great off the water but you must remember that you’re dealing with salty air and things wear differently,” said Elizabeth Munger, an interior designer at Munger Interiors in Houston, who worked on designing an outdoor space as part of a project in Galveston’s Pirate’s Beach.
When you live near the sea, durability is key.
“I learned my lesson,” island resident Gina Spagnola said. “Though I’d like to, I can’t use a lot of my precious pieces that are vintage or metal outdoors. I’ve tried everything and, over time, you lose them.”
Now, she opts for rust-resistant rattan and fabrics that don’t fade easily.
With the uptick in desire for luxurious and durable outdoor accessories, designers have upped their game.
“Manufacturers’ finishes have come a long way,” Munger said. “There are so many great fabrics, materials, lighting and rugs that really let you create beautiful, colorful spaces outdoors.”
Bid farewell to forest green nylon — upholstery options now include easy-to-wash canvas and cotton in chevron stripes or Greek key print.
“Outdoor patterns used to be dark and drab but now they have more pop,” Munger said. “Because fabrics are so much more sophisticated, it’s easier to make outdoor living spaces flow with interiors.”
This year, outdoor kitchens, known as summer kitchens, are what’s cooking.
“They extend the livable space,” said Anne Cummins, a Realtor for Martha Turner Properties Bay Area. “When you have access to a desirable outdoor area, your guest list is unlimited.”
Earlier this year, the American Society of Landscape Architects surveyed industry professionals about the expected popularity of different outdoor design elements. Kitchens and entertainment spaces received a staggering 94.5 percent approval rating, edging out the obvious choices — gardens and landscaped spaces — by 0.1 percent.
“Convenience is the ultimate luxury,” Cummins said. “If you stock the outdoor refrigerator for a gathering, there is no running back inside to replenish drinks or grab steaks. You won’t miss out on half the party.”
While the grill still reigns supreme, retailers are offering a smorgasbord of appliances and fixtures suitable for outdoor kitchens.
“I’ve seen summer kitchens with a chef’s line of cooking appliances — stainless grills, separate burners, Primo “egg” smokers, full-sized dishwashers and refrigerators — with floors and countertops to rival indoor spaces,” Cummins said.
The return on investment can’t be overlooked, Cummins said.
“Sellers who invest in outdoor spaces typically achieve quicker sales and their homes sell at the high end of the market,” Cummins said. “That is the added benefit later, but the best thing is enjoying your home more now.”
In Campeche Cove, only steps from her herb garden, Spagnola can serve a poolside feast from her summer kitchen.
“We’re Italian, so I do a lot of Italian cooking and I have basil and rosemary right there,” she said.
For, Spagnola, there are obvious benefits — aside from the proximity to fresh herbs — for moving the prep work for summer suppers outside.
“Especially in the summer, when you’re cooking dinner inside, you heat up your entire house,” Spagnola said. “Outside, you’ve got the sunset, the sound of the water and the breeze.”
Spagnola lived in Oahu for two years and was impressed by lanais, fully furnished patios or verandas, which, with soaring prices per square foot in Hawaii, serve as a valuable extensions of living space. Now, potted plumeria trees bloom in her backyard around poolside seating areas, an homage to the island tradition of integrating indoor and outdoor spaces.
With the stresses of everyday life, time spent outside with family and friends is restorative for Spagnola, who spends her free time reading in a hammock.
“Your house should be your refuge, your safe place, your peace,” she said.
Guests visiting Berry Madden and his wife, Kristine, at their Bay Harbor home, “go into the house, put their stuff down and head outside,” he said.
When the Maddens purchased the house, Mullican, who was their architect, advised them it was a “tear down.”
“It wasn’t insured during the hurricane and was badly damaged,” Madden said.
Instead of tearing it down, the Maddens embarked on a six-month gut-job, which included the construction of an outdoor kitchen and living space.
Madden, who owns Pitts and Spitts in Houston, designs and outfits competition trailers and outdoor kitchens for a living.
His own features a smoker, gas grill, deep fryer, refrigerator and sink — a host of nearby amenities for those practicing their swing on the backyard putting green or involved in a game of regulation washers.
Like moths to a flame, people are flocking to the latest and hottest outdoor feature — fire pits.
The Madden home backs up to Galveston Bay, five miles east of San Luis Pass. At the edge of the property, feet from the water, a limestone fire pit encircled with blue glass tiles picks up hues from the waves of West Bay.
The couple’s son, a senior architecture student at Texas A&M University, who came up with the design, chose to surround the fire pit with bench seating topped with blue pearl granite.
On cool nights this is the gathering spot — facing west — where family and friends take in unobstructed views of the sunset.
“A fire pit creates ambience and atmosphere,” Madden said. “We have a lot of great memories of my wife and I sitting there and watching the sun go down, drinking a glass of wine with the kids out there fishing on the bay front.”
Many fire pits such as the one at the Madden home, run on propane, which doesn’t require the user to build a fire, but still creates flames. The fire burns through logs of lava rock or glass, which adds to the sleek quality of these modern outdoor fire features.
1. Colorful umbrellas, like this umbrella by Sunbrella in Bisbee Linden.
2. “Cast concrete is one of our favorite outdoor materials,” said Elizabeth Munger, an interior designer at Munger Interiors in Houston. “You can use it for stools, countertops and tables.”
3. Fire pits and fireplaces. In the American Society of Landscape Architects survey, they received a 97 percent rating.
4. “Lighting is very important to the feel of outdoor living,” Munger said. “Consider dimmers where you can and gas lighting when available.”
5. Embrace the natural surroundings, but keep the landscaping low maintenance,” said Anne Cummins, a Realtor for Martha Turner Properties Bay Area. “Low-maintenance landscapes and native plants topped the landscape/garden elements list in popularity.”
6. “Keep it comfortable and simple,” Munger said. “Go with lighter fabrics on your seating and don’t be scared of white. You can bleach it.”
7. Fabric awnings.
8. Timeless teak wood seating or the very-modern polyethylene Bubble Club line by Kartell.