Outdoor Spaces Offer New Profit Opportunities, Notes Design Expert

LOS ANGELES, CA For years, consumers have tried to bring the outdoors in, with skylights, potted plants, atriums and aquariums, or by using natural materials and earthy color schemes. Today, however, the drive is increasingly toward bringing the indoors out: People want to spend more and more time outdoors, expanding their oft-cited "cocoon" to include every inch of available exterior space.

This is good news for designers who may want to revisit their indoor kitchen clients and do it all over again, according to Drue Lawlor, FASID, of Education-Works. Lawlor helmed the "Outdoor Living Environments: Design for Entertaining, Relaxing & Well-Being" panel along with Pamela Berstler, CLCA, of Flower to the People, Inc., at the recent Luxury Kitchen and Bath Collection event.

Lawlor noted that outdoor spaces particularly kitchens and bathing areas associated with pools provide a unique opportunity for kitchen and bath designers, since they create more business opportunities, without necessariy forcing them to find new clients. "You don't [have to locate] more bodies, [you can just] add more [profit from] the clients you have," she stated.

Lawlor also believes these increased profit opportunities are no longer just for those who service ultra-high-end clients.

Though the outdoor living boom is perceived to be an upscale phenomenon, it's not exclusively so, Lawlor emphasized, stating: "Everyone wants luxury, at every level." Why? Because the stress levels that cause consumers to cocoon have "become an epidemic," and entertaining at home provides a safe, relaxing and increasingly popular way to spend time with family and friends.

To that end, outdoor living products can be used to create a secondary gathering space for cooking, socializing and entertaining, Lawlor noted. There are also many weather-resistant kitchen products and outdoor cooking appliances now available that help to create a growing market for outdoor living spaces.

But how do designers take advantage of this growing market? Lawlor believes that designers can increase their business by "creating the destination at home," focusing on consumers' desire to enjoy hotel- and spa-style amenities without actually leaving home. She noted that it's key to understand the outdoor lifestyle and the types of consumers who are the strongest prospects for outdoor living spaces. For instance, this is a lifestyle that particularly attracts 40- to 55-year-old empty nesters who are downsizing, desiring "less stuff, more experiences" and " a sustainable environment, connected to the earth," she said.

Lawlor added that these are consumers who prize quality over quantity, but want quality as a discount price. Their push is for a connection with nature and wellness many people are giving up high-stress jobs for a more pleasant, laid-back lifestyle and downsizing to a smaller home with more outdoor space, rather than maintaining a larger house.

When planning outdoor spaces, she suggested working with a specific theme in mind in order to create a more enjoyable "destination" space. For instance, she noted that consumers often pick a favorite vacation spot, such as Fiji, Cabo, Hawaii or a club spa as inspiration for the space.

Lawlor also cited cooperation as essential to creating successful outdoor spaces. To that end, she said, "Begin with a master plan and a team. For a major outdoor project, a kitchen designer needs to get together with the landscaper and coordinate efforts."

While it's natural to focus on cooking equipment when creating an outdoor kitchen space, there's a lot more to the process than picking out a top-quality grill, she stated. Some elements to be considered for such a space might include walls, flooring and ceilings (such as a loggia), storage, work surfaces, lighting and electrical. The master plan also needs to address the incorporation of water, sunlight, rocks, plants and even wildlife (for instance, an area that has deer might need a "deer safe area" for plants), she further noted.

Lighting is especially important for evening atmosphere; in addition to standards such as task lighting, an outdoor space might benefit from underwater lighting.

It's also a good idea to make the space multi-functional. In addition to just having a kitchen area, for instance, Lawlor suggested adding a contemplative space to enjoy solitude, perhaps including a lamp with a chaise lounge for summer night outdoor reading.

An outdoor bathing space, a source of fire such as a fire pit, the landscape views from various spots and built-in activity areas are all things to be considered in a comprehensive approach to the perfect outdoor space, she noted.

Lawlor also urged designers to venture outdoors to note the acoustics, and encouraged them to create a natural symphony of running water, crackling fire, and elements that attract birds. Hidden speakers among plants can also pipe in music, she added.

Luxury can be brought outdoors, around the kitchen area, via a bar area such as a nature-friendly tiki bar, depending on the chosen theme that would include a beer tap, wine cooler and other applicable elements of a beverage station. Refrigeration, storage for condiments, a sink to aid in food preparation and heating for colder nights can all contribute to the theme.

Accessories for the central mega-grill could include a warming drawer, while an outdoor pizza oven could be offered as another upscale luxury.

Outdoor living environments may seem like a relatively small niche area now. However, designers who can create comprehensive spaces that incorporate all of the luxuries of home with the added benefit of the lovely views may soon find many of their kitchen clients realizing that two kitchens really are better than one, Lawlor concluded.