Outdoor living spaces with amenities such as an exterior kitchen for entertaining are a growing trend nationally. This trend is moving a bit slower here in the Northeast, perhaps due to a cooler climate and the emphasis on summering on the Cape or Islands. In our design-build circle it is more common to discuss outdoor spaces when there is a correlation to the other projects we are working on, like an addition or kitchen renovation or a creative combination. In the Newton-Wellesley area we are often asked to consider things like built-in grills and outdoor refrigeration; but rarely a full-fledged outdoor kitchen. Instead, decks, three season porches and patios with firepits are among the most common “must-haves.”
Building a Deck
I am a purist at heart and my preference is to use natural materials on my own deck, and we also use them on many of our projects. The mahogany decking, more widely available today, is a faster growth variety and does require regular maintenance. This material works best in shady areas where it is less susceptible to rapid moisture changes. Ipe (pronounced e-pay) is a great natural material. About three times the cost of mahogany but with a very long lifespan. With longevity in mind the most popular material are synthetics that require less maintenance. Today there are a lot of materials that look great and can make summers a carefree indulgence.
In Dover we installed this glass railing to give a seamless view to the Charles River beyond.
The addition of details such as railings and skirting can turn a standard deck into an architectural beauty. Besides how the deck sits with your home’s aesthetics, things to consider with decks are the size and transition from the home to the yard. I recommend a deck when there are more than 3 steps down to the yard. The closer to the ground, the more I would be inclined to recommend making the deck large enough to accommodate a table and grill on the deck with a patio for gathering a few steps below. If you are 5 steps or higher above the ground, it may make sense to have room for both dining and gathering on the deck.
Three-Season Porch Addition
That means not usually winter, but for this Dover porch we included electric radiant heat bars at the Owner’s request… and easy-change wood and glass panels for the cool months allowing the space to be open for entertaining year-round. As pollen season is on its way out, I appreciate the client who loved the ability to wait until the pollen stopped before changing the glass to open screens. While the practicality of a three-season porch is desirable some homeowners are happy with screens to just be able to be outside at dusk. In Sherborn, we are famous for screen porches because of our town bird-the mosquito. When you are designing a porch on the entertaining side of the house, think about its’ end use, how you will transition from inside to the backyard and if there are any sunlight restrictions you may impose on the interior.
The exit from this three-season porch has a more traditional mahogany rail with stained lattice below
the stair and a paneled skirt below the decking.
We do not build patios; however, people will tell you that I often recommend patios over decks. The main reason I recommend a patio is that it will outlast any deck as long as it is constructed properly. Not to mention, with stone being the popular choice for patios it allows you to add a fire pit anywhere you want without burning a hole in your deck. If your backyard is more than five steps down… patios are not a great option without a transition. I have seen patios on homes that just never saw much use because of the distance and some that are the center of summer entertaining because we took the design challenge seriously. We do install patios with other contractors on projects and often have some input of the design… but these spaces often benefit more when the landscaping is taken into consideration with the patio build.
An al fresco dining experience on a Wellesley patio addition complete with dining and fire pit.