Lead People Outdoors

What are the latest and greatest outdoor trends? Think resorts and nightclubs.

Bring the indoors outside.

Especially in warmer climates, the trend is towards lush, relaxing exteriors furnished with high-end, outdoor all-weather furniture, flat-screen TVs, fashionable accessories, pro-level outdoor kitchens, and beautiful lighting.

The hospitality industry has been creating these types of outdoor spaces for years, particularly in the boutique-hotel market, which is dominated by the “Gen-Y” consumer. In hospitality, it is all about experiences.

The great outdoors has never been more popular. Today, people want cool outdoor spaces--intimate places where residents can gather, both formally and informally. In warmer climates, the exteriors are extensions of the interiors, so it makes great sense to utilize them as fully functional areas.

Today’s outdoor landscape trends are definitely following the hospitality industry. Cool and hip hotels have been a good indicator, something called “the nightclub phenomenon,” inspired by places like the Roosevelt, Standard, and W hotels.

There are actually two major trends to note:

The Resort Look

This look involves more spacious grounds. Typically, there is plenty of landscaping that separates zones of cabanas, outdoor eating areas, fireplaces, fire pits, lounge areas, pool bars plus comfortable chaises by the pool or in the pool.

Areas are separated from each of the other activities in order to accommodate a large number of participants.

People are drawn to outdoor designs that include water (in pools or fountains), fire (in fire pits and fireplaces), shelter from the sun, and plenty of plants.

The Nightclub Look

This is a more condensed area with less landscaping and harder surfaces. The areas tend to be on roof decks or on podium decks.

Since these areas are primarily made of hard surfaces and landscaping is kept at a minimum, activities are not segregated; rather, there is usually one large event area.

Pools are not a major component, and may be minimal in size, or not at all.

These areas are all about interaction. The lounge sections are set up for conversation. In addition, there are televisions, heaters, fireplaces, fire pits, BBQ's, and bars.

People want to spend more and more time outdoors.

Michael Schrock, principal of Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Urban Arena, says, “If you want to see how hot this programming is, look to Las Vegas. While some of the things they do are not achievable due to cost or manpower, the overall feel and excitement is obtainable. The consumer wants the exciting amenities they have to offer, and it sells.”

Selling Points

Whether you’re trying to create a resort or a nightclub, these spaces have become important sales tools.

At Avalon in Anaheim, Calif., the common outdoor spaces are utilized all of the time. Some events are put on by the management team while others are rented for private affairs. Residents have to reserve the space months in advance because it is so popular.

The properties that contain these types of amenities have a measureable effect on assisting in leasing units. In urban settings--where ground is at a premium--rooftops are an ideal location to create amenities that might not be available otherwise. In addition, the rooftop decks provide views that many tenants may not have.

Lastly, this market is dominated by Gen-Y tenants who demand both interaction and experiences while providing a market distinction to the property.

“Our prospective tenants and existing residents just love the outdoor areas here. It’s a critical component of our sale. They don’t want to feel boxed in, and they love all of the courtyards, pools, cabanas, and fireplace lounge areas,” says Stacy Brown, Business Manager for Main Street Village, an apartment community located in Irvine, Calif., by Met Life.

Amenities In Demand

That’s not all residents love. When it comes to the great outdoors, what do residents value most?

According to the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Residential Trends Survey, fire pits are high on the list, but that’s merely the beginning. The survey asked residential-landscape architecture professionals to rate the expected popularity of dozens of different outdoor living and landscape features.

For 2011, the top outdoor-living features are fairly basic: light, fire, food, and a place to sit and enjoy it all.

Overall, 96.2 percent of respondents rated exterior lighting as somewhat or very popular, followed by fire pits/fireplaces (94.2 percent), seating/dining areas (94.1 percent), grills (93.8 percent), and installed seating, like benches or seat walls (89.5 percent).

While the most popular outdoor features reflect an enduring sensibility, the interest in modern technology, like stereo systems (58.3 percent), Internet access (46.3 percent), and televisions (45.4 percent), adds to the growing trend of taking what we enjoy inside to the outdoors.

Every Little Detail

Outdoor spaces require the same care and detailed design as the interior counterparts, so what are the latest trends in styles, colors, materials, and social factors?

For the Gen-Y market segment, the color direction is definitely dynamic--bright, saturated colors along with everything environmentally conscious. Natural elements playfully interacting with cool, contemporary ones is the new direction.

A comfortable and relaxed atmosphere is what is important to this tenant--a place to gather and kick back with friends. Design outdoor spaces that include areas for dining and socializing, as well as more private space for sitting and reading a book or relaxing on a lounge chair.

Key objectives for outdoor kitchens are functionality and relaxation. Just as interior kitchens are used for cooking, congregating, and entertaining family and friends, outdoor kitchens should also serve multiple purposes.

When designing an outdoor kitchen, always consider the flow of the space, especially if it includes a pool. Outdoor kitchens are now being built to accommodate catering events more than cooking.

Multifunctional outdoor spaces can be used to entertain all types of residents, so consider your options. There are no limits to the appliances and electronics that you can use outdoors. Many are engineered to withstand climate changes.

Outdoor televisions add a dynamic element that creates an opportunity for special events--sports, TV watch parties, or just another place to congregate.

The aesthetics of an outdoor room are equally as important as its functionality. Adding personality to outdoor spaces creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. From layout to size, every detail should be taken into consideration to make outdoor rooms comforting spaces.

For instance, unique lighting fixtures or an outdoor area-rug can make the outdoor living space more unique.

Outdoor rooms can be created with ease by utilizing the latest designs in outdoor furniture. Trellises can mimic a wall; covered pavilions can mimic a ceiling; and tables and chairs provide beauty as well as function.

How Much?

The challenge in creating all of this is that it costs more than merely providing a few lounge chairs.

Specialty outdoor furniture can be expensive, and providing all the amenities described above become costly. However, creating an environment that lures new tenants and keeps existing ones is well worth the expense.

There are many companies that provide outdoor fabrics that resist fading and stains and can add gorgeous color and plush comfort to the outdoors.

In order to keep costs down, it is better to design these spaces early in order to provide the necessary infrastructure requirements, such as gas, water, electricity, drainage, cable, etc.

Everyone is trying to create dynamic exterior spaces, but the real trick is to lead people directly and seamlessly outdoors. Costs can be an issue here as well.

Indoor paving and flooring don’t like to get wet, and cannot meet outdoor slip coefficients. Ideally, the same materials flow from the inside to the outside, but this is not always easy, and communication between the interior designer and landscape architect is essential.

The challenges can be well worth the hassles, especially in warmer climates. As discussed, the hospitality industry has been creating these types of outdoor spaces for years, particularly in the market dominated by the Gen-Y consumer. In hospitality, it is all about experiences.

As the resort and nightclub trends continue to gain momentum, interior designers and landscape architects will be pushed to create these unique environments. Challenging, but rewarding!

Victoria Currens is a principal with Style Interior Design, a full-service hospitality/commercial interior-design firm that works with some of the largest multi-family and master-planned community developers in the nation. The award-winning company has created innovative design solutions for a wide range of projects, including clubhouses, multi-family leasing centers, resorts, conference centers, spas, and information centers for master-planned communities. Visit www.style-interiors.com.