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Inside Out

Today's outdoor living spaces require more than comfort, elegance and functionality

Eric Figge
The Oaks in San Juan Capistrano

If you were to list the basics of a well-appointed home, you would likely include a souped-up kitchen; an all-weather flat-screen TV hanging above a fireplace and a grouping of elegant-but-comfortable chairs for leisurely conversation. You would also have to think about how your design and materials would fare during weeks of scorching sun or coastal fog. Will fabrics repel moisture? How often will the teak siding need to be refinished?
Because today’s well-appointed home brings the inside out. “Once you get above a certain price level, it’s required that you have an outside room,” says architect Don Jacobs, chairman of JZMK Partners in Costa Mesa. “If you want to sell that house someday, you’d better have it.”

Outdoor living is hardly a novel concept in Southern California, but the degree to which homeowners are willing to re-create indoor living spaces out of doors continues to escalate. Neither rain nor snow (rarities to be sure) nor heat nor gloom of night – not even the drought – can deter us from cooking and serving a multicourse meal under a pergola equipped with a chandelier in what we charmingly used to refer to as “the backyard.”
Kristy Yale, owner of Kristy Lynn Interiors in Laguna Beach, says homeowners want “stone tables and beautiful cabinetry, and built-in barbecues, keg taps and an outdoor sink.” For those who desire boundaries (of sorts), there are exterior curtains that allow a homeowner to “enclose the space as a room.”

The thought and craftsmanship devoted to outdoor features such as curtains, and movable and retractable walls and doors, is nothing short of astonishing. Laguna Beach interior designer Arianna Noppenberger has employed intricately designed screens that move on concealed tracks and filter the sunlight and has designed a “ceiling” using mesh and cantilevered steel beams.

Living outdoors, of course, is all well and good when the sun is shining, but temperatures can drop into the 50s and 60s in the evening, sometimes necessitating a trip indoors in search of a sweatshirt – or a cashmere throw. Fortunately, the design of outdoor heaters, especially those installed in ceilings, has evolved to the point where you “can’t tell the difference between a heater and a speaker,” says Jacobs, who has designed more than 100 custom homes.

The fireplace has evolved as well. Guests may warm themselves before a traditional hearth – or a fire cube, a fire ribbon or the omnipresent fire pit.

At some point you and your guests might want to sit down with a drink – and the options are plentiful: The well-dressed outdoor space may very well be furnished with zinc side tables, laser-cut steel benches or chairs made from reclaimed wood. But what about those upholstered day beds and chaise lounges that must weather a regular beating of sun, wind and fog?

The best of them are made with fabric that fulfills a need for a splash of color and resists fading or succumbing to mildew or mold.

Some of those cost $50, $60 or more a yard, but Yale points out that  “you’re paying for the technology.” She cites the products of companies such as Perennials which, she says, she sometimes uses indoors for clients with children and pets.

Andrew Stoneman and Laura Haskell, the husband and wife behind Costa Mesa’s Haskell Collection, extol the virtues of Bella-Dura fabrics, which, Stoneman says, are “resilient to outdoor elements” and recyclable.

Stoneman and Haskell have been producing a line of sustainable furniture and accessories for several years – pieces like sofas, chairs, and coffee and dining tables with a boho vibe and an eco heart. Their typical customer, Stoneman says, has “an eye on design and doesn’t want something that is made for the masses.”

Do they believe that Southern Californians who are planning elaborate outdoor spaces are willing to consider sustainability issues other than, say, landscaping with the drought in mind?

“People are very conscious about their outdoor rooms and their outdoor settings,” Stoneman says. “If you spend time entertaining outside, you’re a social individual. People want to be able to show they are aware of what’s going on.”

Much of what’s going on has been dictated by extreme drought conditions, but that doesn’t mean you have to surrender all your greenery to river rock and cacti. Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, who is president and CFO of Lifescapes International and works with commercial and residential clients worldwide, emphasizes the “many choices of plant materials for Southern California’s outdoor rooms, adding, “You don’t have to be ugly to be drought-tolerant.”
“The Mediterranean climate allows for lots of different plant materials,” Brinkerhoff-Jacobs says, pointing to an array of bright green staghorn ferns during a tour of the outdoor living spaces at her Corona del Mar home.  

Can a marriage between high-end design and drought-necessitated planting be long and harmonious? “The thing about drought-tolerant plants is that they are sculptural,” Brinkerhoff-Jacobs says.  Which seems to indicate a long-term relationship, at the very least.

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