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Outdoor Living

Before there was such a thing as central heat and air conditioning, people entertained out of doors. Neighbors gathered around the front porch swing or the backyard picnic table. Houses soon expanded to accommodate a deck with a barbecue grill and chaise lounge.

But those families probably could not imagine the patios of today: full-size kitchens with sinks, refrigerators, wet bars, a television or two, plus a fireplace and outdoor dining room. With some adding sofas – and even beds – there’s almost no reason to live indoors.

Indoor conveniences have moved outside. Yet there’s something elemental about a place to cook, eat and sit in the great outdoors.

Many homeowners are renovating or building new homes to include an outdoor living area. By incorporating wide-open spaces with indoor comforts, families are no longer limited to just the charcoal grill and folding chairs. And for every family gathering spot, there is a different flavor.

Murray and Nancy Duggins had relaxation in mind when they added a waterfall and fish pond to their yard overlooking Clark Pond. Goldfish in electric hues of orange and pink swim beneath a ledge and into a tunnel that protects them from the blue heron that lives nearby. Rocking chairs on the covered porch and benches beside the pond give a view of this peaceful spot.

“We sit out here with a glass of wine,” Nancy Duggins says.

Come summer, Dr. Scott and Aisha McGraw bypass their dining room table for the one outside. The poolside table is covered and large enough for a party though there is plenty of room for overflow into the pool house or the large backyard with a small guest house and hot tub. Sometimes the former owners – Dr. Menno and Suzanne Pennink – even come by for a dip.

At the Newman home in Gates Four, the screened-in back porch is perfect for smaller family gatherings. Dr. Edwin and Betsy Newman’s two boys, 12-year-old Thomas and 7-year-old Bennett, roast hot dogs and s’mores over the fire.

Builder Jimmy Hobbs has had many requests for his full-size outdoor fireplaces in the Gates Four neighborhood and other places in Cumberland County. He says there’s something about being outdoors and around the fire that appeals to people.

No matter the fancy amenities – and there are many in this $6.2 billion “leisure lifestyle” industry – it comes back to gathering around the open flame.

So imagine sitting outside, enjoying the beauty of the outdoors while your spouse cooks dinner for the family. Accompanying the sweet sound of a gentle breeze rustling the trees you also hear the crack and occasional pop from the fireplace.

It isn’t just a nice touch to a home – builders and developers say it also makes good business sense to add or incorporate an outdoor living area to a home. Homebuilders say that a patio or deck is one of the top three features that new buyers request. Not only does an outdoor living area increase space but also the value of a home.

But homeowners should think carefully before building or designing their outdoor space. Will it be used for cooking, entertaining, gardening or a combination of all three?

Cooking outdoors now goes beyond the grill. There are a number of choices for outdoor kitchens. Sure, you can still toss burgers and hot dogs on the grill, but your ability to be more creative with the cuisine will increase with an outdoor kitchen. This could include any combination of oven, range, wet bar, sink and, of course, a grill using weather-resistant material such as stainless steel or sealed concrete.

The Allen family added a full-size bar to their outdoor space. At first, Tim and Aimee Allen passed up the house for sale in the Summertime neighborhood. It languished without a buyer until the Allens gave it another look. Now it and the backyard are completely transformed. The bar is perfect for entertaining, and thanks to a heated pool, the crowd can move outdoors year-round.

Entertaining goes hand in hand with cooking. Social occasions gravitate toward food and the pleasing of every guest’s palate. Adding a dining area with furniture, such as outdoor tables, chairs and umbrellas, can easily enhance the outdoor kitchen. An outdoor fireplace or fire pit will give a cozy glow to the party and enable you to extend your enjoyment of the outdoor area practically year-round. A hot tub adds bubbly fun and, again, can be used practically year-round. Some homeowners are adding TVs and stereos for the full range of entertaining options.

Creative landscaping ties everything together. Potted plants provide a natural accent while trellises with leafy or flowering vines create a natural wall. Lighting can set the mood or highlight focal areas. Torches and low light set a subdued mood while lights pointed toward select trees and plants add drama.

For Southerners, there’s only one downside to outdoor living: mosquitoes. Mosquito coils, citronella candles or torches are an inexpensive way to keep the bugs at bay during warm months.

Nothing’s perfect, but outdoor living sure comes close.