The line between indoor and outdoor living is disappearing as homeowners rediscover the pleasure of preparing meals outside and dining and entertaining with the backdrop of the open skies.
What started as a hibachi or Weber in the backyard, tended by the man of the house, has morphed into full-scale, professional-grade kitchens with wood-burning ovens, grills, sinks, refrigerators and dishwashers. Elaborate furnishings include dining “rooms,” conversation areas with fire pits, spas and poolside entertainment spaces, even theaters and surround sound. Sonomans who enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and the people who market the requisite elements are happy to share their experience and expertise.
Ryan Lely/Sonoma Valley Sun
Dining al fresco is a popular option for summer evenings.
California dreamin’ – outdoor-style
Gemma Gallovich and Ted Cutler moved from Connecticut with a wine country lifestyle in mind. “We definitely wanted the California outdoor living dream,” said Gallovich. After the couple settled in a home in the George Ranch section of Sonoma, they took what was once a horse pasture and created an outdoor living space.
“We wanted to maximize the view we have,” said Gallovich, “so we worked with our architect to come up with a multi-level design.” Stairs lead down from the back deck of the home to the first tier, which has a free-standing spa and a view area, and continue to the pool level. The pool has a soothing waterfall feature and one side features a sharp drop-off that allows guests to swim to the edge, where there is an unobstructed view.
The terraces are all salt-finished concrete in a sand tone. Low walls are crafted from a mosaic of fieldstone; the same treatment is found on the cooking and preparation islands. “We used earth colors to blend with and not distract from the view,” Gallovich said. She and Cutler opted for a stainless steel grill and rotisserie, refrigerator, sink and storage drawers. A natural gas line was installed and plumbing for the sink and pool. Solar panels in the lower field are used for heating the pool.
Layout and ergonomics
This arrangement is a good example of the layout fitting the lifestyle, according to Michael Robertori, owner of Villa Terrazza in Sonoma. Robertori says the first question he asks customers is what kind of lifestyle they have: “Do they have small children or are they ‘empty nesters?’ Do they entertain a lot? There are different considerations depending on their circumstances.”
He recommends arranging the outdoor space in a way that flows. “Start with your prep zone, then the grill or cooking area, next you have to plate and serve, and you might have a bar or entertainment zone where guests can sit and talk with the host.” Almost all appliances can be either built into permanent installations or set on wheels for a modular design that allows flexibility.
At Smith & Hawken, a Marin county garden and furniture store, trade manager and design specialist Benjamin Ceryes often works with customers on outdoor furniture designs. “We suggest integrating various pieces, such as a teak table and wicker chairs,” said Ceryes. “It enlivens the look and can create a more comfortable arrangement.” Like Robertori, he bases his advice on factors such as lifestyle and family circumstances as well as landscape and climate conditions.
Ryan Lely/Sonoma Valley Sun
The Gallovich-Cutler household opted for all-weather wicker with an outdoor fabric for the cushions.
An overlooked element is the energy consumption in an outdoor environment. Refrigeration in particular can put a lot of energy demands on a system, “Once you open a refrigerator door on a hot day, it can take a long time to cool off again,” said Robertori. “Look for appliances that have a high recapture rate, so food and beverages stay cold.”
With an outdoor season in Northern California that can stretch from April to November, retailers recommend choosing manufacturers that have extensive experience in creating long-lasting and durable appliances and furnishings. Buying a cheap grill or flimsy furniture is a false economy and results in frequent replacement.
The Gallovich-Cutler household opted for teak table and chairs as well as all-weather wicker with an outdoor fabric for the cushions. “We have had these furnishings and kitchen for nearly three years,” said Cutler, “and the only thing we have to store is the cushions.” The couple finds themselves using the outdoor kitchen and lounging areas almost daily. “We have coffee and read out here,” said Gallovich, “then we are back out again to cook dinner with friends or family. We feel very fortunate to be in Sonoma where we can live the life we dreamed of.”
Resources for outdoor kitchens and entertainment areas:
Plantation-grown teak products: www.west-teak.com
Natural wicker and all-weather woven vinyl furnishings: www.lloydflanders.com
High-grade stainless steel grills and outdoor appliances: www.alfrescogrill
Color-fast and mildew-resistant outdoor fabrics: www.sunbrella.com
Smith & Hawken: www.smithandhawken.com
Villa Terrazza: www.villa-terrazza.com