Building an outdoor living space


We all crave the outdoors. It’s why when we go on vacation, we don’t just go to the movies and then head to the nearest mall to shop. No, we plan to be outside—whether that’s climbing a mountain or simply relaxing on the beach. Increasingly, homeowners are finding ways to enjoy the outdoors without the expense of a plane ticket. They’re upgrading their patios with brick ovens or installing covered hot tubs on their decks. These types of outdoor living spaces are ways of bringing our indoor lifestyles outside. Fortunately, many elements are getting more popular and less expensive. Here’s how to tell what’s right for your home.

What’s your outdoor lifestyle?

Before you hire a contractor and gather your design team, you need to make some decisions about your space. What is your ideal outdoor space? What does the perfect backyard have? What will you be doing in it, with whom and how often?

Next, examine your home. What type of outdoor space would fit the existing yard? What materials would complement your home? What are your focal points and views? Once you’ve considered all of the parameters, it’s time to weigh your options.



Decks & More

A window to nature

When Frank Pologruto, owner of Decks & More (, was asked to design three distinct outdoor spaces, he was given one important guideline: The space had to be designed around an existing picture window. A focal point in its own right, the large, four-sectioned window required a unique overhang to accent its features. Custom designing a domed roof that fluidly mimics the curve of the window, Pologruto created an element that looks good from the inside and out.

To retain the sweeping views of the lake, the builder installed large custom-made screens for an unencumbered view. On the floor, variegated slate tiles echo the hues of nature as well as the home’s brick exterior. A side deck, conveniently accessible from the home and providing direct access to the screened porch, is ideal for grilling. Descending the staircase, the homeowners have a patio that features an under-deck drainage system and fluidly curved arches that mimic the dome above. “There were many obstacles to overcome on this project,” Pologruto says. “But, upon completion, it is evident that all of the obstacles were well worth the challenge, as this addition is simply stunning.”


Patios, porches and decks

Decks are perfect for the homeowner who loves the feel of wood and wants a space off the ground. If the back entrance is well above ground level, a deck can be seamlessly integrated with the home, with an option for adding storage or patio space below. “The ‘traditional’ wood-deck approach is a thing of the past,” says Bobby Parks, owner of Peachtree Decks and Porches ( “When I design a deck, I make an effort to really blend the project into its surroundings and ensure that it flows with the existing architectural features of the home.”

In terms of materials, the choices are vast. Pressure-treated lumber is still the best-selling option, says Dough Fritsch, director of web and package sales at 84 Lumber ( It has a high structural integrity, is rot resistant and, in many cases, is guaranteed for up to 40 years. It’s also fairly inexpensive. A small treated deck package, say 12’ x 16’, can be acquired for around $600, not including labor, which will roughly double the cost, depending on the area and job, according to Fritsch. “On average, our customers are spending about $1,500 for a nice deck with railings,” he says.

For a traditional wood-deck look, 5/4” x 6” radius-edge decking is a common choice, according to Robert Avery, vice president of Atlanta Specialty Millwork ( However, many homeowners are opting for a more refined finish to match the aesthetics of their home. “Exotic hardwoods, such as Ipe or Tigerwood, have become quite popular in the Atlanta market not only for their rich beauty, but also their durability,” he says. “For those homeowners who want a relatively maintenance-free deck but like the look of wood, composite decking is a viable choice. It’s available in a number of styles and colors that have the appearance of stained wood, but unlike natural wood, composites never require staining or sealing, and they won’t rot, warp or mildew.”



Contractor: MOSAIC Group [Architects and Remodelers]

Outdoor oasis

A well-designed deck can be the perfect solution for creating a seamless transition between yard and home. Embarking on a project of this magnitude, MOSAIC Group [Architects and Remodelers] ( was challenged to transform an outdated deck that didn’t relate well to the backyard into a stylish haven perfect for relaxing and entertaining. “The homeowners had come to a crossroads where they had to decide if they wanted to improve their existing home or upgrade to a new one,” says Rick Goldstein, registered architect and co-owner of MOSAIC. “In the end, they decided to stay, recapture their lot and improve its functionality with an open porch, veranda and significant landscaping.”

Creating two separate spaces—one screened and one open-air—MOSAIC emphasized the rooms’ natural appeal with a warm, yet varied materials list. Tigerwood, an exotic Brazilian hardwood that stands up well to the elements, graces the floor of both rooms, while stacked Tennessee fieldstone provides a solid base for the entire structure as well as the outdoor fireplace. MOSAIC also incorporated tongue-and-groove southern yellow pine beams and boards for the ceiling and PVC railings and columns for their durability and rot-proof qualities.

“Unlike screened porches from decades ago, today’s versions are extensions of the home,” Goldstein says. “With vaulted ceilings, beautiful furnishings and fireplaces, these rooms are extremely usable all year long, and they create that desired connection to the outdoors.”


Ground-level living areas such as patios connect families with their backyards and can be the showpiece of the home. Patios are hugely popular because they add livable space to a backyard often with very little maintenance. Although the patio can be covered or uncovered, one particular trend is the incorporation of an outdoor fireplace as well as natural stone materials to emphasize its connection to nature. Ceiling fans and comfortable furnishings add to the ambience and ensure year-round usability.

Homeowners are choosing larger pavers and slabs, which offer a more contemporary look and are easier to install, says Ken O’Neill, vice president of marketing at Belgard Hardscapes ( Though pricing is dependent on the market and product type, a general estimate for patio pavers is $10-20 per square foot.



Contractor: Heirloom Design Build

In-town transformation

When Heirloom Design Build ( renovated a 100-plus-year-old Candler Park Victorian, the designers were careful to artfully blend its century-old charm with modern ideals. Honing in on the home’s inviting, neighborly appeal, the firm immediately removed a screened front porch and replaced it with an open, airy adaptation perfect for impromptu visits. “We wanted to capture that streetscape feel that was so prevalent in homes from this time,” says Dave F. Radlmann, CGC, LEED AP BD+C and CEO. “We retained the original tongue-and-groove heart pine flooring and ceiling and added a porch swing for a bit of nostalgia.”

Continuing the transformation around back, Heirloom added an expansive deck constructed from stained pressure-treated pine. Allowing for future expansion, they specifically made plans for a 14' x 14' area that would be ideal for a screened porch some day. “In all of our designs, we incorporate opportunities for future phasing,” Radlmann says. “Particularly with today’s economy, we are cognizant that many homeowners need to renovate in stages, and we help them prepare for these future expansions.”


If you’re looking for more of an extension of your interior space, a porch may be your best option. While a front porch certainly enhances curb appeal and harkens back to the days when families and friends relaxed on a white-washed swing, many of today’s manifestations grace the back of the home. Often combined with a deck, porches tend to be screened-in enclosures that capture panoramic views of nature and include the same luxuries found inside the home. “Today’s screened porches aren’t the same uninviting screened porches from years ago,” says Rick Goldstein, registered architect and co-owner of MOSAIC Group [Architects and Remodelers] ( “Now there is a purpose to the space, one that combines a desire for easy maintenance and a connection to the outdoors.”

To create the perfect space, most designers recommend using natural materials that won’t date the project. Georgia granite and locally quarried stone are common choices for their availability and iconic appeal, while rich-toned wood in a variety of species adds warmth and depth to the room. Lofty, vaulted ceilings have also become commonplace, while sumptuous furnishings, televisions, grand fireplaces and even wet bars capture that homey feel. “The whole idea is to cater the space to your particular use,” says Dave F. Radlmann, CGC, LEED AP BD+C and CEO of Heirloom Design Build ( “In Atlanta, the screened porch has become quite an asset, shielding homeowners from insects and scorching heat and allowing them to reclaim their backyard in every season.”



Contractor: MasterWorks

Year-round comfort

For many Atlanta area homeowners, summer’s seemingly constant stream of sunshine quickly heats up backyard entertainment areas, dampening the desire to head outdoors. In one such project, an exposed porch off a brick exterior soaked up so many rays, it created an unbearable heat situation. To contend with it, MasterWorks ( specified a set of fully enclosed screen porches as well as a side patio for year-round enjoyment.

Transforming the traditional Georgian home into one with a more Craftsman-style design, MasterWorks used an aesthetically pleasing palette for an updated look. Khaki-colored paint trimming the windows accents the exposed brick and complements the smooth suede paint color used on the remaining brick of the home. On the patio, faux stone encases a barbecue grill, which is easily accessible from the breakfast nook. With enclosed and open-air options, the homeowners now have a variety of outdoor spaces that can be used all year.


Making existing elements extraordinary

For owners with existing patios, porches and decks, there are innumerable ways to improve on them, and many of today’s trends—things as simple as seating or as elaborate as an entire outdoor kitchen—involve strategies for increasing a family’s time outside.

For the perfect porch, consider screening it in to create an intimate space that feels inviting in any weather. The best porch will be one in which people spend time. Wall blocks can create elegant edges while also adding seating and other uses. “We’re seeing professionals get really creative with the way they incorporate walls into the landscape,” says O’Neill. “Blocks can be used to create steps, planters, walls, pillars, benches and more. Walls can also have multiple uses—a garden wall can double as a seat bench, and a retaining wall can also be used as a raised flower bed for a higher landscape tier.” Other popular additions for decks are food-related items like grills and smokers.

In fact, fire and food are the biggest trends most professionals are seeing in terms of outdoor living, and a patio is the perfect place for both. Fireplaces, fire pits and things like brick ovens offer ambience, warmth and a way to prepare and cook food without being stuck indoors. This also helps make the patio a year-round space. But such large projects require planning ahead and a design that takes into account everything from electrical requirements and traffic flow to the distance the patio is from the home.

In the end, merging a patio and deck may be the ultimate option. Archadeck ( vice president Rob Haislip says much of the company’s business is moving toward combination projects that include both a deck and a patio. “In elevated areas, building a deck above and a patio below increases livable square footage outdoors,” he says. “When considering these  types of projects, homeowners should work with a design professional to ensure a logical order for installation. Including features such as an outdoor kitchen or fireplace or fire pit needs to be well thought out during the planning phase.”

Whatever add-ons a homeowner chooses, it’s important to set a realistic budget. Though an owner may associate the size of his or her property with an amount—thinking, for example, that a project for a small yard will be inexpensive—some features by themselves can cost $30,000-$50,000. But many professionals are adamant that your dream deck or perfect patio is affordable, because the build-out can be done in phases. In the end, translating your desires to the space will be the best guarantee for success. Says O’Neill: “Homeowners who build their space to reflect their own lifestyle get the most out of it, extending their outdoor season and spending more time outdoors.”



Contractor: Portis Building & Interiors

Room with a view

An unsightly view of the neighbors’ yard prompted these homeowners to rethink their backyard patio. Although the concrete slab was in excellent condition, the view of the storage building next door was enough for them to consider their options. Deciding on an outdoor room, the homeowners worked with Portis Building & Interiors ( to create their vision.

Using the existing slab as a foundation, the builders covered the old patio with faux slate tiles rated for outdoor applications. Once the footers were poured, a faux stone fireplace was positioned at an angle to create a focal point and block the unwanted view. Finally, two skylights were installed to further that indoor-outdoor connection and add another light source to the open-air patio. “This type of room is being installed all the time now,” says Molly Portis, co-owner of Portis Building & Interiors. “Even when it is really hot outside, this room stays comfortable, allowing it to be enjoyed in every season.”


Decks vs. Patios vs. Porches


Made from: wood or composite wood

Best for: above-ground backyard living areas

Pros: warm, traditional, provide storage space, easy installation

Cons: more maintenance-intensive


Made from: stone, composite pavers or concrete

Best for: functional, ground-level living areas

Pros: low-maintenance, durable, potentially eco-friendly

Cons: can be expensive, more intensive installation


Made from: wood, concrete or

composite pavers

Best for: entrance areas

Pros: add curb appeal and functional outdoor space

Cons: limited in terms of space

Visit the North American Deck and Railing Association website,, for more information.


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