Outdoor design ideas for cold weather living

Homeowners hunkering down during coronavirus are figuring out ways to extend their time outside

As fall turns to winter and daylight dwindles, so does our time outside. Patio furniture is tucked into storage, deck awnings stowed away, and string lights wrapped up until warmer days return.

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Or at least that was how it went before Covid-19.

Outdoor space, be it a backyard or a balcony, has become precious since the start of the pandemic. Homeowners don't want to lose the extra square footage just because it is chilly.

"Usually in the winter, no one is talking about outdoor dining or entertaining," says Kesha Franklin, founder of Halden Interiors.

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But this year, "it has become part of the conversation," as homeowners rush to winterize their yards and patios.

"Work isn't slowing down even in places where there is going to be snow on the ground," says Allison Messner, co-founder and CEO of Yardzen. Ms. Messner says the online landscape design service has seen business more than double since the beginning of 2020.

(iStock)

"People don't want to be indoors, but this is the time of year when people want to be with loved ones," says Ms. Messner. "So that is forcing people to figure out how to make use of their outdoor space."

Getting toasty

A heat source is a must-have for an outdoor space to be livable in cold weather. Landscape designer Amber Freda suggests heat lamps, as they come in a variety of styles and sizes.

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Ms. Freda works primarily in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where the fire code prohibits the use of propane tanks. There, she opts for electric wall-mounted units, which work well on small city terraces. Mrs. Franklin's go-to's are the commercial-grade Fire Sense stainless steel heater that retails for $318, or the $1,750 Bromic Tungsten Smart-Heat Portable Heater. Given the high demand, both are out of stock or back-ordered at all major retailers right now.

Fire pits and tables are also high on the list of wants. A custom built-in fire pit connected to a gas line can run upward of $3,000, according to Ms. Freda. A basic-wood burning pit is more budget-friendly.

A backdoor patio set, complete with a fire pit and grill. (iStock)

Take the party outside

Some homeowners are building semi-enclosed spaces, tenting yards for events, and buying specialized furniture.

Ignacio Cesped, a real-estate agent with Elegran in New York, has clients who turned their patios into cigar lounges using tents and heaters.

"This is something that can be taken down in the spring," says Mr. Cesped. The tents are similar to those used at restaurants, and cost between $4,000 and $6,000, including installation.

StruXure, a luxury pergola brand, has seen business increase 50% since May. The louvered, smart tech-equipped Pergola X costs roughly $15,000, but can run up to $100,000 or more depending on size and custom add-ons, like built-in heaters, lights, ceiling fans and retractable screens and windshields.

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Design firm Vesta is already consulting with clients in New York and San Francisco who want tented yards for Christmas and New Year's Eve. The firm is also designing custom drapes to enclose and insulate a patio for a client in Los Angeles.

Beginning in October, Vesta sees a drop-off in requests for outdoor furniture, according to CEO Julian Buckner. "That has completely changed. Now people are willing to spend extra money."

Heated furniture is a plus. Design studio Galanter & Jones makes radiantly-heated outdoor furniture, like the Helios Metreo sofa, which costs $6,200.

Creating comfort

Outdoor space should be as inviting as a living room. Mrs. Franklin helps her clients set the mood with lighting and music, and creates a festive atmosphere with decorations, oversize throws, tableware and linens.

She suggests a few bistro tables over one large table to allow for social distancing and "to create a cafe-like vibe."

Inflatable screens can be used for movie nights. Ms. Franklin recommends the 20-foot option from Khomo Gear, which costs $230.

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"We're seeing people want to take advantage of their yard as an extension of their home," says Kevin Lenhart, design director of Yardzen.

More outdoor the better

As of October, StreetEasy found that searches for New York City homes with outdoor space were up 249% from a year ago. Manhattan condos with terraces were selling at a 5.4% premium than they were a year ago, according to data from appraiser Miller Samuel.

In Chicago, single family homes priced under $750,000 are most in-demand, says Mario Greco, owner of MG Group at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago. Neighborhoods that were once considered too far from downtown are seeing a boom because they offer more space.

"The more outdoor space a property has, the more attractive it is," Mr. Greco says.

"A great patio, a hot tub, heat lamps have always been preferential," says Brendan Trieb, of Summit Sotheby's International Realty in Park City, Utah, where home sales are surging. "But now with substantially less inventory available, folks are getting more creative about those solutions. They are looking for something that has the space to be able to add those features down the line."

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