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Blueprint Summer 2014: A Guide to Home Improvement


By Taniesha Robinson

Today’s stylish outdoor furniture designs may require a double-take to recognize that they are not meant for indoor-living luxury. Furniture designers have worked hard to satisfy consumers’ appetites for elegant outdoor pieces that go beyond the garden bench. Now, the industry is responding to the environmentally conscious desire to maintain stunning designs in sustainable outdoor furniture.

The 2013 Green Home Furnishings Study conducted by the Sustainable Furnishings Council found that 45.2 percent of respondents said they were “definitely interested” in buying green home furnishings if they liked the style and the cost was comparable to other options. A total of 84.6 percent of respondents said they were at least “possibly interested.” The council’s executive director, Susan Inglis, says that green comes in many different shades for eco-friendly furniture. “Sustainability is a triple-bottom line,” Inglis says. “It’s about what’s good for ecosystems on our planet, what’s good for communities, and what’s good for economies.” Indeed, sustainability deals with many material and social concerns including, conservation, landfills and social equity.

When environmental concerns grew among the public in the 1980s, recycling became the prime effort to protect the environment. This movement brought about an excess of high-density polyethylene recycled plastic in the form of milk jugs and other containers. In 1990, owners of Syracuse, Ind.-based Poly-Wood, discovered an innovative use for recycled milk jugs by extruding them into plastic lumber for outdoor furniture. The company’s first-ever design, an Adirondack chair made of the recycled plastic, was a hit and continues as a best-seller for the company, says vice president Brady Maller. “We find a lot of opportunity to get really beautiful shapes,” Maller says of the design process with HDPE. Further, HDPE doesn’t bend like other plastics and is impervious to nearly all types of weather conditions.

Maller likes to talk about the “generational” quality of Poly-Wood furniture. At the end of its useful life, the product, made from recyclable material, is a recyclable product itself, Maller says. Loll Designs, a sustainable outdoor furniture manufacturer in Duluth, Minn., also got its start with an Adirondack chair. Founders Greg Benson, Dave Benson and Tony Ciardelli conceived Loll as a way to repurpose the excess recycled 100-percent recycled and recyclable HDPE used by their original company, TrueRide, which designed and built skateboard parks. Furniture pieces were nested into the same sheets of HDPE used to produce skate-park components. Three years of prototyping went into the first Loll Adirondack before it launched at retail in 2006. Loll now produces a range of outdoor furniture, including chairs, benches, tables and other accessories, made from the same recycled material, sourced primarily from milk jug containers.

“We believe by using 100-percent recycled and recyclable material we are supporting and promoting eco-initiatives/principals that we share and strive for, including reuse, recycle, and supporting USA-sourced and USA-made products,” says founder Greg Benson. “Our products keep material out of the landfill and also reduce the amount of new plastic being made.” For every pound of weight in a Loll chair, approximately eight recycled milk jugs are being reclaimed. The company estimates that it has repurposed more than 35 million recycled jugs in its furniture since 2005. The milk-jug provenance, however, belies HDPE’s sturdiness. “Our material is also very heavy,” Benson says. “The average weight of an Adirondack chair is approximately 50 pounds so your furniture will not blow around.”



How to get more privacy in your backyard – quietly

By Marla R. Miller

Those in temperate climates consider outdoor areas extensions of their homes, lounging and eating alfresco as part of daily life.

For people in colder climates, being able to move outdoors after a long winter is like a vacation in itself. But backyard bliss can be squashed by a nosey neighbor, subdivision rules, traffic and noise or an encroaching view. Maybe the family next door put in a pool and you constantly hear splashing and screaming. Or the neighbors added a deck off their second-floor kitchen for easy entertaining, but now you spot them eyeing you. Perhaps you want a place to escape from it all. A quiet, cozy corner for reading, bird watching or relaxing in a hammock. Or you are a city dweller and long to transform a patio or balcony into an outdoor oasis. Transitional living spaces and outdoor rooms are hot decorating trends, with people spending big to add kitchens, fireplaces, and complete open-air rooms with weatherproof furnishings. Being in the outdoors also means dealing with bugs, heat, sun, rain, and neighbors.

Curtains for You
One of the easiest ways to define a space is with outdoor curtains, which attach to porches, cabanas and gazebos for privacy and sun protection.
“Your outdoor space should be an extension of your home, so it’s important to think about comfort, durability and privacy when choosing furniture and decorative accessories for outdoors,” says Kendra Stewart, a spokeswoman for Pottery Barn. “Outdoor drapes are perfect to frame your outdoor space, and they filter light and create privacy.” Select marine-quality rods that won’t rust, and pick an outdoor drape in a weather resistant fabric like the indoor/outdoor Grommet Drape, which can withstand the elements and remain outside all year, Stewart says. Rich pinks and purples complement a variety of greens in the garden, says Gina Wicker, design and creative director for Sunbrella Fabrics. If your flowers and shrubs are particularly colorful, stick with a more neutral fabric for draperies that help ground your space rather than distracting from the landscaping. “Consider fabrics that flow in the breeze for a romantic element,” Wicker says, noting sheers are good for this application, adding a gauzy effect to your porch or pergola.

Tent City
Portable tents and pavilions, similar to what you would see at an outdoor wedding, also are growing in popularity. They are available in high-end lines or at moderate price points at home improvement retailers across the country. They create an indoor/outdoor private environment for dining and entertaining, along with backyard envy, says Erin Martin of Erin Martin Design in Saint Helena, Calif. “You will end up inviting everyone you wanted privacy from to come enjoy,” she says. FiberBuilt Umbrellas, which specializes in durable, fiberglass ribbed umbrellas for the hospitality industry but also sells to individuals, added a line of tents and pavilions this year, says Debra Maytidu, sales manager for the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based company. They can be put in the yard or over a patio and have water-resistant roofs, legs that can be secured and optional side panels with mesh windows that zip, affording people more space and protection without the expense or hassle of a permanent addition, Maytidu says. Some are equipped with a fan and light kit.
“It allows people to have drapes that zip up, to create a real outdoor room that is portable or semi-permanent,” she says. “They can use it to entertain or as a daily extension of their home.”

Renters who have limited space or do not want to make a big investment should focus on accessories like furniture with canopies, umbrellas and screens. Large and small containers with flowers or herbs and vegetables offer portability, color and greenery. Hanging fabric as a canopy or on the sides of your balcony is another quick, easy ways to create more privacy. Homeowners can make more permanent investments with fencing, landscaping or porch enclosures. Stone walls and water features are good for sound barriers. Freestanding structures like pergolas, arbors and gazebos create visual obstacles that can be decorated with climbing roses, morning glories, or clematis. Decks look best when decorated with some green, helping to define boundaries, add privacy and modulate noise, according to “Coastal Living Outdoor Spaces” (Oxmoor House, 2013), from the editors of Coastal Living magazine.

Plant a Screen
Landscaping comes with a price tag, but there are many ways to add privacy with plants, from perennials and leafy plants in oversized pots to putting in a perimeter of hedges and shrubs. Those with mature trees can incorporate the leaf cover and natural shade into a patio or garden design. Do-it-yourselfers and gardeners can handle some projects, like assembling a gazebo kit or adding raised beds around a patio, but it’s worth calling in a professional for a complete backyard overhaul, Martin says. “Hire a good landscape designer; the money is worth the results,” she says. “A well-placed tree, or creeping vine, can give you all the natural privacy you want without looking like you’re trying too hard. Add some natural waddle overhead cover for shade, and you’re there.”

Tait, the innovative Australian outdoor furniture maker, offers a GardenWall system to help the least skilled among us create an oasis in an instant. The plastic containers can be planted and stacked to whatever length and height required. Leaves and foliage peak out through geometric patterns in the container sides. “Impress your neighbors or hide your neighbors,” Tait boasts. “GardenWall can help bring a bit of life into any environment.”



By Julia Haskins

Extend the entertaining season into a chillier month or simply enjoy the outdoors a little later into the night. An outside fire fixture will set the scene. Here are five smart ways to light up the night.

An outdoor fireplace is one of the simplest ways mimic the warmth of an indoor setting. “It provides a very realistic aesthetic, almost like it’s a real wood fire,” says Becky Scribner of Hearth & Home Technologies, a Lakeville, Minn., producer of hearth products. Fireplaces also allow for a variety of personalization. “Consumers can choose whatever finish they want around the fireplace,” Scribner says. “Any sort of material, as long as it’s not combustible. River rock, stone, cement – the possibilities are really endless.”

Consumers might opt for the traditional brick style, but Scribner recommends a high-grade stainless steel model for homeowners whose homes are near salt water and other damaging natural forces.

Pizza ovens
Pizza made in a traditional oven can never quite match the chewy pies and thin crispy crust that the heat from a pizza oven creates. A simple pizza-oven kit delivers pizza-making fun to the backyard. These kits typically include everything you need to assemble your own custom pizza oven, including oven chamber and vent, dome and floor insulation, mortar, chimney, door and thermometer. Stand and enclosures must be built on the site.

Freestanding pizza ovens designed for outdoor use are another option. The gas- or propane-fueled Artisan Fire Pizza Oven from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet turns out a Neapolitan-style pie in less than three minutes. The unit is designed to sit on an outdoor countertop. The type of oven contributes to the taste. In a direct fire oven, the flames and ash adjacent to the pizza creates a distinctive smoked wood taste. An indirect fire oven has a fire chamber separate from the food chamber, so pizza emerges with no scorched edges.

Fire tables
Fire tables are the perfect combination of function and aesthetics. “You can treat them like a regular table, but they’re focal points, and they provide warmth,” says John Xo’chihua of Aztec Artistic Productions in Portland, Ore.
There’s a primal attraction to a fire table that tends to bring people together. “It’s something that people want to gather around,” Xo’chihua says. “You have a surface you can set things on when it’s not being used as a fire table. A lot have a cover and can be used as regular tables.” On tables topped with a long, linear burner, Xo’chihua explains, the flame tends to blow over in breezes. On tables with round burners, the flames tend to burn more consistently and also provide more heat.

Fire bowls
Just like a fire table, a fire bowl can be the perfect entertaining focal point and used to hold drinks. Willie Wilson of Concrete Habitat, a Spokane, Wash., company that fabricates concrete-like material into counters and accessories, likes to decorate the rims of his company’s fire bowls with touches like polished crushed glass. “That’s fun because it reflects the flame and adds a little more ambiance,” he says. The shape of the fire bowl may be simple, but not all bowls are created equally. They’re available in a wide variety of materials and designed for use on the ground or on a tabletop. Most are propane- or gas-fired. Burner options include a manual valve key ignition, an open gas valve, a match-lit ignition and an electric ignition.

Standing lights and torches
Mimic the breezy feel of an island destination with a fiery torch, either using a real flame or an LED bulb. Take wind, rain and other forces of nature into consideration when choosing the best light source for your outdoor living space.
Standing lights and torches are some of the easiest to install backyard focal points, rarely involving extensive setup.
Try placing them in different spots to experiment with the effects: around a patio table, posted at the entrance to the backyard or placed in planters for to emphasize the outdoor foliage.



Not too many. Not too few. Not too big. Not too small. The best backyard lighting schemes start with a plan.



Outdoor living spaces require lighting for functionality and safety. Most homeowners, though, arrive at a lighting showroom with a longer shopping list and bigger dreams: Warm evenings spent relaxing in a magic, glowing backyard.

Where to begin? Focus on how you intend to use the space, experts say, and don’t overdo it. “Clearly define your objectives,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design and education consultant for the American Lighting Association. “It’s not necessary to illuminate everything in your yard, so decide which areas are the highest priorities,” he advises.

Start with areas close to the house, where most activities take place. Expand the plan to highlight backyard elements – plants, sculpture, a water feature – as time and budget allow.

Installing too many lights, and lights poorly chosen for a location, are common hazards. Lighting experts and local showrooms can help you sort through new energy-efficient technologies that can work best for you.

Some bright ideas from the American Lighting Association:

Back Door
Wall lanterns on each side of the door leading to the patio or outdoor space will provide a warm, welcoming look.
Use recessed, chain-hung or close-to-ceiling fixtures under a porch or overhang. Light a secondary side entrance with a single wall lantern installed on the keyhole side of the door.

Steps and Pathways
Illuminate walkways so family members and guests are able to move about easily and safely after dark. Attach lights to the side of the house or install path lights or lanterns. Low-level path lights, which spread circular patterns of light, will brighten a walkway and highlight nearby flowerbeds, shrubs and ground cover. Bollards, which stand 30 to 36 inches off the ground, also work well. Use shielded fixtures to avoid glare.

Decks, porches, and patios
Conceal LED or low-voltage mini-lights under steps, railings or benches to create an intimate, romantic feel.

Grills and serving areas
Food preparation areas call for bright task lighting. Install a recessed spotlight on an adjacent roof overhang, mount lights on a railing behind the grill or use a portable fixture approved for outdoor environments.

Pools and fountains
Illuminate with underwater lighting to provide beauty and safety for evening entertaining or swimming. Low-voltage and LED lighting are popular sources for ambient pool lighting, or install fiber-optic lighting to create a starry background in your pool’s floor and around its edges. Floating and solar-powered lights also are available.

Light a tree
Look for a focal point on your property that can be accented with lighting to provide a nice contrast of color. Tree lighting uses the heights of the trees to spread the light out in a soft and subtle way to bathe the area in light. The higher the lights, the larger the spread of light.



Comfy chair? Check. Pizza oven? Check. Wi-Fi? Check.
Homeowners who love to relax in the backyard increasingly want it all


Maggie Flynn

Everyone loves the sight of a lush, well-kept garden outside a picturesque house. The sight of an outdoor kitchen might be a little more surprising. Yet such additions are predicted to rise in popularity among homeowners this year, according to the 2014 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey, conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Based on responses from 179 residential landscape professionals on trends homeowners would be incorporating into their outdoor projects, some of the most intriguing developments include outdoor stoves, vegetable gardens and greater seating.

According to the survey, outdoor living spaces – examples of which include outdoor kitchens and seating – have a 92-percent popularity rate. Seating and dining areas rank even higher at 97 percent, and if that popularity holds, eating outside may become the new dining out.
From the 89.6-percent popularity of installed seating and the 84.1-percent popularity of outdoor furniture, it’s safe to say that comfort is becoming top priority even in the great outdoors. The New American Home 2014, built by the National Association of Home Builders for the International Builders Show, featured luxurious armchairs on an outdoor balcony. While outdoor Internet connectivity and access isn’t a juggernaut demand, more than half the survey respondents expected to be popular.

Don’t expect the grill to be the only outdoor culinary device this year. Homeowners are expected to bring the amenities of home beyond its walls through both furniture and outdoor kitchens and ovens – the latter was ranked at 71.4-percent popularity, a sign that people are thinking past the grill and fire pit.

While grills and fire pits are still backyard staples, the most popular outdoor supplement by far was lighting, with a 98.3-percent popularity ranking among residential landscape professionals. With the help of illumination, there’s no need to confine socializing behind walls or under a roof.