indoor comforts to great outdoors
St. Louis Business Journal - April 29, 2005 by Lou Kalosc
|Not long ago the typical
setting for outdoor home entertainment included a table and umbrella, a
kettle barbecue grill, and an ice chest filled with soft drinks and beer.
Today, families are opting for more lavish settings in outdoor rooms that feature lush landscapes, waterfalls, a grilling and eating area with a large fireplace, stainless steel grills with an array of amenities, fancy lighting, and outdoor furniture featuring colors and materials once fit for the family living room.
Once confined to warm-weather climates such as California and Florida, the outdoor room trend has hit the St. Louis area. The trend is generating robust business for a variety of companies ranging from landscape architects, deck and patio builders, and outdoor furniture, fireplace and barbecue grill dealers.
"I see a lot more people wanting to extend their living space outdoors and almost re-creating some of the rooms they have indoors," said Mary Deweese, owner and landscape architect at Acorn Landscapes in St. Louis. "They are upscaling furniture and amenities outside so they feel like they are inside."
Pool and spa stores nationwide report that about 90 percent of their customers want an outdoor kitchen as part of their new installations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, consumers now spend nearly $40 billion annually on upgrading outdoor living areas and garden amenities. In addition, Hearth & Home magazine reports that more than two thirds of the 3,200 hearth, patio and barbecue specialty retail stores currently promote the outdoor room concept.
Deweese, a landscape architect, said when she designs an outdoor room, it often includes a retaining wall, patio, gazebo, pool, and deck or pavilion.
A design can range from $500 to $3,500. Deweese said people should expect to pay about 10 percent to 20 percent of the cost of their home on an outdoor room, as a general rule.
"If it's a really large home, $30,000 doesn't go a long way," she said, adding that some people have paid upward of $50,000 for just a retaining wall.
Bob Franey, president and owner of Total Landscape Inc., can speak to high-end outdoor room projects. His company's niche market is homes priced anywhere from $700,000 to more than $1 million. He is seeing a lot of what he terms "outdoor retreats," Franey said, adding that $100,000 investments in outdoor living space were rare eight years ago.
"Now we see that on a weekly basis," he said. "Many of our projects are in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, where people are incorporating a pool or spa. Many include waterfalls built into the pools. They want to create a backyard oasis at home."
Total Landscape's average job is in the $30,000 to $50,000 range, Franey said.
Mark Lingo, owner of California Custom Decks in Rock Hill, said people are putting in much more than your standard 12-by-12-square-foot deck these days.
"I think maybe the most significant increases we've seen lately are in screened gazebos," Lingo said. "We're doing a lot of custom-built gazebos on decks, so that deck becomes more useable more times during the year.
"In general terms, our average job cost has probably gone up 20 percent over the past couple of years."
Last year, American consumers spent about $200 billion on home remodeling and renovation, more than a third of it on outdoor amenities. This is more than double the amount spent for new home construction.
As for amenities, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) reports that consumers spent more than $3 billion in 2004 on outdoor furnishings; another $3 billion on barbecue grills, equipment and accessories; and another $20 billion-plus on new pools and spas. In its 2003 biannual survey of consumer attitudes and lifestyles, HPBA learned that about 30 percent of barbecuing homeowners plan to upgrade or expand their barbecuing environments to include bricks, blocks and stone.
At Arnold Stove and Fireplace, Norm Moss sells gas and wood fire pits and fireplaces ranging in price from $200 to $5,000. Gas fireplaces are the rage right now, Moss said, adding that some of the more creative "island" products incorporate a number of different amenities.
"I'm installing one in Creve Coeur next week that has a sink, refrigerator, stereo and awning," Moss said. "It's a Napoleon island unit that costs about $10,000. We have other models where you can pay up to $7,000 or $8,000 for a grill only."
"There's no question people are putting more money into their space," said Joe Forshaw, president of furnishings store Forshaw on Lindbergh Boulevard near Highway 40. "We're seeing a lot of people buying more upscale furniture."
Fifteen years ago, a typical customer would buy a wrought iron patio furniture set with vinyl-upholstered cushions in bright colors, selected from limited choices. The company's showroom now includes 200 sets of outdoor furniture on display with a wide variety of colors, fabrics and frames.
Forshaw said his outdoor furniture prices range from $449 for a table and chair, to between $5,000 and $8,000 depending on how many pieces of furniture are included.
The same goes for barbecue grills, in which Forshaw says he's seen the most dramatic upgrade. "One thing we offer is granite countertops for these islands, and people tend to try and coordinate the color of the granite with the color of their furniture. It's more expensive, bigger and more elaborate."
Multifunctional outdoor fireplace units are selling big time at Seasonal Outdoors in Ballwin, where Bill Lasiter is assistant manager. Lasiter said he's seeing some fireplace units and grill islands that feature amenities such as a refrigerator, sink with plumbing, wine cooler and beer tapper for $5,000.
"These grills have 46-inch grill heads, so you're talking about people cooking for massive amounts of people," he said. "We're also selling high dining-type bar units that seat five or six people around it. These are big-ticket items."
Lou Kalosc is a St. Louis freelance writer.