The Insider: Outdoor Escapes

Top design pros reveal expertadvice and Insta-worthy looks for creating your own private oasis at home. Grab your sunscreen and sunglasses, and get ready for summer!

Written by Clinton Smith



Resort-style features have been creeping into our backyards for the past two decades, but the pandemic vastly accelerated the requests for even more luxurious, amenity-laden outdoor spaces, and there’s almost no limit to the bells and whistles currently being offered. According to a 2021 report from the International Casual Furnishings Association, six in 10 Americans planned to buy furnishings for their outdoor spaces within the year. And one online retailer professed that searches for two types of outdoor furniture were up 50 and 65 percent.

The options are limitless: Are you always cold? Flush-mount infrared ceiling heaters can come to the rescue! (Or perhaps a fire pit!) Susceptible to mosquito bites? Retractable, disappearing screens can help solve that. Love to watch sports? TVs designed especially for outdoor viewing let you watch the big game in the great outdoors with intense clarity and definition.

Three design experts offer their keen insight on what’s new and what’s next in outdoor living.

Paradise Found

With the proliferation of new amenities, it’s not our imagination that outdoor spaces are also growing larger and larger to accommodate them. Interior designer Jon Call of Palm Springs, California—a bastion of the good life outdoors—has experienced the trend first hand. And not just in sunny California—it’s occurring on projects that he has worked on across the country.

“Going back to the pandemic, I think fresh air, sunlight, and this feeling of health and freedom was really underscored,” says Call. “I'm now seeing the square footage of outdoor spaces being equal to or almost double to what's happening on the inside of the house.”


For hundreds of years, decoratively patterned encaustic tiles have graced the floors of homes and public spaces across Europe and Northern Africa. The eye-catching patterns and colors in Los Jardines is Ann Sacks’ porcelain take on the coveted tiles. Sublimely elegant, the tile marries form and function with aplomb. It is a workhorse, making it ideal for both residential and heavily-trafficked commercial spaces. Los Jardines is also suitable for submerged areas, including pools and fountains, and is not effected by freezing and thawing.

Los Jardines 12" x 12" field in Gris

Design: Xorin Balbes

Besides lounging and dining, outdoor cooking has moved beyond a simple grill or basic burners. “In the past, maybe some type of buffet area or built-in was kind of de rigueur,” Call says. “But now what I'm finding is that people are picking up new hobbies with cooking in cases where a lot of cooking styles don’t work as well inside.” Case in point: the proliferation of pizza ovens (some of which can roast chicken, fish and vegetables—you name it).

“Outdoor pizza ovens are really big in Palm Springs because the heat just doesn't work well inside,” Call adds. Across the country, these types of tools are also being supplemented with other specialty cooking features such as outdoor griddles, flat-top grills, kamado grills for smoking, stainless steel cabinetry, rotisseries, outdoor refrigeration (including wine coolers), tap dispensers and even dishwashers for outdoor clean-up. “It creates a new hobby outside and a new architectural kind of centerpiece.”

Outdoor sitting areas outfitted with sumptuous sofas and chairs in high-performance fabrics are also having their moment, but Call advises against furnishings that are too low slung or overstuffed. Despite all of these additional creature comforts outside, some things remain constant. “The place that I find people always congregate to is the dining table,” says Call. “I'm especially seeing that with multi-generational families, and a dining-style chair seems to fit everybody.”


While a uniform surface material can often be the suitable choice for a variety of outdoor spaces, sometimes the areas benefit from the use of varying materials to break up the large expanses and to create more defined spaces. Here, Madrona by Ann Sacks was ingeniously used to create the feel of an outdoor rug. The decorative field tile celebrates the history and beauty of encaustic designs, yet works in a diverse array of classic, transitional and contemporary spaces.

Madrona 8" x 8"" Field in Ballina
Design: Tracy Hardenburg; Photography: Pär Bengtsson

Inside & Out

Esteemed Greenwich, Connecticut-based landscape architect Janice Parker is renown for her covetable designs for city gardens, bucolic rural estates and scenic waterfront enclaves, and has a unique perspective on the evolution of outdoor living from the vast array and diversity of her projects.

“People are really focused on the fact that their homes are a sanctuary,” says Parker. She adds that when everyone went into lockdown and were told that they're actually safer outside when they have friends over, people started entertaining outdoors in ways like never before. “What that did on a very deep level psychologically is that it changed people's basic ideation about outdoor-indoor living,” says Parker. “Previously, the minute that it would rain or it got buggy or the sunlight was in someone's eyes, they would just go inside because it's easier. It's easier to entertain inside because you have all of the things that you need to do it—you have light that you can control, and you have your dishes. You know you have it organized. When people started to entertain and stay outside—despite the weather and temperature—they started to really appreciate outside more than ever. It's a big change.”



The boundaries between inside and out are increasingly blurred, and a seamless transition from indoors to out without any visual interruption is part of a growing trend. Using the same tile or stone in both interiors and exteriors creates the sense of a far larger contiguous space. Laurelhurst by Ann Sacks is a porcelain tile with an understated stone look that is available in five finishes. Not only is it ideal underfoot, but also it can be perfectly suited for high-temperature areas behind ranges or as fireplace surrounds.

Laurelhurst 24" x 48" Natural field in Beige

With this change, there were a lot of new topics on which Parker had to advise her clients, few of whom had fully considered. Beyond the requisite space planning, hardscapes, plant selections and water features, there were other considerations to take into account.

Lighting, for example, is a critical—and often overlooked—piece of the outdoor living puzzle, but doesn’t always require the assistance of a professional lighting designer, although that certainly helps. When expert advice isn’t required, Parker loves incorporating LED candles and battery operated table lights that add ambiance. “Lighting is important, and people either have none, or they're getting by with some sort of lighting on the house.” Great sconces can not only illuminate the immediate surrounding space but also can complement the home’s architecture. “Unfortunately, a lot of people turn on their floodlights, which is not great lighting. It's OK if you're trying to find your iPhone or you dropped your glasses, but it's emergency lighting only.”


Decorative tiles can be used to create artistic focal point outdoors, both classic or contemporary. Wall applications, in particular, can make for striking and lasting impressions when graphic or organic design motifs are arranged in thoughtful, compelling patterns to lure the eye. Here, Gem by Kelly Wearslter for Ann Sacks adds a stylish, resort-like flair to a welcoming outdoor entertaining space.

Gem by Kelly Wearstler 8" x 8" Elope field in Azure
Design: Noelle Interiors; Photography: Lauren Pressey

Parker adds one more tidbit of advice: Depending on your piece of property, you might not need a lot of lighting. “People can go awry and you can just get too much light,” she says. “So I try to get my clients to focus on what, where and how they want the lighting. Some people's lights go on so bright that it’s like they could do surgery. I don't understand that. There has to be a balance.”


Although many of the amenities previously listed apply to larger plots of land, Parker loves nothing more than a small patch of property and the coziness and comfort it can bring to soothe the soul. She adds that some of her most memorable dinner party moments have been held in the smallest of gardens.

“You can get great looking pots very easily that are inexpensive. If someone’s just starting out, I always suggest they get fiberglass ones that are lightweight so they can move them around. They don't have to worry whether or not they're in the right place. Use a lightweight soil mix, and they should plant what they love.”

And don’t forget the sound of water, even in an urban environment. “There are some one-piece recirculating fountains that I think are very pleasant,” says Parker.

In the Details

Celebrated Atlanta interior designer Beth Webb has projects across the country, and on both coasts—from Hermosa Beach, California, on the Pacific, to Kiawah Island, South Carolina on the Atlantic. (Not to mention an array of homes she’s designed along the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of Costa Rica and the lakeshores of northern Michigan.) But whether she’s working on a city house or townhouse, a mountain escape or coastal or lake retreat, the request for outdoor living space is paramount and often top of mind for most of her clients.

“With the advent of mosquito prevention, retractable screens, infrared heaters—all of those things—many of our clients are living outside so many months of the year regardless of where they’re located,” says Webb.

And while Webb is always one to marry form and function—indoors and out—she does love the aesthetic sensibility that light or gauzy outdoor curtains can add to a covered porch or loggia. Beyond having some control of harsh sunlight, the look is primarily an aesthetic one, but it has a tremendous effect on the psyche as well.

“With outdoor curtains, it's just nice to be able to see the breeze flow,” says Webb. “They give you the feeling of cool and calm even if it's not.”

April 18, 2022

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