Outdoor Living Design Expert: Vic Walker
What do you see as the top three Outdoor Living design trends for 2009?
My top outdoor living design trends for 2009 are:
- Increased sophistication in outdoor area design
- New and improved designs and materials for outdoor products
- Focus on eco-friendly designs and solutions
In our current economic climate, most homeowners are looking to stretch their dollar and still have things they value, and if possible, use all the time.
Taking social areas outdoors is a rapidly-growing trend. Outdoor living areas often contain water features, fire pits, cooking areas and conversation clusters, and the universal product trend now is a more sophisticated use of materials and design.
Outdoor products are looking more and more like indoor products. “Form factor” and colors are playing increasingly more important roles. Comfort (cushions are making a big comeback) and good ergonomic design are also taking precedence. Furniture designs have become more “indoors influenced” and many companies offer sofa and table solutions that mimic indoor configurations. Consumers are often expanding outdoors knowing that the new space will add value to their home if done correctly. These new spaces also provide an excellent venue for families to reconnect in a different environment than the normal “TV” room or kitchen. There is something about being outside that is comforting and yet refreshing.
There have been many innovative, technology based outdoor living products introduced over the last few years. How do you see the increase in smart outdoor living appliances/products making life easier for homeowners?
Innovation has long driven the indoor home décor market, so it was only a matter of time before consumers and trends allowed the same sort of thinking to occur in outdoor living spaces. Why shouldn’t a homeowner’s outdoor lighting and fountain systems become part of their SmartHome?
As the outdoors has become a more mature space, products are also starting to become more integrated with existing systems and or adaptable to current platforms. Ease of use and functionality drive these innovations. Current systems can give consumers complete control of the features in the backyard –lights, water features, swimming pool, cooking areas, TV sitting areas, etc.
Innovation has done more than just create smart products. High performance cooking areas also make outdoor dining just as easy as in the kitchen and the added ambiance of nature cannot be matched. From fuel-efficient / alternative fuel fire pits to hi performance LED low volt lighting; technology is helping the outdoors become a place where design can be beautiful and durable.
Advanced smart electronic systems in items like outdoor hot tubs make cost of ownership lower than ever and allows consumers to expand their backyard value and experience at minimal cost. For example, the Bay Collection hot tubs I design for Dimension One Spas can cost as little as $15 a month to stay hot and clean. Also, advanced water management systems take all of the worry out of owning these hot tubs, allowing the user to focus on the benefits of hydrotherapy and relaxation.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I am influenced by a variety of things.
Inspiration from observation is a primary source of motivation for my design solutions. My Grandma, who was a big influence on my design career, always told me, “When you slow to smell the roses, take also the time to smell the life around the garden.” Life, like design, is about composition — not just about one thing.
Other design inspirations include nature, nature, nature, and watching how it solves problems and surrounds us with beauty. I love machines, especially exotic sports cars and high performance jets — there is something sultry about them. I also thrive on the interaction between humans and products. Whether a sports car, jet fighter, or an outdoor grill, the common component is the human using the product. Watching humans interact with the products that industrial designers create reminds me of the importance of my job. And having the opportunity to enhance the lives of others through good product design, that is very inspiring unto itself.
What advice would you give to homeowners considering an outdoor room/ outdoor living area?
I would tell homeowners to ask each other and expert sources lots of questions up-front so they can best determine what experience they want to create. Instead of zooming in on the products, think about how you want to feel in your outdoor space –- the products will follow. Some helpful starting questions include:
- What is the theme or goal we want our outdoor project to accomplish? Is it entertaining, private space, health benefits?
- What design would work best with our current environment that includes geography and home design?
- What activities will likely occur here and what would we like the main focus to be?
From outdoor social rooms to soothing Zen gardens, backyard experiences can be as personal and varied as a homeowner’s imagination allows. Though popular outdoor room elements include seating arrangements, patios, accent and task lighting, and flowerbeds, components such as outdoor kitchens and home spas are becoming much more popular. At D1 Spas, I’m working hard to design eye-pleasing hot tubs that are not only functional social centers for the backyard, but also offer real healing solutions.
Tell us about your favorite outdoor living design project.
I am working on one of my favorite projects right now, which has a rustic Tuscan design theme. My goal is to create a social area for adults and children that allows for interaction, conversation, and ease of maintenance. Having a private area for reflection is also a must for the final solution.
This project, which features mostly natural materials and textures, will include an outdoor cooking area, fire pit and fire elements, multiple water features including streams, large flowerbeds, an herb and vegetable garden, extensive use of both natural and LED lighting, a large swimming pool and of course an Amoré Bay hot tub by Dimension One Spas.
Our Amoré Bay hot tub is a luxury hydrotherapy appliance that will be one of the focal points of the project. Other smart products will allow homeowners to control all the lighting and water features from inside their home, while the programming can be adjusted from a phone or web browser. Automated systems will help maintain water systems and allow for different custom settings depending on the client’s needs.
In your personal outdoor room/outdoor living area – what is the product or products that you can’t imagine living without?
My favorite backyard feature is my hot tub by Dimension One Spas –- the Amoré Bay. This hot tub is my family’s favorite conversation tool –- we use it several times a week to have family discussions and reconnect with each other. When I use my hot tub alone, it becomes the most relaxing hydrotherapy experience that allows me to unwind, heal and sleep better. My family, and outdoor living space, would not be the same without this home spa that is an outdoor sofa of sorts that also offers warm water therapies.
Imagine designing your dream outdoor living area. What style would it be? What products would you use ?
I really like the European rustic look and the timeless design style of the Mediterranean countryside. I am Italian and my trips to Europe always left a big impression on me. I love the use of natural materials, but I also like modern conveniences.
My dream outdoor area would include a large salt pool with a natural pebble bottom. Multiple water features would add ambiance and movement. Large elevated planted areas with colorful flowers and shrubs would help create interest and texture. Open sitting areas shaded by natural trees would provide areas where friends and family can gather, while furnishings by Lloyd/Flanders or Brown Jordan would add excellent design and functionality.
Cooking areas that are both efficient and stylish like the Kalamazoo Outdoor Kitchen always enhance any outdoor composition. Gas fire pits can be designed to fit almost any setting and really add a primal element to any backyard. And last, but not least, I would have a wellness center focused around a Dimension One Spas hot tub. The Amoré Bay is a beautiful example of a full-featured hydrotherapy product whose beautiful fountains and LED lights can enhance any outdoor setting. The whole family can enjoy the hot tub’s barrier-free seating for up to 7, and smart features and a patented water management system make owning this hot tub easy and rewarding.
Green design is an important consideration for many homeowners. Do you have advice for homeowners who want to “green” their outdoor living area?
Greening your backyard can be as easy as integrating the products you have decided you need with the harmony of your outdoor room’s natural surroundings. Use trees to create shade areas and vines can soften trellises.
“Green” doesn’t have to mean that every product is made from recycled materials. It can just as easily mean that your backyard is healthy enough to attract birds and butterflies, to be a haven for plants and flowers of all colors and sizes. Going green also means embracing natural settings and solutions –- integrating an outdoor space with your lifestyle means you will use it more frequently and enjoy rewarding experiences. A great outdoor space should do more than just look good, it should enhance the moments and days of those who experience it.
We’d like to thank Vic for generously sharing his expertise and design advice.
The Decorating Diva is a luxury home design magazine and lifestyle journal dedicated to the concept of living a stylish and comfortably elegant life at home – joyfully surrounded by the beautiful things you love. Join, Carmen, The Decorating Diva’s founder, as she blogs about sophisticated, smart, stylish and beautiful decor for your home and shares her decorating and style advice with you. Follow her and several of our wonderful contributors on inspirational design trips as they explore enchanted lands both far and near – returning with a delightful treasure trove of design finds for your home.