Above: Living and dining outdoors adds a new level of comfort to life in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Mosaic Design + Build

One of the joys of living in Atlanta is the climate — plenty of warm weather, a long growing season and short, mild winters. Residents can enjoy the great outdoors for much of the year, especially when they don’t need to leave the comfort of their homes. Many Intown homeowners are choosing to simply extend their homes into the outdoors.

“The screened-in porch has become a screened-in living room,” said Mark Fosner, Architect/Owner, Moon Bros. Inc. Architects & Craftsmen.

“It has become like any other room in the house,” he said. “There are lots of products on the market to make it great, and it can become anything you want. Some people extend the décor of their home, while others get playful and do something very different.”

Courtesy of Moon Brothers

“Outdoor grills and kitchens are currently popular due to the extended outdoor season we have here in Atlanta,” said Rick Goldstein, Owner and Registered Architect, MOSAIC Design+Build. “We’re finding more and more creative ways to extend the indoors outside, whether by paver or stone patios, spas, covered and screened porches and even pergola shade structures.”

Goldstein said that Intown properties can sometimes have smaller lots, which require more careful design and planning. “Outdoor living rooms seem to be one of the most popular spaces we design and build. But they take special skills and experience to do right.”

He explained that some of the issues that designers need to understand are how to integrate the design with the house, proper lighting, structural considerations, building codes and zoning restrictions and the proper materials to create a long lasting, low maintenance beautiful space.

Fosner said that homeowners are looking for higher end finishes for their porches. “For example, the flooring is more like what you find on the home’s interior,” he said. Options include high-end exterior-grade carpeting and specially-treated woods stained in natural, deeper tones.

“We also light the screened-in living rooms as we would the interior of the home, with different levels of lighting,” Fosner continued. “Lamps give pools of light closer to the floor, while soft, indirect lighting along vaulted ceilings heighten the room and add a soft glow at night.” Perimeter lighting, pendant lighting, sconces and chandeliers are a few more ways to incorporate light, drama and character.

Courtesy of Moon Brothers

Higher-end furniture like couches and chaises — and more of it — bring additional comfort to the screened-in living rooms. “We always do a furniture layout for our clients,” he said. “And cabinetry for storage, a little or a lot,” depending on the clients’ needs.

“Some people like to Include refrigerators to make it convenient to get a cold drink or snack,” Fosner said. “Others opt for entire kitchenettes so they can have all the fun of cooking outdoors while under a roof.”

Goldstein agreed that while the trend for covered porches and cabanas with fireplaces has been on the increase. “They’re not always screened and are usually part of a more extensive backyard makeover. These outdoor spaces usually are combined with an extended patio for entertaining and grilling,” he said. “Several recent projects have also combined a pool to create a complete backyard oasis.”

He added that outdoor kitchens are perfect for entertaining and can create a great area to engage the chef while grilling.

“Outdoor fireplaces have maintained their popularity here in Atlanta and a wonderful way to create memories,” Goldstein said. “There’s nothing like sitting outside on a chilly night by the crackling of the logs burning in the outdoor fireplace!”

Courtesy of Mosaic Design + Build

Randy Glazer, Owner, Glazer Design & Construction said that he too sees a lot of interest in outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, especially gas fireplaces.

“Nana doors are also in high demand,” he said “Essentially, they’re folding glass doors that open up the living space to the outdoors.” The bifold doors come in a variety of styles.

According to Fosner, one of the big benefits of outdoor fireplaces is that they extend the usefulness of the screened-in living room. “With a fireplace, there are more opportunities to use the room on chilly days.” Infrared heating is another way to achieve the same thing, he noted.

Fosner said that he is sometimes asked to include panels that can be added or removed over the screening, so the room is usable year-round. “We can do that, but it’s easier to accept that there are times you can’t use the room, like during the heavy pollen season or the dead of winter,” he advised. “Putting up the panels is difficult and time-consuming. No one does it more than once.”

Environmentally friendly landscaping on the rise

Tastes in landscaping are making some shifts as well. Joe Lavallee, Design-Build Manager with Plants Creative Landscapes, said that the Intown area has seen some very definite trends over the last five years. The company is based in Decatur and serves the Intown community.

Lavallee reports a strong trend moving toward organic and pollinator plants for landscaping. “People want to incorporate plants that are beneficial to the environment,” he said.

Courtesy of Plants Creative Landscapes

He explained that Decatur became Georgia’s first Bee City USA in July 2016. Currently, there are 70 Bee Cities across the U.S, seven of them in Georgia, including Atlanta and Decatur…or “Beecatur,” as Lavallee calls it.

“Many of our clients want pollinator gardens to feed the birds, bees and butterflies,” he said, adding that Plants Creative has a variety of plants that attract bees, including Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), a brilliant blue flowering pollinator.

Russian Sage also fits with the other growing trend of using edible ornamentals in gardens. Some other choices include rosemary, thyme and blueberry shrubs, all which add beauty and culinary usefulness.

“Fruit trees are making a comeback, too,” Lavallee said. He explained that many homeowners like the concept of the traditional English garden, but they tend to want a tidier version of it.

Water features remain popular, and there are a lot of options these days. Lavallee said that Plants Creative recently custom-designed a water feature for a client that was 18 feet long by 12 inches wide with 17 bubblers, all LED lit and self-adjusting.

“We start by presenting design ideas to the client,” Lavallee said. “And we’re the one primary contact. We handle everything from attaining the work permits to bringing in any sub-contractors that may be needed. We see the project through to completion.” And beyond. Plants Creative also offers maintenance services to keep the landscaping healthy and looking good.

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean is a freelance writer and editor based in metro Atlanta.