Outdoor Living Spaces

By Pam Windsor | Photography courtesy of Michael Hatcher & Associates Southern Screens and Keep It Casual

Outdoor living spaces are trendier than ever, and local companies offer a multitude of products designed to provide comfort all year long.

Americans are spending more time at home, but at the same time hearing the call of the great outdoors. The summer months are always popular for entertaining outside with cookouts and pool parties, but in recent years people have begun creating outdoor living spaces they can use to entertain family and friends year round.
Michael Hatcher, who owns a landscaping business in Olive Branch, says things have changed since he first started in the late 1970s.
“When I first got started, landscaping was truly planting plants and doing layouts for planting beds,” he says. “Now landscape architects and designers are actually designing how the space will be used, and plants are only a component of a bigger project. And those projects may include pools, patios, outdoor play areas, drainage and irrigation systems, and outdoor lighting.”
He says outdoor living spaces are as varied as the families using them.
“For the family with young children they may want play areas in that yard that are big enough to throw or kick a ball, or it may include having the kids over and having a swimming pool. The trends we’re seeing are more toward the age group of the customers than the trend of what might be the hottest thing going.”
He still does traditional landscape work along with everything else, but notes that’s also changed slightly.
“We used to do a lot of seasonal color flowers which are begonias, petunias, summer flowers, and summer annuals. We’re still doing those, but we’re also seeing a trend toward more urns and planters, where people may be planting basil, thyme, mint, or lettuces, something that might be used for cooking or in a salad.”
As the demand has grown for people to be able to do more within their outdoor living space, technology has also played a role, according to Mike Reilly, owner of Memphis-based Southern Screens.
“Many people want an almost multi-function outdoor facility. They want a place where they can go out and cook, where they can watch TV, and where they can have conversations. And all of these things need protection from the elements and the insects. That’s why our business has thrived so much because retractable screens, which are so different from fixed screens, do an excellent job of blending with the existing structure.”
In addition to installing retractable screens, Reilly also represents Arcadia Pergola, a company that creates covered areas using a motorized louvered roof system which opens and closes by remote control.
“You can open some sections of the roof to the sun and rain, close others, and sit underneath,” Reilly says. “These are becoming very popular in both residential and commercial structures.”
Rebecca Combs-Dulaney owns a lake home on Mississippi’s Dalewood Lake and wanted to be able to spend time on the deck even during the hot summer months.
“I love being outdoors whether it’s gardening, listening to the birds, or looking at the trees. And it was very difficult to do with no roof overhanging of any sort.”
Reilly’s company had already provided screens for Combs-Dulaney’s home in Meridian, and someone suggested she consider Arcadia Pergola for the lake house.
“When I first heard pergola, I thought, that denotes open,” she recalls. “You traditionally see pergola made of wood, it’s open, plants grow over it, and you put lights on it. So, at first I said ‘no, I don’t think that’s going to provide the shield from the sun’.”
She discovered the new product was made of aluminum, and the louvers at the top (like shutters) can be opened or closed depending on the time of day or the weather.
“Someone engineered this really well,” she says. “To be able to regulate the louvers to allow a little bit of sun, full sun, or no sun at all, to block out the rain, and also be able to regulate the air flow coming down, it’s ideal. And it also has ceiling fans.”
Meredith Tollison owns Keep it Casual in Tupelo and sells outdoor and casual furniture, and accessories.
“Outdoor living spaces have become a huge thing. We first try to figure out how clients plan to live in their space. Are they looking for a dining room table to put by the grill to sit and eat hot dogs with the kids; are they looking for a comfortable sofa seating group to put under the covered patio to watch football games on the weekends; or are they looking for furniture to go out by the pool? Then we help them gauge the materials that will be most appropriate.”
Those discussions are very valuable.

“One thing we ran into several years back was when people started installing salt water pools. We’re here in the Deep South which has been wrought iron country for years. We had to start adding that question in for a lot of our clients because you don’t want wrought iron furniture sitting by a salt water pool. It will deteriorate the materials in short order.”
Exposure to the sun is also important in choosing outdoor furniture. Rusty Mercer with Wicker N’ More in Olive Branch sells a lot of indoor/outdoor furniture.
“This indoor/outdoor furniture is a vinyl plastic material. It’s pretty strong, comes in different colors, there’s no fading with it, and they make almost every piece imaginable,” he explains.
Wicker and rattan furniture have been popular for years, especially for screened in porch areas, but while it’s long lasting when cared for properly and can withstand moisture, it does need to be shielded from the sun.
“You cannot put real wicker in the sun. If people are going to put the furniture in the sun, they want the indoor/outdoor furniture.”
Outdoor kitchens, even outdoor pizza ovens, have been the rage in recent years. People enjoy cooking outside whether in a kitchen, over a fire, or on a grill. Tom Bradley with Complete Home Center in Hernando, says when it comes to choosing a grill, he likes the Big Green Egg.
“The benefits of gas are obviously convenience, it’s a quicker cook. But the benefit of the Green Egg is that it uses natural charcoal. It’s all hickory and oak charcoal, and you just can’t duplicate the flavor. It’s a slower cook, so you get that smoky flavor trapped into the meat and vegetables. It’s hard to mess up something with a Green Egg.”
He also advises people to use natural charcoal when grilling because it’s free of chemicals and healthier.
Since he sells a variety of products, Bradley fields a lot of questions about outdoor living spaces from whether it’s better to use paving stones or build a deck, to how to set up a space to cook outside year round. For that, he recommends some type of fire pit. He also suggests some of the newer types of bug zappers to help keep outdoor living areas insect free. They aren’t as noisy and obtrusive as they used to be.
With so many products available on every level of the outdoor living space industry, the best advice for anyone looking to create their own unique space is to think about how it will be used, and to seek out reputable companies every step of the way. Look for experience and expertise, then go from there.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.