From charming cottages to outdoor kitchens to edible gardens—now is the time to take it outside. Here’s a look at the latest alfresco trends to elevate your exterior.
An Aspen kitchen from Kaufman Segal Design has all the bells and whistles.
At this sophisticated Aspen home by Chicago-based Kaufman Segal Design, outdoor entertaining is key, leading to a lustworthy kitchen complete with pizza oven, grill, Big Green Egg, stainless steel cabinetry and more.
With more and more of us opting to entertain outdoors these days, installing a deluxe alfresco kitchen is de rigueur. Case in point: an Aspen abode designed by Chicago-based firm Kaufman Segal, whose stunning outdoor kitchen is a feast for the eyes—from its stainless steel cabinetry by Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet to a pizza oven, a grill, a double burner, a large Big Green Egg, drawer storage, recycling and Neolith countertops. Notes Kaufman Segal Design partner Tom Segal of the space, which is perched idyllically on the Roaring Fork River, “It’s a great mix of the client’s two favorite things: cooking and being outdoors.” He adds, “It’s not far from the inside kitchen, making it very easy to use. Everything they need is at their fingertips.”
A SoCal surfer family with South African roots got the outdoor kitchen of their dreams (including traditional wood-fi red barbecue or braai) courtesy of KAA Design.
In Seattle, where Ike Kligerman Barkley crafted a modern getaway in smoky colors with exposed elements, the luxe outdoor kitchen—complete with massive grill hood and matching stainless steel cabinets—is protected from the elements in a chicly adorned nook. “When we started working with our clients on this property, it was made clear how much they enjoyed the outdoors, and sharing it with friends and family was a priority,” notes partner Thomas A. Kligerman. “We worked with them to incorporate the same materials we used for the home to create an outdoor kitchen that doesn’t stand out, but is integrated with the overall aesthetic of the home: a place to relax with company while taking in the surrounding views of the Pacific Northwest.”
For some homeowners, decking out an outdoor kitchen isn’t a luxury—it’s tradition, as in the home built by KAA Design for a South African family of surfers in Manhattan Beach, Calif. “The clients were looking for a design that reflected their heritage,” explains KAA partner Grant Kirkpatrick, who translated their “safari meets the beach” brief into a gorgeous example of indoor-outdoor living—including the showpiece, an expansive alfresco kitchen with a traditional South African braai, or woodfired barbecue. Kirkpatrick describes the exposed structure, South African bamboo reeded ceilings and the play of natural light as standout aspects of the space.
Boston’s LDa Architecture & Interiors created a 1,700-square-foot terraced space for expansive outdoor living.
Naturally, we tend to look at outdoor living as an extension of the life we lead indoors—and recent designs have given these spaces under the stars infinitely more power and magic. While architectural freedom abounds, Julieta Ohri, an associate with Boston’s LDa Architecture & Interiors says to choose materials wisely when it comes to the basics of maintenance. “This applies to material selection in plantings as well as in hardscape,” she says. “Just as we design the rooms of a house, outdoor living spaces should be divided into rooms as well. There should be a program for the areas that also allow for flexibility and combining spaces.” For a project known as Indigo Lane, Ohri and her team created a 1,700-square-foot terraced family space, including a 300-square-foot kitchen, where the homeowners can relax and keep an eye on their children as they play on the expansive lawn. “The clients knew this was an area they wanted to take advantage of year-round, which drove the need for a covered dining area as well as a spa with close proximity to the house,” she says.
For a project known as Cliff Ridge, the LDa team and Treff LaFleche, a principal at the firm, designed a stunning 600-square-foot lounge that complements a home renovation and a terraced space lined with bluestone. The lounge, which sits behind an early 20th century Tudor, is perfect for entertaining, and serves as a changing room (with bath) for the family and their guests. Materials include Douglas fir roof rafters and ceiling planks, an aluminum skylight and exterior copper cladding. The chimney is an ashlar pattern New England fieldstone with a bluestone hearth. “Because the yard is large with beautiful, mature trees, the family didn’t want this room to interrupt the view from the house,” says LaFleche. The team’s design works seamlessly, creating a gorgeous outdoor haven for memorable days and nights.
A Sagaponack family enjoys a vegetable garden designed by LaGuardia Design Group
“When you take organically grown vegetables picked at 5, place them on the grill at 7 and serve them at 7:30 right in the garden—your guests notice. And it tastes amazing,” says Chris LaGuardia, principal at LaGuardia Design Group, a Southampton, N.Y.-based landscape architecture firm. LaGuardia has his own organic garden at his home in Water Mill and enjoys helping clients create magical garden-to-table moments.
A grill area enhances the garden-to-table experience and culinary adventures.
“We’re seeing more and more clients spend time in the garden with their kids,” shares Ian Hanbach, a partner at the firm. Hanbach suggests that clients keep small shovels and water pails so their kids can help maintain the garden. “It’s almost like we’re creating outdoor classrooms for children to learn about plant science and the local environment, and to experience growing their own food from seeds.”
A table for outdoor dining is part of the sequence of spaces.
The esteemed garden design group created exactly such an education environment for one Sagaponack family, as seen here. “The spaces within this Sagaponack retreat are comfortable in scale for two or 20 people and detailed with a focus on luxury and relaxation,” says Dan Thorp, another LaGuardia Design Group partner. “Adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, the space evokes the spirit and luxury of an exotic outdoor resort,” Thorp says. “The garden is organized along one major axis that extends from the main house to the back of the property. Spurring from this central axis is a sequence of spaces including a ground-covered apple orchard and a garden with an open-air dining area and cooking facilities. The garden space, with beds of vegetables, herbs and cut flowers,” he adds, “was created as an outdoor classroom with the client’s children in mind—to teach the growing of plants and harvesting of their own food.” Planting for the future, indeed.
KAA Design worked with the existing hillside site to create a subterranean adult playground.
For design and architecture firm KAA Design, this award-winning Pacific Palisades adult playground offered plenty of potential—and some obstacles. By working with the existing hillside site, the firm, along with builder MG Partners, was able to construct a private wellness facility for the homeowners, complete with a pool, gym and spa under the existing cantilevered tennis court. (You can see the concrete piles connecting the two spaces.)
Says KAA Design founding partner Grant Kirkpatrick, “The challenge became imbuing the space—which includes two changing areas, a sauna, a TV lounge and a room for about 20 pieces of exercise equipment— with a sense of the outdoors.” A whopping 5,000 square feet of adult amenities are on offer, all while preserving the landscape so meticulously procured by Make Ground. It’s a space for those as serious about fitness as they are about design—it houses an Olympic-size lap pool; a steam room; spa bathrooms; and a lounge complete with a television, wet bar and towel storage. Sliding glass panels allow the gym to be closed off from the lap pool. “We also installed mirrors in the interior to reflect the lush planting by the lap pool, lending a woodsy feel,” Kirkpatrick adds.
Materials such as silver travertine, Pennsylvania bluestone plaster, rubble stone walls and teak floors give texture and dimension while paying homage to the space’s surroundings.
The garden houses are all bespoke and often designed to echo the architectural style of a home.
“We were friendly with the Amish community because they helped my parents with their house,” says Alison Carabasi, who grew up in Lancaster, Penn. “We had a big barn and it burned down; we rebuilt it with the Amish like in Witness,” she adds. Fast forward to today and Carabasi continues to work with the Amish to craft some of the most chic outbuildings in the country with her business, Hillbrook Collections.
The customization of Hillbrook Collections garden houses can work for a simple potting shed, a pool house or fully finished for an office retreat.
Carabasi’s client list read’s like a who’s who of the world’s top tastemakers, including fashion designer Adam Lippes, Brett Heyman of Edie Parker, Julia Amory of lifestyle and home brand India Amory—and another Hollywood headliner she dare not name. “My clients are very creative,” she says. “They inspire me with ideas and then my designs just get better and better and better, really through my clients.”
The pandemic has caused a spike in orders for Hillbrook Collections garden houses as Carabasi’s clients request office outbuildings, she sheds and pool houses in record numbers. “They want an office outside of their house—a place to go that they can work, but they’re not inside their house,” she shares of the boom in office requests in particular.
Carabasi’s process is entirely bespoke and her past projects include a Peloton studio, a tennis hut, a hunting cabin, a boathouse, chicken coops, artist studios—even an adorable little post house for one New Yorker’s overflowing Amazon packages. “I did a teacup pig house once and four little houses on one guy’s roof,” she shares when asked about her most outlandish projects to date.
As more people make the permanent shift to working from home, we expect Carabasi’s business of bespoke garden houses to continue to flourish.
Patricia Benner transformed a Santa Monica home’s steep outdoor space into a lush, multilevel garden.
Los Angeles-based landscape designer Patricia Benner of Benner Landscape Design isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. Such was the case with a recent project she took on in Santa Monica, a complete home remodel—interior and exterior—that took about 20 months to complete. Along with the land being extremely sloped—requiring the homeowner to use a steep staircase to access the usable parts of the garden—the space was narrow and difficult to figure out. “My main objective was to create an inviting, usable garden and outdoor living space that was easily accessed from the main living areas of the house,” Benner explains. “Outdoor spaces are needed more than ever in our current times.”
To achieve her goals, Benner decided to not fight the land, but instead to work with its quirks. “I set out to make the garden’s difficult attributes work for us,” she says. “I created different garden rooms that were linked by a series of stairways that served as a ‘spine’ to unify the different levels and areas of the garden.” Now outfitted with switchbacks and landings, the once-scary staircase has been transformed into a key feature of the outdoor space, encouraging the homeowner and his guests to pause and enjoy the garden’s different levels.
Among the different areas is an outdoor dining room, a cozy living room, a meditative garden, an outdoor shower and more.
At the top, there’s a deck off the kitchen— perfect for casual meals—that comes with a gorgeous view over Santa Monica Canyon, while below there’s a cozy outdoor living room with a fireplace. A few steps down is the lowest level. “It offers a private, quiet space for contemplation, with a central fountain and a bench that looks back into the garden along its main lower axis,” Benner says. “In [this area], lush surrounding greenery gives privacy and focuses your view inward while the sound of water muffles any noise from a public right-of-way to the beach nearby.”
While certainly beautiful, the project—filled with California native and drought-tolerant plants—is also sustainable. And due to landscape lighting in the trees on the slope and large garden lanterns, it’s cozy day and night. “We created a gracious and beautiful garden whose alfresco living spaces are as important to the client and as well used as his interiors,” Benner says. “These garden rooms succeed as beautiful parts of a well-integrated whole.”