The great outdoors made greater

Outdoor living rooms are taking the best of inside - out.

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Americans are involved in a new "space race." According to the American Institute of Architects, Americans are making their outside spaces more and more elaborate - and more like their inside ones.

The outdoor living room trend is a wholesale repackaging of the typical patio/pool area into something much more elaborate and comfortable. It goes way beyond lounge chairs and barbecues. Outdoor living rooms often resemble plush, luxurious parlors. They feature not only cushiony furniture, they even have entertainment centers with built-in plasma screen televisions and hi-fi systems.

See more photos of outdoor living spaces.

Builder Alon Barzilay, who is building two condo developments near Orlando that feature communal outdoor living rooms, says the trend has built from practically nothing five years ago to become an amenity of choice for the affluent.

"A few years ago," he says, "all you heard about was cocooning, people just wanted to retreat indoors; they were trapped in their houses. Now, everyone is into socialization and meeting the neighbors."

The feature most in demand for these modern Edens is a fireplace. These not only infuse soirees with an atavistic atmosphere, they also make it possible for those in cooler climes to enjoy being outside for a greater part of the year.

"When the season is short you want to take advantage of it the best you can," says Mark Campbell, the product manager for Lennox Hearth Products, part of Lennox International (Charts). "A warm fireplace can turn a cool evening into a toasty one."

Campbell says his company sells many of their outdoor fireplaces to northerners - and more than a few to Canadians. "They love their outdoors in Canada and want to enjoy it as long as they can."

Part of the impetus for these spaces may have come from the decreasing tolerance for smoking. Hosts may abhor the smell of tobacco smoke, but they also want to be hospitable. Modern guests are used to retreating to the back yard to grab a quick coffin nail. Now they can do it in style.

According to Barzilay, in some circles, the outdoor living rooms are even called "cigar patios," and they provide a comfortable space for smoking and brandy sipping without polluting the house.

The most elaborate outdoor living rooms can also come with cooking facilities. Sometimes that consists of a fancy gas grill but sometimes these spaces come with complete kitchens with sinks, ranges and refrigerators.

Campbell reports that his company has been doubling its sales of outdoor hearths every year since it jumped into the business about five years ago. And although outdoor fireplaces may be gaining fans up north, the biggest markets for these products are still in the sun belt with California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida the best selling states.

That's where outdoor living rules!

See outdoor living spaces

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