A Closer Look at Trends in Outdoor Spaces

Published: May 16, 2024

The advent of the outdoor kitchen may have happened in the ’90s, but today they have become pivotal spaces in any home renovation and/or new build. According to HGTV.com, the return on investment for building an outdoor kitchen is 55% to 200%, depending on the location and comparable homes in the area.

Above photo: This multi-functional rooftop patio by John McClain Design needed to function as a space in which to hang out as a family while watching the sunset, making dinner and just sitting by the fire. The design team added glass wall surrounds for safety while providing unobstructed views.
Photo credit: Zeke Ruelas

It may seem odd to say anything good about the COVID pandemic, but one benefit was that it encouraged people to spend more time outside. Because of that, outdoor living has become a movement in and of itself, and this is illustrated in the myriad ways in which homeowners can incorporate this kind of space.

In our recent Closeup on Outdoor Living, we delve into trends in outdoor spaces and the various types of exterior areas – some of which are not so new and others that are truly original. We also discuss various materials, lighting options and connections among exterior and interior spaces in a home.

Get the latest kitchen and bath products, trends and news delivered to your inbox.

Alfresco Project Popularity

Surprisingly, 46.3% of our survey respondents reported that they included an outdoor space in less than half of their residential projects in the last 12 months. This may be because this trend took our market by storm over the last three years, and the need may not be as imperative at the moment.

“Another possible insight could be the varying preferences and needs of homeowners, with some prioritizing indoor renovations or facing constraints in outdoor space utilization due to factors like climate or property limitations,” said Kerrie Kelly, CEO & creative director of Kerrie Kelly Studio in East Sacramento, Calif.

Almost 40% of respondents said they have included an outdoor living space in all or more than half of their residential projects in the last 12 months.

“On one hand, one aspect of the trend for seeking optimal health has been to enjoy the great outdoors as much as possible, which translates into creating new or updating existing outdoor living spaces as extensions of our homes,” said Jill Jarrett, owner of Emmaus, Pa.-based Jarrett Design. “On the other hand, significant rising costs of materials and construction along with changes in the economy have certainly slowed the start of projects that may not be deemed necessary.”

Elements Topping the Trends in Outdoor Spaces Wish List

A kitchen was the most popular outdoor project ask at almost 80% in our survey; a patio/deck ranked with 56.7%; and a dining/seating area took third place at 53.7%. Rounding out the list included a firepit, pool and a bathing/showering system. Write-in answers included an area for games, a bar/beverage center, an herb garden, a designated pet area and a grilling station. Toward the bottom of our list were an office space and an exercise area for outdoor living.

“A unique outdoor element increasingly requested by my clients is the incorporation of multifunctional outdoor structures such as pergolas or pavilions that are equipped with various amenities,” said Kelly. “These components not only enhance the functionality of the outdoor space but also create a cozy and inviting atmosphere for alfresco gatherings and relaxation.”

In terms of preferred elements specific to outdoor kitchens, cooking appliances took top honors with 84.8% of projects, cabinetry came in second with 70.4%, and refrigeration appliances landed at the third spot with 67.2%. Rounding out the list were plumbed fixtures/fittings, ventilation and dishwashing components. Write-in answers included awnings, infrared heating, remote-controlled screens, pizza ovens and hardscaping materials.

trends in outdoor spaces

Outdoor-Worthy Material Choices

Whichever selections you make for your outdoor projects, you need to ensure they will stand up to various weather conditions. Our respondents said the top cabinet material for their outdoor kitchens in the last 12 months has been stainless-steel at 36.9%. Taking the number two and three spots are synthetic material at 28.5% and masonry at 16.9%. Write-in answers included ceramic and resin, and aluminum and wood came in at the bottom of the list.

In terms of countertop selections for outdoor kitchens in the last year, natural stone was first with 41.1%. Engineered stone came in second at 24.8%, and porcelain/ceramic was third with 17.1%. Write-in answers included granite and sintered stone, and concrete and metal were last on the list.

Connecting the Interior & Exterior

When it comes to the look and feel of today’s residential outdoor living projects, 68.3% of our respondents said their clients want the style of the outdoor space to match or continue with that of the interior design.

“The outdoor living areas should most importantly complement the exterior elements of the home and look as if they were planned in conjunction with the home design,” said Jarrett. “These areas should flow as seamlessly as possible from inside, feeling like an inviting extension of the interiors.”

Still, 24.6% of our respondents’ clients feel the two looks should be distinct from one another. “Other” answers were for there to be a blend to complement the client’s lifestyle, coordination with a smooth transition and a distinction that works with the home’s style.

“I believe there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the style of outdoor living spaces,” said Kelly. “While some clients prefer a seamless transition from interior to exterior and maintaining a cohesive design aesthetic, others seek to create a distinct outdoor oasis that offers a refreshing departure from indoor spaces. Ultimately, it’s about fulfilling the homeowner’s vision and creating a space that reflects their lifestyle and personality.”

outdoor lighting types

Lighting & Smart Tech Trends in Outdoor Spaces

These interior design elements are also popular for projects outside. Landscape and pathway lighting took the top spots in our survey at 67.5% and 66.7%, respectively, and security, wall-wash and staircase lighting rounded out the list. Write-in answers included ceiling/overhead, task, accent, post, undercabinet, sconce, track, decorative and fan lighting.

In terms of smart tech, lighting controls and audio systems take the top spots with 67.2% and 65.6%, respectively, with video systems and Wi-Fi coming close behind. Connected appliances, security systems, and smart plumbing fixtures/fittings complete the list, and write-in responses were retractable window treatments, roller shades and remote fireplace igniters.

Future Advancements

When asked about an outdoor living innovation they’d like to see, many survey respondents requested improvements in weather/seasonal offerings that encourage three-season use. Those items include methods for heating patios, i.e., smokeless fire pits and fireplaces. Desired advancements also encompass variety in outdoor furniture, including bar seating, as well as ventilation.

Design pros would also welcome more choices in solar shading, outdoor-rated appliances and plumbing fixtures, ice machines, mildew-proof offerings, outdoor cabinet lines, decorative privacy options, alternatives to cushions for seating, built-in griddle options, cold plunge tubs, saunas and audio systems.

Some of the more unique requests included cement cabinets, Brazilian wood BBQs, outdoor induction, ice baths, cabinets for large power burners and crawfish boil needs, dual-fuel smoker/grill combos, affordable metal pergolas and salt air-resistant offerings.

Regarding furniture, designer John McClain of John McClain Design – a firm with locations in Orlando and Los Angeles – likes to use outdoor pieces that look like they belong on in the interior – what he calls a trick to the mind.

“I feel more furniture companies are understanding the need to create furniture that aesthetically looks like an indoor piece of furniture but can function outdoors,” he added. “In the past, I would have to custom create this, but now I can find many pieces readily available from large manufacturers.”

Kelly says she’s excited about the potential for advancements in sustainable outdoor living solutions, citing those that integrate renewable materials, energy-efficient technologies and water-saving systems to minimize environmental impact while maximizing enjoyment of outdoor spaces.

Brand Awareness

Just like with all other product categories, outdoor offerings are constantly evolving based on homeowners’ needs and lifestyles. Manufacturers need to keep up if they want to stay relevant with both design professionals and consumers.

“I believe investing in research and development to create innovative materials and manufacturing processes, as well as rigorous testing to ensure longevity and weather resistance, are key areas for improvement,” said Kelly. “Additionally, greater transparency in product labeling and education on maintenance practices can empower consumers to make informed decisions and prolong the lifespan of outdoor furnishings and fixtures.”

McClain feels great strides have been made in durable offerings. At the recent KBIS, he said there was an emphasis on outdoor cabinetry that had the look of interior kitchen cabinetry.

“At the end of the day, clients want something that looks realistic but is durable and easy to clean,” he added. “Brands are now recognizing this and are meeting our needs so we can meet our clients’ needs.”

By Chelsie Butler, KBB Executive Editor

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
B2B Marketing Exchange
B2B Marketing Exchange East
Buyer Insights & Intelligence Series
Campaign Optimization Series