Living ‘Out’ Loud

Outdoor living spaces get a refresh with audio, natural seating, and art that’s functional and serves as a focal point.

Experts say demand for elaborate and unique outdoor living spaces isn’t slowing down any time soon.
Photo © Tim Abramowitz | Adobe Stock

Outdoor living is a focus for many after a couple years of working, entertaining and “staycationing” at home. So it’s no surprise that when Brandon Granger offers clients an opportunity to literally crank it up a notch, they’re all in.

In 2018, he became an outdoor audio supplier after stumbling on the company’s booth at an industry tradeshow. “I immediately fell in love with it, and every opportunity we have to demo the system with clients — as soon as you turn it on and show them how easy it is to operate, they fall in love with it,” says Granger, president, Granger Landscapes, Florence, S.C.

Audio is one more way for homeowners and property managers to enhance the outdoor experience. “It goes well with our landscape lighting offering because the installation is similar,” Granger says, adding that the company’s “demo truck” stopped at his business to train the team. And he bought a demo kit so he could “hit the ground running,” but there are plenty of times when the mere suggestion of outdoor audio seals the deal, no demo required.

“I was on a property where they were building a new pool and I just mentioned it and they said, ‘We want that. Sign me up,’” Granger says.

Providing outdoor audio installation can be a natural fit for companies in the design/build space.
Photo © David Tran | Adobe Stock
Photo© Martina | Adobe Stock

The system complements all of the patios, fire pits, outdoor kitchens and seating areas Granger Landscapes has been building, and with greater intensity since the pandemic. Introducing an attractive add-on is one more way his company can be a full-service provider.

While Granger doesn’t sell outdoor furniture or accessories, he does work with clients to plan seating spaces and offer suggestions. “We have one or two suppliers we work with that we direct clients to,” he says, adding that the abundance of outdoor furniture available online, in garden centers and large retailers can be overwhelming for clients, so supplying some ideas always helps.

But furniture isn’t limited to Adirondack chairs and patio dining sets. Broccolo Tree & Lawn Care in Fairport, N.Y., also operates a garden center, where guests can find handcrafted stone benches. Plus, the company has been installing natural outdoor playscapes with natural stone and wood serving as sit spots.

Overall, CEO Laurie Broccolo says, “There is more interest in these outdoor spaces at school and home, and people are looking for something different.”

Photo © Jamie Hooper | Adobe Stock
Photot © Jamie Hooper | Adobe Stock
Some of the trends contractors are seeing include an interest in utilizing natural materials, like stone, to create tranquil gathering spaces.
Courtesy of Laurie Broccolo
Photo courtesy of Laurie Broccolo
“Having a few art display pieces has helped our sales.” — Laurie Broccolo
Photo courtesy of Laurie Broccolo
Photo courtesy of Laurie Broccolo
Photo courtesy of Laurie Broccolo

Fun & functional Installations

Indeed, “different” can create a big impact in small outdoor spaces and add character to outdoor living areas. Broccolo Garden Center started introducing consignment artwork to its store several years ago — metal sculptures in plant and flower formations, stone fountains, fire and water features, and functional pieces like the natural stone benches.

“We’re very much in tune with finding out what the customers really wants so we can design and build a space that works for them,” Broccolo says, adding that projects might begin with a meandering walkway and evolve into, “Could we create a sitting area here to add more interest?”

And this is where the outdoor artwork can come into play.

“Having a few art display pieces has helped our sales,” Broccolo adds.

Plus, creating the art has become a hobby for her husband, Albert Broccolo, co-owner, who has a mechanical engineering background. When a client with an especially tight backyard space requested fire and water be included in the design, a sculptural solution delivered both.

“He took a container and was able to create it so water drips over the side into a basin and there’s a propane tank for the fire,” Broccolo describes of the all-in-one innovative piece.

The metalwork adds new dimension to gardens and becomes one-of-a-kind focal points in outdoor spaces. For instance, a piece Albert calls “Rock On, Plants,” features burgundy-painted metal leaves that reach up like flames with stone “buds.”

The Broccolos can custom-design and build feature pieces and this offers clients something unique that sets them apart.

Creativity is also a big factor when designing an outdoor living space. Broccolo’s company has started creating custom, one-of-a-kind pieces for clients to add something different.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Broccolo
Photo courtesy of Laurie Broccolo
Photo courtesy of Laurie Broccolo
It’s not just homeowners but schools, too, looking to maximize their outdoor spaces.
Photo © sabdiz | Adobe Stock

Natural materials at play

Stonescape with seating rocks in a children’s learning garden is “furniture” with a natural bent. “We’ve seen more interest in outdoor active spaces whether in schools or at home,” Broccolo says. “I think COVID spurred on schools wanting outdoor spaces for learning, education and to be creative.”

One project Broccolo installed that was designed by a local landscape architect features a canoe converted into a planter. “But kids can sit in it, too,” she describes. The garden includes a green wall and customized containers. “As a result, they created an outdoor gardening program and we have an employee who goes there once a month. In the spring, we kick it off with how to take care of the plants that are there.”

Requests for outdoor amphitheater and courtyards also offer opportunities to literally build functional furniture with natural materials. And nature play programs are growing in popularity and have similar needs. “We create balance beams and seating with logs (and) willow huts,” she says.

And as Granger pointed out, sometimes the power of suggestion is all it takes to turn on clients to a fresh design/build feature, furniture, art piece and more. He says, “Since we picked up outdoor audio, people are falling in love with it.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

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