As comfortable as your living room, with views that won’t quit. It’s time to spend more time outside.
By Katherine Pettit Photographs by Jay Browne
Ask transplants from northern environs what attracted them to the midlands, and they usually talk about the climate (not so much this past January, but usually) and the joy of living outdoors more months than not.
For some of us who’ve been here since forever, we already know the appeal – we’ve been living it for years. For the generation just past, however, the outdoor lifestyle seemed to take a back seat to a different outlook. Thankfully, we’re coming back to our roots, and in a big way.
Architect Michael Haigler was raised in Columbia (his father was a professor at Columbia College), graduated from Clemson, joined the Peace Corps, lived in West Africa, and got his graduate degree from the University of California at Berkley. From there, he went on to design for GAP and other retailers, and taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology in San Francisco among other endeavors. Eventually, a longing for more community and a sense of family – plus aging parents – made him realize that what he missed could be found back in Columbia.
For the past five years, he’s worked and lived in the midlands, and recently has specialized in creating renovation plans for existing homes. As a result, he’s spent a fair amount of hours considering how times have changed.
“It’s interesting how little we often connect with our back yards,” he explained. “Air conditioning had a detrimental effect on the way people began to drive into their garages and enter their homes for the rest of the day – as little connection with outdoors as possible. Homes were built in lovely locations, but without easy access to appealing backyards. It was that way for years, until we all began to reconsider our underused assets.”
It’s been Michael’s experience that people live in what they have. If there is no back deck or porch, they just stay inside. “Air conditioning keeps you from having to deal with the elements, but it also keeps you from enjoying the outdoors.”
Now, he’s working on many projects that involve redirecting and opening existing or new construction to add high-end outdoor features, including pools, spas, water falls, porches (screened or not), loggias, decks and outdoor rooms, complete with TVs, rugs, outdoor kitchens, showers, and entertainment areas.
A client in the King’s Grant neighborhood wanted a strong connection from the interior of their home to their outdoors. He planned for the addition of a porch, screened and open ( and accessed by sliding doors), as well as an outdoor kitchen, fireplace and his-and-her garages. ([His] has double doors which can be opened on both ends to greatly expand the entertainment area.)
“This couple wanted to create a home that was a magnet for their children’s friends, with as much comfort as possible,” he explained. “They wanted a pool, covered space, outdoor kitchen, ceiling fans, a chiminea, outdoor TV, and fencing for safety – all in about 2,000 square feet of outdoor space.”
Michael worked with another family whose ranch home had a lovely backyard and lake frontage – but no doors or views that capitalized on the scenery. “We re-oriented the back part of the house to focus on the view and yard,” he explained. “Now, the family enjoys being outdoors.”
For homeowners considering adding outside living space, the options are more varied than ever. Floors can be constructed from IPE wood, artificial or recycled flooring, stone and slate, among others. Personal preference, costs and planned usage all enter into the mix.
No water view? Add a waterfall, small fish pond, or water feature. Not much of a backyard? Incorporate the back wall of a pool as a privacy feature, extended upwards. Little privacy? Design accordingly.
Another indulgent add-on can be an outdoor shower. They’re very practical, yet just a tiny bit indulgent – naughty, even – and ultimately luxurious, despite their practicality.
“This market is still evolving as more people visit friends and find outdoor elements they’d like to incorporate into their own houses,” he said. “Almost everyone who sees an attractive, outdoor space wants to find a way to add that element to their own homes.”
Michael Haigler says that adding an attractive outdoor element is the next most popular step after expanding the master bedroom and bath, or the kitchen. “After it’s all completed, it’s been my experience that the outdoor living has the most appeal and use for the family. They entertain more, and the children enjoy the opportunities for play and entertaining their friends. And despite our four-season climate, families find more ways to use the space practically year round.”
At Casual Living, Dottie Reynolds reports that outdoor living continues to be a top priority for home owners with no end to its growth in site. Products continue to get better: appliances for outdoor kitchens continue to include more choices; the line between indoor and outdoor fabrics continues to blur; the amount of time we all want to spend on the patio, porch, or deck continues to include more of our at-home hours. Just take a look at Pinterest and you will see that many boards are devoted to the outdoor lifestyle – and what a lifestyle!
“What has attracted my eye is the level of sophistication and detail we are putting into the design and decoration of our outdoor living rooms – and, yes, rooms they are,” she shared. “Today, it is normal to include a television and some sort of sound system along with comfortable and stylish furniture, area rugs, outdoor lighting, draperies, and accessories. Increasingly, homeowners are including outdoor kitchens and fire pits or fireplaces. Even outdoor movie systems are becoming more common.”
According to Dottie, the desire is clear – somehow, sitting outside in the nice weather has an effect on us that we can’t get enough of. When faced with the option of dining inside or out, people are choosing the outdoor dining room, and the meal isn’t always hot dogs and hamburgers. There’s a growing trend toward preparing gourmet meals outside, as well.
“All of this points to the fact that we have passed the “trend” phase and now have entered the “here-to-stay” element in home design,” she said. “It’s impossible to imagine anyone searching for a new home telling their builder or real estate agent, ‘No thanks. No outdoor living area for me.’ They will be looked at as if they are missing something big which they will regret later – and they will. This lifestyle has become de rigueur in the twenty-first century home. It’s expected and, increasingly, it’s expected to charm, wow and impress. But most of all, it is expected to make our home more of a haven, where we can relax and recharge or have fun and entertain, all in one place any time we choose.”
At Jack Oliver’s Pool and Spa, owner Jack Oliver is seeing a growing emphasis on outdoor living as the complete lifestyle experience. “Our hot tub line is ever-evolving and has become a very sought-after outdoor option,” he said. “Among other things, our clients are looking for more natural rock – the entire natural theme is very popular and the pool, hot tub and entertainment area flow seamlessly together.”
Jack has also seen an increase in the desire for water features and waterfalls. The pools and tubs have grown increasingly energy-efficient and the salt water pools are kinder to skin and hair. “There’s a give and take on chlorine versus salt water,” he explained. “Chlorine is a bit tougher on the skin and clothing, but easier on the life of the motor. With salt water, it’s the other way around. It comes down to personal preferences and everyone is different. It’s also very important that new pool owners learn how to properly care for their pools, which incidentally are so much easier to care for than ever before.”
It’s also critical to work with the zoning regulations which are different for each community. “We know the guidelines and how to work within them,” Jack said.
In recent years, pools have become a bit smaller, with many of them running 20 feet x 40 feet. Of course, virtually any configuration is possible, within the area available, surroundings desired, and regulations to be followed. Free forms are just about as popular as rectangles in today’s market.
“We talk with the client and our graphic designer provides a 3-D layout,” he said. “Either I, or my brother, Stephen, go out and look at the yard personally, to make sure there are no challenges to be overcome.”
Jack, a Florida State Graduate, started his pool and outdoor living career in Florida. He’s been in the pool business for 15 years, returning home about five years ago and starting his business. He’s only recently moved to his new, larger location on Forest Drive. “Now, folks want more of a turnkey approach, so in addition to pools and spas, we offer grills, furniture, outdoor heaters and more.” With the recent move, they’ve also been hearing from folks who don’t want a pool, but do want outdoor space.
“I consider it a very healthy approach to living,” Jack said. “You feel better outside, swimming is super exercise and we all know what hydrotherapy can do for the body. We’ve even had a fair number of people inquiring about saunas, indoor and outdoor. When people want to invest in their backyards, it’s good for property values and it’s great for mental health and wellbeing.”