Furnishing The Great Outdoors

By Carrie Snider

Luxury items play a part in posh patios

Backyards in the Valley are some of the luckiest around. In many ways, they are an extension of the house itself—they are a great place for family and friends to spend time no matter the month of the year.

Take springtime. Temperatures are just right for some outdoor parties complete with ample seating, food hot off the grill, and plenty of landscaping to enjoy. In summer, it’s all about cooling off in the pool. Fall is a great time to spend time with the family in a backyard play area. Winter can be chilly, but with a hot tub or fire pit, you still get to enjoy your outdoor space.

When it comes to choosing exactly what to put in your backyard, there are many different options. Several retailers in the North Valley area make it easy to find the latest luxury items close to home. 

Furnishing the great outdoors

Entertaining was the idea behind John and April Whearty’s outdoor living space located on Black Mountain in Carefree. The couple bought their 1980s home a few years ago and while it had good bones, there was much about it they wanted to change. 

“The landscape was all desert before,” John says. 

What they really wanted was a yard reminiscent of Hawaii, where they honeymooned. April was the brains behind making their outdoor space feel like paradise. “Now it has lots of tropical stuff that withstands the heat. It feels like you’re in Hawaii,” he says.

Their yard is sectioned off with multiple patios that serve as specific spaces: a grilling area, Phoenix view sitting area, hot tub area, pool area, and more. 

Besides the hardscaping, what really sets those spaces apart is the outdoor furnishings. The Wheartys enlisted the help of Nick Stelfox of Carefree Outdoor Living to help them find the best pieces to define their spaces.

They purchased a lot of pieces from the Tommy Bahama Outdoor Furniture collection, which the couple says has been worth the price tag.

“It’s really heavy-duty furniture,” John explains. “They are just gorgeous. Very substantial. It doesn’t blow away.”

When choosing different outdoor furniture styles, they also got to decide the fabric patterns. The fabric, they added, has held up extremely well. 

“The material can the rain and the sun. You don’t have to bring in your outdoor cushions inside,” John says. Even with the harsh Phoenix sun, the Wheartys says their outdoor furniture still looks great. 

Outdoor technology

Besides a beautiful place to entertain, the Wheartys were looking for convenience. Some of the latest options in outdoor living includes, as one would expect, technology.

The couple could certainly go around the yard and light the many gas-powered tiki torches when hosting guests. But why do that when you can turn them on or off with your phone? 

And don’t forget to do the same with the lights for their pool. The Wheartys love that they can control their outdoor lighting from the palm of their hand. 

“There are different settings, like party mode, red, white, and blue mode,” John explains. The Portland transplants also pointed out that they have the option to use green lights to honor Portland State University. 

Still, the real light show has nothing to do with technology. In fact, a huge part of why they love their outdoor space so much, and why it’s designed the way it is, is to enjoy Mother Nature’s lights.

“Sunsets here are something special,” John says. 

Divide and Conquer

Chad Norris, lead designer at Desert Foothills Landscape in Cave Creek, says a big part of collaborating with homeowners is getting a feel for what they really want out of their outdoor space—or actually multiple spaces. 

“We work to designate different areas,” he says. “We want the entire outdoor living environment to be completely customized.”

Fire features are always popular, but lately homeowners are choosing to put in gas fire tables. Rather than a fire pit, a fire table adds a touch of style and luxury. It helps define conversation spaces, adds warmth, and even allows for a bit of storage. 

Dividing spaces doesn’t have to be drab. In high-end backyards, another item many clients ask for is a unique water feature.

“It provides ambient noise, and it also beautifies the space,” Norris says.

And then there are the play spaces. While many of his clients already have access to golf courses close by, some elect to put in putting greens in their backyards so they can always enjoy a little bit of golf. 

Norris adds sometimes clients come to him with lots of ideas about how to design their outdoor spaces, but some also give him free reign and trust his judgment in making their backyard a desert paradise. 

“I like not being tied down. Being creative allows us to let the project evolve.” Sometimes, what the client first has in mind changes as the design unfolds before their eyes.

One thing he hears a lot is that homeowners want to add a lot of “color” to their yards. In Phoenix, just because it’s the desert doesn’t mean it’s all dirt and rocks.

“There are plenty of cacti and succulents that offer year-round color and impact. We can also add perennials for some color at certain times of year,” he says. 

Putting all that time and effort into putting plants into a homeowner’s yard is only just the first step. The next step, Norris explained, is showing it off by strategic lighting. Luxurious backyards call for luxurious landscape lighting. 

“Your landscape can look one way during the day, but it can look completely different at night. We can install a variety of fixtures to emphasize different areas of the landscape. Then, whether you’re outside or inside looking out, homeowners can enjoy their backyard.” 

Adding those special touches are what makes a backyard luxurious, and that goes beyond the landscaping—it extends to decorative touches on the house itself. 

Steve Yagudayev of Iron Doors Arizona offers a variety of intricate, unique iron doors that can really set the stage for the ultimate in backyard style. 

“It really makes the house pop out, allows you to enjoy the nice weather, and helps your home be more secure,” he says.  

The best in barbecues 

In the world of grilling, there is always the option to go with the standard, run of the mill grill. But why go basic if there is such a thing as a smart grill on the market?

Matt Bass of BBQ Island, which has locations in Scottsdale, Peoria, and Tempe, says with the Phoenix weather the way it is, it’s only natural that locals spend time outdoors grilling year-round. And while you’re spending all that time cooking outdoors, it only makes sense to go luxury.

When a customer comes in looking to add an outdoor kitchen area, Bass says they first get a sense for how involved the homeowner is in grilling. 

“Based off of that, on our website we have a whole kitchen idea center, with build outs on options. There is also a gallery of handful local landscapers that have done work to give you ideas,” he says.

Drop-in coolers are very popular in Phoenix to keep beverages cool without power costs. It’s basically a metal cooler that can be set into an outdoor island. It has a hole in the bottom to drain out melted ice. 

“It can retain temperature really well. It has a really nice weather sealant on it,” he explains. 

Pizza ovens are also popular right now, and it’s a great option if you want to cook pizza, but don’t want to heat up the house. They also add a fun aesthetic to an outdoor kitchen area, Bass explains. 

BBQ Island hosts regular cooking classes and competitions. They sell a wide variety of smokers and grills, including high-end brands Lynx and Twin Eagle. T 

Joe Spencer of Murphy O’Brien Public Relations says the latest and greatest in smokers and grills has everything to do with convenience.

The Lynx Smart Grill has all the features you could ever want: Wi-Fi enabled, voice-activated, automated.

“It automatically cooks food based on commands,” Spencer says. “And it remembers your settings. You could tell it that the last time the meat was too done, so it will turn it down and make it more rare. It tells you when to flip the meat. It comes preloaded with a bunch of recipes.”

Lynx also has a Smart Smoker, with a thermometer that connects to your phone and tells you the internal temperature of the meat. 

“You can literally just sit on your couch and watch your meat,” he says.

With so many luxurious options available, the hard part is narrowing down your choices. In Phoenix where the outdoors begs to be enjoyed, the sky is the limit.  

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