Park City’s outdoor lifestyle is the inspiration for new designs that merge the outdoors with the indoors, and with the right amenities, the outdoor spaces for cooking, dining, recreating, and relaxing can be enjoyed much of the year.

Text: Ann Zimmerman

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Outdoor rooms that reflect a family’s lifestyle are a signature of G Brown designs.

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(ABOVE) Firms like the Jaffa Group are prioritizing ways to transition from indoor to outdoor seamlessly. Disappearing walls and continuity of materials are just two of the ways their designs are bringing the outside in.

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a home’s living area outside makes it possible to enjoy more of the mountain experience, and it sets today’s luxury Park City homes apart from those built in the past. Steve Chin, a longtime Park City resident and local real estate agent, remarks, “Anymore, the summer lifestyle is as exciting as winter. It is a Park City saying that people come for the winters and stay for the summers, and summers now are filled with a stream of activities that range from bike and trail races, Fourth of July and Miners’ Day parades, symphony concerts, Old Town Stages, the Arts Festival, and much more. People here are friendly and love to entertain. Summers are perfect for outdoor parties and hosting fundraisers for more than the 100 non-profits that are so strongly supported. The homes that many people currently want to buy extend the living space outside. It is becoming a key design factor that many people demand. Things like water features, fire pits, and expanded social spaces add to the emotional enjoyment of homes, and outdoor living definitely creates added value.”

Architects Agree on the Importance of Outdoor Living

Local architect Mark Walker, a partner in Otto-Walker Architects, has been designing homes in Park City since 1981, a time when he says the demand for outdoor living was usually just a deck. “No one paid much attention to it then. Now, for a home I just designed in Tuhaye, big sliding glass doors separate the outdoor space, so that it flows from the inside to the outside patio with no elevation change. It is heated and protected so it can be enjoyed most of the year: the roof structure overhangs the patio, and the patio surface is heated.” He says in the initial planning for the home’s design, the outdoor space is as important to discuss with the client as the interior. “It’s a big change from the past, and we find that people want to design it specifically for the outdoor sports and lifestyle they enjoy, and they want the design to extend their enjoyment of the outdoors almost year-round.”

Architect Scott Jaffa of Park City’s Jaffa Group has a similar perception of the importance of outdoor living. “For us, each home is specifically designed to enhance the view of the surrounding areas, and the natural beauty of the landscape is considered essential to the home’s layout.” When asked about the changes he is seeing, Jaffa says, “Now there is an equivalent amount of outdoor hardscape as living space within the home, which is a similar ratio to what one would expect to see in Florida or Arizona. Also, the design is much more integrated with the home. For example, the home’s roofline extends to cover the patio, which is essentially an outdoor living room, and the patio surfaces are stone and natural materials. With lift-and-slide doors, nano-walls, and window walls, the living spaces merge together, especially as we continue the architectural elements from the inside to outside.”

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A drawing for a G Brown design with a pool, and thoughtfully placed seating areas, shade, and open space

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This Bockholdt design invites intimacy and relaxation.

Landscape Architects Plan the Space

Landscape architects have traditionally been part of a luxury home’s design team, and the emphasis on more functional design for outdoor living heightens the importance of their role. Mike Wonenberg, a landscape architect and principal with G. Brown Design, which has worked throughout Summit County, clarifies the role of a landscape architect on a project. “We collaborate with the owner and architect to place buildings with optimal alignment for solar exposure and to capitalize on the views. Passive solar and strategically placed shade trees can lower the home’s energy demand by 25 percent through the life of the home. Another interesting figure, studies demonstrate a professionally designed landscape can add 20 percent to the home’s value.”

Regarding the specifics of siting outdoor living, Wonenberg continues, “Placing buildings properly within the contours of the land blend the home and outdoor elements with the topography, which reduces the need for costly excavation and retaining walls. Correct solar exposure creates microclimates that extend the time outdoor living may be enjoyed. Then, similar to an architect for the inside of the home, we develop a master plan for the outdoor space. With input from the clients, we develop outdoor rooms according to their interests: entertaining, kids play space, pets, and even urban farming, and the design may call for fencing, pergolas, walls, paths, and the utilities and improvements necessary for the function of the outdoor rooms. It all starts with the plan, and the client can implement the plan all at once or phase in improvements.”

While there are client-specific aspects to the landscape plan, according to Wonenberg there can be local commonalities. “Often people in the Park City area want a naturalistic landscape that is not highly manicured and not highly intensive to maintain. But, that can vary, and it also varies with the architecture of the home and the owners’ objectives. Creating the appearance like the home has always been there, rustic and untouched, requires a great deal of forethought and planning to minimize disturbance.” Wonenberg adds that G. Brown Design does its best work when working with the architect at the beginning of the project. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t come in afterwards to retrofit or help with a remodel or renovation, but it is more seamless and integrated with the project if we are involved early.”

Seth Bockholt, a Park City landscape architect with a background in construction who owns Bockholt Landscape Architecture, finds similarities with the blurred lines between an architect and interior designer in the give-and-take design relationship between architect and landscape architect. “Great outdoor living spaces require an interdisciplinary approach. As theses spaces grow in popularity, we will continue to figure it out, but the best results come from an interdisciplinary team that works together from the outset.”

According to Bockholt, clients want a place outside where they can relax and be comfortable. “One of the design concerns is the functionality of the space during the winter and summer. We have beautiful summers, and to increase the enjoyment of the space when it is chilly, we heat with infrared, reflected down heat, and fire features.”

Innovation calls to Bockholt, and one of his recent designs incorporates an overflow edge to hot tubs that works in this cold climate. “It’s similar to a zero-edge pool where it doubles as a water feature and a hot tub. The challenge has been to keep it affordable, and I have worked it out using a standard cover. It should be more efficient than pre-builts.” Other products that he is developing include an engraved polycarbonate panel lit from within so the glowing text or design appears to be floating.

“Lighting can be a huge and dramatic tool to create feeling in a space. In fact, modern drivers and controls allow so many things to be done outside: motion detectors, dimmers, and timing controls all benefit outside space. Keeping in mind that during winter the evening view to the outdoors is always dark, I incorporate lighting into walls. With the concern for light pollution in Park City and the Night Skies ordinance, the lighting has to be directed downward, but we can still accomplish many cool effects.”

Related, solar exposure is a key design element for Bockholt. “We use 3-D modeling on every project to understand the site, shadows, and direct sun, and we recommend building orientation. Overcoming the western sun is no small issue here in Park City. We look for places to plant shading vegetation and to build screens.

“Great outdoor spaces require an interdisciplinary approach.”

Bockholt feels that landscape architecture is raising the standard for outdoor enjoyment. “Perhaps the best benefit of hiring a landscape architect is the value-added of having a third party protect the design that the owners want implemented by overseeing construction. We preserve the intent of the owners, and they get just what they want.”

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Outoor kitchens like this Mountain Land design increase the amount of time families spend living and entertaining outdoors

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Jacuzzi areas like this Jaffa design are perfect regardless of the season.

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Designing around fire features, like this Otto/Walker- designed space, is an obvious priority for mountain towns where the summer temperatures can drop in the evenings.

Furnishings and Appliances Complete Outdoor Rooms

As outdoor spaces are being delineated for functions and the space is defined by hardscape, plantings, and lighting, they are becoming rooms. As such, they require furnishings specific to the function, but with durability to withstand the temperature shifts and bad weather.

Dining al fresco and outdoor kitchens are examples of how specifically purposed equipment has become. Tiffany Andrus works for Mountain Land Design, specializing in the culinary and bath environments. It was founded in Park City and now has showrooms in Salt Lake City and Provo. “The fundamentals of an outdoor kitchen are a grill, refrigerator, and storage,” states Andrus. “However, there can be so much more in the design.” Andrus notes that the sales staff at Mountain Land Design is available to specify the products and assist with design and planning. “We offer several barbecue lines, including Wolf and Viking, to name a few. In addition, we can assist with smokers, EarthStone wood-fired outdoor pizza ovens, warming ovens, and warming drawers.”

She adds, “It really depends on how people like to entertain. We have outdoor refrigerators, icemakers, and specialty lines for prep sinks and faucets. Some of our kitchens are covered, and we have worked with beautiful al fresco dining under a loggia.”

When asked about remodels, she notes that it is a focus area of Mountain Land Design, and there are staff members experienced in remodels to assist. “Also, one of our best-kept secrets is our close-out area in the showroom full of premium brands. Our showroom also displays the work of local cabinetmakers, as well as eye-catching granite and marble countertops, custom tile, and lighting. It’s worth stopping by.”

Brent Jespersen, owner of Poliform Salt Lake City, carries elegantly styled pieces for outdoor living rooms, dining, conversation, and lounging from Spain and Italy, places with centuries of experience in how to live outdoors. “In the mountain communities, there are so many strong seasons; the climate demands quality pieces that last and have long-term value worthy of the investment. Consequently, we offer elegant solutions of powder-coated metal and proven sun-resistant woven materials for the living rooms being created outside.”

“The climate demands quality pieces that last and have long-term value worthy of the investment.”

Asked about furnishings for outdoor dining, Jespersen answers, “It would require beautiful furnishings to be worthy of enjoying an al fresco meal in the stunning mountain surroundings of Park City, and we can offer just that. We carry the American line, Blu Dot, Dedon Italian furnishings, and Spanish Gandia Blaso outdoor furnishings.”

Outdoor Living Local to Park City

Local outdoor living experts share the opinion that Parkites just want to have fun outdoors, and they have developed a number of interesting outdoor spaces for sharing time with friends. Mark Walker mentions that firepits are a favorite of his clients, and in true Western fashion, many summer evenings are spent in lively conversation around the fire. Also, Walker mentions that Parkites love the sound of water, and one of the most frequently seen water features is a naturalistic waterfall with a stream running over mountain boulders.

Steve Chin is building a bocce court in his backyard, and he found that a sand volleyball court drew his sons and their friends to spend more time at home. Mike Wonenberg says G. Brown has designed tennis, basketball, and pickleball courts, as well as putting greens, and he mentions locals are fond of vegetable gardens and raising chickens.

Scott Jaffa designs homes with pools, and says that there is interest in both outdoor and indoor pools. He notes a love for summer trails, and he designs family foyers connecting to trailside access with lockers and storage for recreation gear. All mention the continuing appeal of spa/hot tubs, a year-round option.

It is clear Park City people love being outside recreating and also enjoy being outside at their own homes. It seems to be a trend that will only gain more momentum.