This year's outdoor living trends are all about making your backyard, porch, or even balcony a regular part of everyday life. Building on last year's momentum, homeowners can expect to bring indoor conveniences outdoors with smart technology, multipurpose add-ons, and structures that allow us to be outside longer and more often throughout the year. Whether it's a spot to grow herbs for homemade meals, a private patio with plenty of shade, or a place to do the cooking, outdoor living in 2021 is synonymous with time spent at home.
1. Outdoor Kitchens
Cooking has become an increasingly popular outdoor activity. In fact, a 2021 design trends report by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) found that 60% of homeowners are looking to add outdoor kitchens. But there are multiple types of outdoor kitchens available. A satellite kitchen provides additional cooking elements, like grills and pizza ovens, to supplement the main interior kitchen. Satellite kitchens are often situated just outside the door of an indoor kitchen for convenience. Another option, independent kitchens include prep space, a sink, storage, and refrigeration, as well as cooking elements, so that most if not all cooking needs can be met outdoors. Space, renovation budget, and climate will influence the design of an outdoor kitchen. Regardless of outdoor kitchen type, additional outdoor seating is necessary to complete al fresco meals.
2. Edible Gardens
Millions of people began gardening during the pandemic. Motivations varied from the desire to be outdoors to wanting a new hobby to fill the time at home. But one of the biggest reasons for an uptick in edible gardening was to supplement pantries with homegrown fruits, vegetables, and herbs. "People are hungry for new ways to add flavor, color, and nutrition to the plate," says Marisa Moore, RDN, who partnered with Burpee to identify ways the edible garden trend will continue in 2021.
The first, immunity gardens, focuses on foods that boost overall health. "Tomatoes are a great example; they are rich in vitamin C, which plays a vital role in a healthy immune system," says Moore. A second edible gardening trend, meatless Monday gardens feature hearty vegetables for plant-based dishes and are partially fueled by rising consciousness around climate change and animal welfare. And lastly, to help satisfy the ongoing desire to get out and travel, world herb gardens can be used to create the global dishes and flavors we're craving, at home.
3. Multipurpose Furniture
As entertaining became less of a focus in 2020, outdoor furniture has developed to accommodate both everyday living and anticipated social gatherings. "Designing furniture is not just about style-it is about how you live," says Sandra Smith-Fitzgerald, senior vice president of merchandising for Frontgate. "We have created pieces designed to perform multiple functions, often with hidden features, and made them versatile enough to use in nearly any space you choose." Expect outdoor furniture items that are convertible, like modular tables that can be pulled apart to accommodate seating and social distancing or tables with hidden beverage compartments.
4. Structures That Provide Privacy and Protection
As outdoor activity increases, so does the need for privacy, shade, and shelter from the elements. Whether it's a secluded space to practice yoga without distraction or a place to use your laptop without harsh glare, a mix of landscaping and hardscaping, and even furniture, can provide protection. And there are abundant ways to add privacy to outdoor spaces. "If it has an overhead structure, you can potentially add outdoor drapery panels. It if doesn't, you can use an outdoor screen. If there's a border that lends itself to planting, you can create a plant wall. Even an umbrella that tilts can give you some privacy," Gold says.
Additionally, look for creative applications of interior design. For example, tiled accent walls can be used to create the illusion of an outdoor room and achieve the same aesthetic as they do indoors. "Tile products that have natural, tactile qualities that resemble stacked stone, natural wood, concrete, and brick are popular choices," says Suzanne Zurfluh, director of design and trend for Emser Tile. "These looks can add visual interest while providing a perfect backdrop to the overall space."
5. Social Front Yards
Front yards are the newest home "addition," according to Blythe Yost, CEO and cofounder of landscape design company Tilly. "Previously, front yards were often just curb appeal, but now why not utilize this space and get more out of your home," she says. "It's like having a new room to enjoy!"
Creating an outdoor living space at the front of the home is not only about maximizing available space for daily living—it's for welcoming our communities, too. "Because of the pandemic and the change in our social lives, there is a desire to feel connected more than ever," Yost says. Throughout 2020, front yards saw drive-by parties and socially-distanced gatherings; now, people are looking for ways to maintain those connections. A social front yard is less formal than a backyard design, and the simplicity is part of its appeal. Adding a bistro table and chairs, a tree swing, or a comfortable bench "brings life into an area that was previously only viewed from afar or passed through," Yost says.
6. Outdoor Technology
As people integrate the outdoors into everyday living, they're "looking to incorporate all the technology they use on the interior, for the exterior," says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes with Belgard. Activities like streaming movies and working from home have many people adding boosters to amplify Wi-Fi signal outdoors. Since most technology can be seamlessly integrated into outdoor living spaces, it's not dramatically changing the look or layout of outdoor living—unless you're one of the growing number of people creating entirely new spaces, like outdoor theaters and home offices. "The pandemic really has driven great interest into creating outdoor office spaces," he says.
While outdoor work surfaces might be on the rise, technology isn't all about hard work. Incorporating music and televisions remain some of the top outdoor tech requests. And there are aesthetic updates, too. "LED color-changing technology is a fun way to change the mood of the space," says Rabinoe. "With a simple change on the app, the lights can be changed to just about any color: green and red for Christmas, orange for Halloween, etcetera."
7. Products That Extend Outdoor Living Season
Furniture, accessories, and add-ons that help you stay outside longer are an especially popular upgrade. "The idea is to extend the days and hours you can enjoy being outside," says Jamie Gold, a wellness design consultant. She identifies amenities like fire pits, heat lamps, misting systems, and fans as key products for extending the outdoor living season. In addition, Smith-Fitzgerald notes that outdoor rugs, throw blankets, and lighting can provide added comfort into the night or in cooler temperatures. Although these products and ideas aren't new, their usefulness in turning occasionally-used outdoor spaces into everyday living areas makes them especially popular for 2021.
Like we described earlier, keep an eye out for furniture that can serve multiple functions, especially for small spaces in need of a refresh with added utility. "Side tables that also double as extra seating are an excellent choice for outdoor entertaining, and they are a very affordable way to update your existing patio decor," says Angela Rathbun of Blue i Style. "While ceramic garden stools are still having their moment, metal and concrete stools offer an even wider range of style options, including unique shapes and textures, as well as bold colors and patterns."