Americans are increasingly choosing to live their lives outdoors. Realizing this, homeowners are choosing to make full use of their outdoor patios and decks in order to increase their homes' living spaces without putting on expensive additions.
"Some people have such large patios that they can easily have more than one outdoor "room" with a dining area, a cooking or kitchen area and a separate lounging area with a fire pit -- and by doing this, they are adding value to their homes," said Dan Mayer, owner of Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights.
"People are trying to take the whole indoor experience outside," he said. "They long to get outside in the fresh air and relax when they aren't working. Some even install outdoor televisions and sound systems. But I don't sell those."
Mayer does sell the plush, deep-seating couches and other lounge furniture that has become so popular for enjoying an evening around the fire or an afternoon by the pool.
The development of deep-seating furniture that is made of a premium, all-weather resin wicker material that is carefully woven over aluminum frames has made it possible to keep this furniture outside, even in our Chicago climate. The thick cushions are also fully weatherproof and may be left outside.
Outdoor kitchens are also becoming more popular in the Midwest. No longer content to simply grill outside, many homeowners are choosing to fully prepare their meals outside and they want the refrigerator, warming drawers, cabinets and counter space that that entails.
Mayer said kitchens his business is building in backyards around the Northwest suburbs are even getting larger, complete with bar sets and bar stools so guests can enjoy a drink while watching the homeowner prepare dinner.
And traditional grills are being supplemented with ceramic smokers and cookers that can be used year-round to slow cook items like roasts and chickens. Northwest Metalcraft sells Kamado Joe cookers that burn lump charcoal, as well as pellet grills, like the Black Olive and Smokin' Brothers, which burn apple and hickory wood pellets.
"They come with electronics that let you set a timer and just leave it. It makes you an awesome cook," Mayer said.
Of course, Northwest Metalcraft also sells the traditional charcoal-burning Weber grills and infrared gills that sear in juices, thus preserving the flavor of meats.
Outdoor fireplaces are also becoming all the rage with homeowners who choose to have either wood-burning or gas fireplaces (masonry or prefabricated) and fire pits constructed in many yards.
"There are some who are wood-burning purists and that is what they want," Mayer said. "But many women don't like the smell of smoke, so they choose to have a fireplace fueled by either propane or natural gas and we put stones, ceramic logs, broken glass or geometric shapes in the fireplace to enhance the look of the fire, just like what we can do for an indoor fireplace."
Outdoor dining tables made of everything from aluminum to teak to wicker, wrought iron and recycled plastic, also continue to be very popular. The large ones that seat ten or 12 people are particularly hot sellers.
"If you have a big house and a big family, you want everyone to be able to sit down and enjoy a meal at the same table. It is like Thanksgiving. You don't want people sitting around eating in their laps," Mayer said.
Heaters, both electric and propane, which extend the season for patios and decks, are also gaining in popularity. With the flip of a switch or the use of a remote control, you can have great heat coverage over a large area -- and very unobtrusively, Mayer said.
Northwest Metalcraft also sells a wide range of table and cantilevered umbrellas, mailboxes, indoor fireplaces and fireplace accessories. After the tough winter we just had, Mayer says he has been doing a brisk business selling new mailboxes to replace the ones that were hit by plows and others during the heavy snows.
In business since 1947, Northwest Metalcraft was begun by Mayer's parents, Ed and Irene Mayer, when Ed returned from World War II. Ed Mayer originally started a wrought iron repair shop in the barns on his property at the time. But he was always looking for ways to expand his business.
One day Irene Mayer purchased a patio set for the family and set it up on the yard and when someone drove by and offered to buy it, Ed sold it and quickly told Irene to buy a few more sets.
"That is how they got into the patio furniture business," Mayer said. "He continued to make wrought iron rails, etc., but gradually got into the fireplace business to supplement the patio furniture business."
In the 1960s, the Mayers added a large selection of grills to their inventory in order to capitalize on the outdoor grilling craze and before long, they were running gas lines to gas grills and fully installing fireplaces for homeowners.
"A couple of years ago we wrote our millionth invoice and we are still here and growing, adding new customers every day," Mayer said.
Northwest Metalcraft, which offers a large selection from nearly 20 different manufacturers, is located at 413 S. Arlington Heights Road. It is open seven days a week and can usually make local deliveries of in-stock items within 72 hours. Special orders are also welcomed.
For more information, call (847) 253-1905 or visit www.nwmetalcraft.com.