Decks and patios go high tech
Stars dot an inky sky. Heat lamps flare as shrimp skewers and tortilla chips dot tables of people chatting.
Songs by Drake and Demi Lovato thrum a rhythmic background as people surround a translucent, blue-tinged pool. A playoff game rivets a group surrounding a 65-inch TV that functions regardless of bright sun or relentless rain.
It could be the patio at a high-end Las Vegas sports lounge. Except it's not a sports lounge. It's a backyard deck.
Relaxing outdoors may have started with lawn chairs, a small table and a grill, but as the deck has evolved to become an extension of the home -- with accoutrements like cushy sectionals, fireplaces and hot tubs appearing -- families have created whole entertainment spaces outdoors.
"People are saying, 'Well, if I'm going to buy this nice patio set and this nice sofa or sectional to put on my patio, why not have some electronics, some sound or a TV to go along with that?' " says Jim Kozicki, the home audio and furniture buyer for Abt Electronics in Glenview. "It's all intertwined together. It really started with the improvement in outdoor furniture, and it's now gone full-bore into creating a true entertainment space on their patio and on their deck."
As weatherproof televisions withstand colder and hotter temperatures and patio heat lamps become more effective, geography and climate have proved less formidable obstacles to outdoor entertainment spaces.
Kerrie Kelly, an interior designer and founder of the Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento, California, says changing deck and patio concepts have also contributed to the emergence of electronics outside.
"With the popularity of covered patios, televisions and the amenities that we enjoy indoors are effortlessly spilling outdoors, too," Kelly says. "This helps expand our square footage and allows us to use our living spaces in an entirely new way."
The start of electronics migrating to outdoor living spaces, Kozicki says, began with inflatable projection screens that hooked up to compressors, allowing people to watch movies in their backyards.
"But now it's grown beyond that, beyond the occasional thing of showing an occasional movie in their backyards to where they're actually building it as a permanent living space," Kozicki says. "So we're seeing that trend continue to evolve. It started out very rudimentary, and it's grown to a point where people are actually putting intricate sound systems and permanent TV structures on their patios."
When it comes to outdoor televisions, two brands, Kozicki says, have come to the forefront, Séura and SunBrite TV. These TVs can withstand extreme temperatures because as along as they're plugged in, he says, they have an internal thermostat that regulates the temperature of the television.
The Séura Storm Ultra Bright series is designed to withstand temperature variations from -30 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit while SunBrite Pro televisions can operate from -40 to 122 degrees. Both brands of televisions can withstand weather elements like rain, snow, sleet and dust and have anti-glare capacity so that bright sunlight doesn't warp or blackout images. Both brands offer one- to two-year warranties and waterproof remote controls.
The trade-off is the cost. A 47-inch SunBrite TV Pro Series retails for $4,295 while the suggested retail price for a 47-inch Séura Storm Ultra Bright runs $5,999. In contrast, 47-inch, flat-screen LED indoor televisions run about $400.
Though outdoor TVs can withstand wide weather fluctuations, Kozicki points out that "there's always a little bit of common sense that has to be used," especially if you live in areas of the country that can turn brutally hot or cold.
TVs like Séura and SunBrite are "pretty much going to be able to handle what the planet could throw at them, but if you have the option of taking it down and storing it for the winter, you probably should."
While both companies also sell protective TV covers, Kelly says installing a retractable cover for the entire patio can make for a fashion-forward and functional way to protect outdoor entertainment centers.
"Specific storage spaces, like cabinetry and armoires, can also house entertainment systems when they are not in use," she says, "making sure the technology does not disrupt the design."
As for sound, Kozicki says Bluetooth systems like Soundcast's cylindrical speakers offer portability and convenience, but "you're still down to one source of sound in your entire living space." More permanent systems, he says, like those with buried cables, could bring better sound quality to a yard.
Christine Estes, 44, who lives in a home in West suburban Chicago outfitted with a wide, L-shaped deck, a rectangular, in-ground pool and a stone fire pit, has also upgraded her family's outdoor stereo system so it can handle playlists from iPods and phones.
Her house has a trio of speakers attached to the upper level of her deck and a pair of speakers attached underneath. Estes says they enhance each party her family throws, which number about a half dozen each summer and draw anywhere from several dozen teenagers (she and her husband have 15-year-old triplets) to more than 100 people during their annual Fourth of July party.
She says she would love for the signature of the Fourth of July party, a fireworks show, to be set to music this year, especially as the permanent speakers allow music to reach folks sitting "way into the yard."
But even when there's not a party, outdoor music brings liveliness to their time outside. Estes, an obstetrician, reads by her pool with Top 40 tunes turned on while her husband, Christopher, might flip to news radio while working outside.
She says the outdoor music has been a worthwhile investment that makes staying at home appealing.
"You know, we're all so busy," she says. "It's hard to find time to go on vacations. And yet, you really look forward to your downtime. So it's nice to make your home a place where you like to be. Instead of wanting to spend a weekend in the (Wisconsin) Dells, to be honest with you, I'd rather be at my house and enjoy myself."