By: Steven Hicks

You can learn a lot at a realtor’s or builder’s open house. You can be perfectly satisfied with your home until you walk through the doors of someone else’s vision. My wife and I love going to open houses for the ideas we leave with. Furniture placement, color schemes, tile, plants and landscaping, and now as we are finishing up our pool and lanai, ideas for our outdoor space.

And to those builders whose events we frequented, it pays off. We were perfectly happy in the 6-year-old home we built until we found out the model home we were visiting was for sale. Three weeks later, we’d bought the model.

One of the trends we’ve seen over the past couple of years has been an explosion in the outdoor summer kitchen and how it is presented in the design of the home. We love seeing a large open deck without the screening but wonder about its practically. Some builders have added citronella misters to keep bugs away and allow a completely open outdoor space. It looks so nice without the screening. We’ve seen changes in screen designs with larger expanses of screening and less framing, and that’s a welcome addition.

Designers and builders are making outdoor living an integral part of the house design with multiple disappearing sliders to open the living/family/great room to become one with the lanai. Florida is truly one of the few places where that can be functional. Brevard’s pool designers are onboard with this trend as well. They’ll likely include umbrellas and tables in the pool, benches under the water feature, and maybe even fire pits on the deck as options in their offerings.

But the big news here is the summer kitchen itself. What was once essentially an outdoor bar with seating and a built in grill can now be a fully-featured tiki hut with separate beer and wine coolers, dishwashers, open flame barbecue pits, and even gas tiki torches and a thatch roof. Televisions, sound systems, WiFi and lighting are all standard features now. Your outdoor space can really be designed to rival an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica or the Bahamas, complete with a swim up area so you can refresh your Pina Colada, all while staying cool in the pool. This is what a “stay-cation” is all about. The handsome pool boy is, however, still an option.

It takes a little planning in advance. Plumbing, gas lines and electrical outlets all come into play to make your space convenient and a reflection of your style. That’s the trick; you want everything you might need in place outdoors. Otherwise, you’re running back and forth too much to enjoy that glass of Chardonnay. Some builders leave rough-ins for these utilities for you to develop at a later time, so have a look. If not, adding the services is generally a small part of the overall construction cost.

To those new to the area, if there is a better appreciation for living in Florida than pulling back that triple slider on a cool Spring or Fall (or even Winter) evening, it is grabbing a glass of wine from your outdoor bar while dinner cooks on the built-in grill in your summer kitchen. It is especially enjoyable to share with friends, most notably those who visit from colder climates. To them, this is a sign that you’ve arrived and are fully living the dream in Florida.