The Dirt: In the air

Gardens aren't just food or flower factories — they are there to be enjoyed. And in recent years, there's been a significant evolution in outdoor living spaces offering a ringside view.

Beyond decks: Outdoor spaces can be whimsical and practical, as in this sail-like cover , which protects a rooftop garden and patio. Photo by Melanie McGee Bianchi

Many new Arts and Crafts homes, though dutifully turned out in expressive earth tones, don't feature the sepulchral, deep porches that distinguish the original bungalows they emulate. Same goes for those "country house" plans that lack what ought to be the style's requisite feature: a wraparound porch.

Happily, however, design innovations have started stepping outdoors — and out of the box. The barren back or side deck, tacked on like an afterthought, has segued into patios shaded by solar awnings or glassed-in additions.

Air-Vent Exteriors may be the region's sunroom king, specializing in three- and four-season living spaces (depending on whether single- or double-paned glass is used). Most are erected on an existing deck that can then be covered with tile or laminate. Co-owner Jayson Carnes stresses that such rooms are stick-built, not kits. The quick turnaround time and relatively low cost stem from the company's use of prefinished materials, which he says generates "tremendous savings in labor."

Also au courant — though definitely requiring more patience to maintain — are latticed pergolas, now grown big enough to house furniture and, preferably, adorned with climbing native vines. At HandMade in America's upcoming Western North Carolina Craft, Architecture & Design Expo at The North Carolina Arboretum (see below), about a dozen different design vignettes will be on display, including a massive pergola that architect Michael McDonough styles an "outdoor living room." Supported by wooden masts, it's capped with a boutique canopy courtesy of Artful Shelter's Roger Rountree.

Actually, residential design takes Rountree out of his oeuvre — Artful Shelter is best known for the sculpted, cupola-style event tents seen at LEAF and other high-minded festivals. At least one other notable exception is a rooftop sail he made in collaboration with Adam Pittman, owner of the green-development firm Sage Concepts.

Soaring skyward from the flat rooftop of Preston and Jenny Zoeller's Riverview Drive home, the aerodynamic canopy shelters a box garden and a furnished, wooden-walled patio space. Fashioned from Artful Shelter's signature architectural fabric, it's made to withstand wind and repel all but the most extreme weather.

Still, "it's not a permanent fixture," cautions Pittman, explaining that the canopy is attached to levers and can easily be taken down in winter. But permanent or seasonal, custom verandas are one of his specialties, and much of his inspiration is culled from extensive travel.

In Europe and Mexico, where flat roofs are common, such spaces are rarely left idle. "Rooftop terraces are not a new thing," he notes. "It seems in every other country but ours, there's an efficient use of rooftops in daily living. All over the world, people have flat roofs [with a slight slope for drainage]. That's something I haven't seen here."

Roofs, he points out, "are a fairly expensive integral feature, so it seems like a good idea to use them — a case of form following function. To not utilize that [area], if you can, pretty much amounts to wasted space."

Pittman says he's still experimenting with various canopy materials, including reclaimed Rhino Linings from truck beds. And building up instead of out, he notes, "creates less land disturbance."

But environmental issues aside, in our region, elevated living simply amounts to good sense. "We have all these wonderful mountain views here," says Pittman. "It's a shame not to enjoy them."

HandMade: The Western North Carolina Craft, Architecture & Design Expo comes to The North Carolina Arboretum Friday and Saturday, June 25-26. For more information, go to

[Melanie McGee Bianchi is a contributing editor at Carolina Home + Garden.]


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