“A Total Celebration of Nature”


BbqThat’s how one "trend forecaster" describes the whole outdoor-room phenomenon.  She continues, "We are so worried the environment is a precarious place, we want to embrace nature whenever we can.  There is something very special, even mystical about anything that we do outdoors."  The optimist in me really likes that explanation, so I’m going with it.  Despite how easy it is to ridicule this everything-in-one monstrosity from Calspas.Chaise

BedAnd these Casbah-inspired outdoor beds from Restoration Hardware look pretty silly, but you won’t find me turning down the chance to nap on one of their comfy-looking chaise longes.  No sireee.

This week the Washington Post did a good job covering the outdoor furnishings trend in "Beds in the Backyard", which featured a large photo of the (indisputably ugly) Ultimate Outdoor Theater, starting at $35,000, another Calspas offering.  But this is interesting.  They found a 23-year-old guy who’d just installed a 51-jet spa with TV, built-in bar, gazebo enclosure and iPod docking station and I’m all eager to mock him until he says "I’m an outdoor person.  I love being outside as much as possible."  So okay, maybe he doesn’t know a Tiarella from a toaster, but he loves being outdoors and if he’s sitting in his spa watching "American Idol" and kicking back some brews, at least he’s getting fresh air.  Grapearbor

Don’t miss the accompanying article from the gardener’s perspective in which Adrian Higgins asks the GardenRant reader question: "But Will There Still be a Place for the Plants?"  He gets it right in calling the trend "the art of communing not so much with nature as with commercial goods" and goes on to show more plant-centered ways to furnish your outdoors, like this inviting grape arbor. 


  1. A way that I have seen the idea of an outdoor room with whatever particular consumer objects a person may desire to fine effect is as an actual open air, roofed attachment or part the house.

    With out walls you are outside in the fresh air. With a roof the weather is less of a problem.

    In places like Florida they add screening to keep out the bugs. They used to be called porches, lanais or Florida rooms.

    As an integrated part of the house they can seem less pretentious and more functional.

  2. I’m with Adrian. What a monstrosity. My “outdoor room” is a simple screened porch, and even then I have trouble keeping mildew off the chair cushions.
    I look forward with some glee to nature reclaiming all these lovely outdoor rooms when they are (inevitably) no longer used. Then they’ll be marketed as “your very own garden ruin”, like at Chanticleer.

  3. Currently I am focused on the sharp rise in corn prices, brought about by the conversion of corn into ethanol to power America’s need for large motor vehicles, that is resulting in cutbacks in production of chicken and beef as well as sharp hikes in the price of tortillas, the staple food, in Mexico. In other words, to power the American lifestyle, we are taking food out of the mouths of our brethren to the south. So this outdoor living stuff seems not only silly, but borders on the obcene, in light of what’s happening in the rest of the world.

    Sorry to be the skunk at the party, but I think this kind of obsession over lifestyle questions just shows how disconnected we are from the rest of the world.

  4. Outdoor rooms are nothing new.

    Palladio would be hurling plinths of Carerra marble down from his loggia screaming at the top of his Paduan lungs ” I getta no a respecta ! ”

    Been there done that – Even Fred Flintstone had a firepit in his outdoor room.

    No need to worry about being the skunk.
    I just want to let you know that many tortilla eating Latinos ( well at least the 5 Hispanic men that work for us ) who have been building these silly outdoor rooms have all been able to build haciendas and outdoor rooms of their own down in Mexico with the funds that they have acquired from working up here.

    Some photos of their work which enabled them to build their own homes and outdoor rooms :

  5. Sounds like Gordon Gekko logic: Greed is good, because Latinos get to work here and send money back to their families in the home country, where their families can no longer afford their staple food because we’re pouring it into our gas tanks. It’s true, in Mexico the single largest source of income is the money sent home from the United States. And that’s a good thing? Oh, wait! What day is it! I think I’m supposed to more concerned about illegal immigration. The price of corn was yesterday. I get so confused, reclining out here in my outdoor room…

  6. Ed,
    Not the theory of Wall Street Gekko economics but those of Milton Friedman whose work centered around consumption analysis

    True, the cost of corn is being temporarily driven up by consumption, supply and demand.

    But this is not the fault of people who are consuming but of those who have the responsibility of controlling the cost of money and fiscal policy , ie The Federal Reserve System.

    The good news is that Mexico is a free market economy and they will come to realize, if they haven’t already that MV = PT and this temporary economical contraction will eventually become a benefit to their economy.

    MV = PT
    is equal to Moneys velocity equals profits payout

    M is the amount of money in circulation ( which will circulate down to Mexico)
    V is the velocity of circulation of that money ( which will circulate to the farmers
    shippers and suppliers )
    P is the average price level
    T is the number of transactions taking place ( keep building those garden rooms)

    I’m not a economic major but I did work as Milton Friedman’s gardener for 6 years and though we had our political differences I learned a lot from him and the role of a free market economy.

    This temporary inflation cost of corn will soon be stabilized and the monetary growth of real production will be increased leading to a more robust economy for the people living in Mexico ,…. and if it leads to a cleaner burning fuel for those who are consuming in the US market then it will eventually become a win win situation for all.

  7. Who could have guessed that when I decided to read this quiet little post about outdoor rooms I would find my way to this Wikipedia entry about the Fed:

    Economists of the Austrian School such as Ludwig von Mises contend that the Federal Reserve’s artificial manipulation of the money supply leads to the boom/bust business cycle that has occurred over the last century. Many economic libertarians, such as Austrian School economist Murray Rothbard, believe that the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of the money supply to stop “gold flight” from England caused, or was instrumental in causing, the Great Depression. In general, laissez-faire advocates of free banking argue that there is no better judge of the proper interest rate and money supply than the market. Nobel Economist Milton Friedman said he “prefer[s] to abolish the federal reserve system altogether.”[13]. Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of Federal Reserve, stated: “I would like to say to Milton [Friedman] and Anna [J. Schwartz]: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

  8. Yup, that’s the point – the Federal Reserve’s artificial manipulation of the cost of money.
    It’s a tough job , but whether it be the Fed. Reserve or futures tied to the gold market ( Friedmans choice ) , someone has to manage the bank.

    You ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait until the economy slumbers into a stalled recessive slump due to the uncontrolled below prime rate adjustable loans that were out of control for the last few years

    Thousands of those loans are now being adjusted to their new rates and thousand of people are defaulting and losing their homes.
    Housing futures will and are taking steep and quick nose dive.
    It will be several years until this segment of the market can recover and until then lets hope Ben can undo Alan Greenspans irrational exhuberance.
    Don’t get me wrong, Alan Greenspan is my hero, under his tenure I was able to afford the purchase of a home but a bit more intervention in regards to the prime lending rate may have staved off this economic downturn that is going to infect the rest of the economy, including the cost of corn tortillas and the building of silly outdoor garden rooms.

  9. I think it’s a myth that there are any truly free markets — especially when it comes to energy or corn. The question is how much the market is skewed and to who’s benefit.

    I also think corn-based ethanol is no panacea when it comes to solving our energy problems. Look at the energy budget it takes to grow corn and make ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol looks more promising to me.

    And finally, I think that all the long threads that really start to get interesting concern issues really outside the focus of this blog. Apologies for straying.

  10. As gardener-citizens, we should all be in touch with and concerned about the interconnected issues of our times. There are people out there who believe the markets will solve everything. But they don’t call economics “the dismal science” for nothing. The finite-ness of the world’s resources are coming more into view all the time. Lucky for you if you’ve got a fat bank account and can look the other way. I’m more concerned about the world my 7-year-old daughter is going to grow up in, and I don’t think Milton Friedman has a clue in that regard. But I certainly hope she will have some concerns about the act of profligate automobile use if it means taking food out of the mouths of people who are less fortunate. But I’ll leave it at that, unless you want to read the post on my food blog, http://theslowcook.blogspot.com/2007/04/corn-and-your-big-fat-automobile-my.html.

  11. Hi Ed,
    I do really appreciate your perspective and look forward to reading your blog.

    To keep Ellis happy I’ll be as brief as I can on another ‘off topic’ subject that was brought up and that is the Education of all 7 year old kids in this country.

    You may find it interesting to google or watch some of the old PBS specials that Rose and Milton Friedman did on education.

    The education of children was a subject that they were passionate about in their last 10 years together , so much so that they founded and funded a foundation dedicated to the education of children.
    ( a google search will probably render their foundation )

    Milton died last year but Rose is still around along with their son David who is very active in promoting the work & their message of good education for all.

    By the way, the Friedmans were both avid vegetable and cut lower gardeners. : ~ )
    So they can’t be all that bad.


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