Homeowners are turning their outdoor entertaining spaces into wintry retreats with roaring fire pits, cozy furniture and steaming tubs; eating osso buco in subzero climes.
To celebrate the season, Michael and Sandra Genova on Friday threw open the 12-foot-wide back doors of their Spokane, Wash., home and let their 40 or so guests enjoy the deck, prime rib and panoramic views of the city and mountains. The temperature: the high 30s. Mitigating the wintry weather are two infrared heaters installed in the ceiling of their outdoor lounge area. The warm air blankets the space, outfitted with plush furniture, a television and built-in barbecue. At the foot of the deck is a fire pit.
For more adventuresome guests, there’s also a hot tub. The Genovas spent about $500,000 on their backyard to make sure parties al fresco could still be fun in frigid weather, said Mr. Genova, 55 and the owner of a company that makes hottub accessories. “It was pleasant, because of the heaters in the ceiling, and the fire pit throws out such powerful BTUs. We had a lot of people out there taking in the view and the fresh air, and standing by the fire with a cocktail,” Mr. Genova said.
Winter gardens are also cropping up farther north—like the ski areas of Ontario, Canada. Darren Bosch, Design and Client Services Manager for The Landmark Group, a landscape design and builder in Thornbury, Ontario, said that about half of his clients today want an outdoor cabana, often with heaters and retractable walls; requests are up at least 25% from five years ago. Prices for these cabanas range from $30,000 to $150,000, depending on the size, materials and amenities, he said.
Shelly and Fred Losani hired Landmark to help create the ultimate winter- friendly backyard for their vacation home in Clarksburg, Ontario, three years ago. They spent roughly $600,000, Mr. Losani said, on a yard with a heated cabana with retractable walls that come down with the touch of an iPhone if a breeze picks up. There’s a 20-foot by 40-foot pool, which Mr. Losani, 51, occasionally heats to 90 to 100 degrees. There’s a hot tub; a fire pit; a separate dining area and a lounge with plush cushions and throw pillows.
Even when temperatures drop to freezing in December and January, the family cooks up osso buco and pasta in the cabana and takes in the sun in their ski clothes, said Mr. Losani, a home builder. “It’s a perfect place for après ski,” said Ms. Losani, 50.
While homeowners and landscapers say their goal is to extend the season for usable outdoor space, some climates demand a temporary shutdown. Mr. Bosch in Canada said most of the spaces his company builds are mostly out of use from early late October until early June, with owners draining pools and storing furniture that could be ruined by ice and snow. Even Mr. Losani, a Canadian who has been on multiple expeditions to the North and South Poles, has a limit to when he’ll use his winter wonderland. “I wouldn’t like to be out there if it was lower than 10 degrees Fahrenheit,” Mr. Losani said.
BY KATY MCLAUGHLIN