Outdoor Living dinner table

Outdoor Living

feature article

Outdoor Living

more and more clients are interested in converting outdoor spaces into year-round living and entertainment venues.

BY Wayne Visbeen, AIA IIDA

Outdoor Living dinner

REGARDLESS OF LIFESTYLE OR LOCATION, my clients overwhelmingly are interested in converting outdoor spaces into year-round living and entertainment venues. My architecture firm, Visbeen Architects, works everywhere, with homes in 48 states and 13 countries. Across the board, in varying climates and various personal styles, utilizing outdoor spaces is a mainstay of our practice. As most of you know and most of our industry surveys reveal, maximizing storage space is the number one request for new home builds and major remodels. Number two is the trend in creating engaging and exciting outdoor living spaces.

Whether it’s an indoor-outdoor sunroom, a screened patio, or a covered porch, homeowners are interested in decking out these spaces with fireplaces and fire pits and kitchens as an entry point to this exciting design opportunity. Add heat to extend the amount of time they can be in this environment, throw in a home theater and sound system and a bar and you’re talking year-round entertainment and enjoyment. Combining the latest in lighting and automation technologies brings us full circle and not only are clients excited but studies show it is a sound investment.



One of the companies that we work with extensively is StruXure. They create incredible Pergolas that have the technology to open, close, pivot and slide depending on your needs. With pivoting louvers you are able to control the amount of sun coming in from the roof. They even have a sliding louver system that allows you to fully open the system giving you a clear view of the sky.

The state-of-the-art technology includes a fully enabled StruXure app to control your system on any smart device. Wind sensors will automatically open the louvers when winds reach 60 miles per hour to allow wind to move freely throughout the space. Rain sensors automatically close the pergola upon detection of rain. And the snow and freeze sensors react to prevent louvers from sticking together and causing damage to the system.

One of my favorite quotes about StruXure’s unique take on outdoor living is from Scott Selzer, Founder and CEO, “Together, we can help people live better, by bringing the outdoors inside through beautiful design and exceptional quality.”


Phantom Screens

In my career, I’ve designed over 1,600 homes, averaging 70 to 80 homes a year. 90 percent have Phantom Screens in them to create all-season outdoor spaces. Similar to StruXure, Phantom’s motorized executive line-up features Somfy motors, so there is a dependability factor which speaks volumes about the company’s inherent quality.
Our conference room, which opens to a porch, features Phantom Screens and I simply walk clients out and almost every single person is inspired by how these screens can really transform a home. People are amazed.

Phantom also has an entire series of manual screens that can be installed both vertically and horizontally on doors, windows, and opening glass walls. But for me, motorized is my favorite option. And I always recommend that in addition to a track of insect repellent screen material, a second track is added that incorporates crystal clear vinyl.

Some years ago I discussed the concept of adding a vinyl layer with the folks at Phantom and they were immediately receptive. The benefits of adding a vinyl track is that you can block rain or snow and also get a measure of sound dampening as well. Both incoming and outgoing! Systems can be set up where only the sides of the outdoor space that are experiencing rain have the vinyl closed, while keeping the other side or sides open so you still get airflow.
Motorized retractable screens appear at the touch of a button and disappear when you don’t need them. Components can be hidden away into ceiling cavities and wall and post channels. They are perfect for indoor and outdoor living spaces to give you fresh air, shade from the sun, climate control, privacy and best of all, protection from insects.

Phantom Screens are packed with technology including sensors that allows the screens to respond automatically to outdoor conditions, voice command, and integration with home automation systems. Phantom also offers a wide range of colors and custom finishes to match any visible components to your home. When you add their more than 30 mesh, fabric and vinyl choices – the customizable options with Phantom Screens are endless.


design and pre-construction

Similar to motorized indoor window treatments, you really need to follow a pretty standard set of rules if you want the project to turn out perfect.

First, an on-site inspection is a must. My remote clients will send me pictures, which are fine as far as discussing the overall design goals. But I make it a point to visit the jobsite to inspect the surfaces and how the system is going to be integrated.

Second, you have to prepare the design spec prior to finalizing the overall specification. With motorized treatments you want to ensure that you have plenty of space for the motor assemblies. For the dual roller system – screen and vinyl panels – you need to be able to get at the vertical tracks for maintenance, allowing for height to hide the rollers. If you don’t think about this in advance, you have to lower the overall height of the screens or put the rollers on the outside of the space, which isn’t as seamless as recessed components from a design aesthetics perspective.

Third, for existing structures, you have to decide how the tracks are going to be integrated into the project. You can surface-mount the screens and blend the components into the facia décor, similar to a window frame. Or the preferred method is to groove the facia material and insert the track guide for a perfect fit and finish. This of course takes talent if you are grooving brick or stone or wood. You don’t want to chip or rip the existing materials. Need I point out that this is not a DIY project?

Fourth, you need to visualize how the overall aesthetics come into play. Here’s an example: when we designed our own Phantom Screen system, we had the option of running one extended screen (up to 22 feet wide) or breaking that up into three sections, which is what I chose to do. By deploying multiple screens, I have the option of lowering or raising the individual screens depending on how I want to block out the sun or create the right vibe. The bottom line is that you need to take into consideration what exactly you want to enhance and/or protect as far as your design goals.


Finally, there is a bit of artistry involved with both the StruXure and Phantom Screens platforms. Both companies have a network of seasoned installers who really add so much value to the equation. Again, seek out a professional for best results.

final thoughts

Outdoor living spaces are a priority for our clients. Kitchens with vents and hoods and outdoor refrigeration are extremely popular. Technology has allowed us to have door-walls that can expand indoor areas to greater volumes by enclosing outdoor terraces and patios. And outdoor spaces conversely can be expanded to give access to the indoors for easy access to kitchens and bathrooms. The duality is intriguing and a sophisticated solution for homeowners looking to maximize the use of their homes in all seasons.


Wayne Visbeen
The principal and founder of Visbeen Architects, Inc., Wayne has the creative vision and technical skill to bring his clients’ dreams from an initial design to an architectural reality. As a licensed architect and registered interior designer Wayne not only designs residential and commercial projects that are both visually stunning and functionally efficient, but constantly strives for creative solutions that make every plan unique and better.


Wayne Visbeen