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The Great Outdoors

In early spring, while frigid temperatures keep much of the nation indoors, Coronado is blessed with an enviable climate that invites outdoor living all year.  Here are five examples of how Coronado families have created outdoor living environments for maximum enjoyment. See if some of their ideas might provide an impetus to transform your own underutilized exteriors into special places to escape or to gather with family and friends for fun and games.

Beachy Backyard Bliss

Their proximity to one of the world’s best beaches inspired the homeowners on B Avenue to bring some seaside charm into their backyard. The cornerstone of this open-air space, a large custom rock and shell fireplace, brings warmth and charm while also highlighting cherished family memories. “What makes it so special,” said the owner, “are the many shells imprinted into the concrete. Our children have been collecting those shells, sand dollars and starfish over the years and seeing them in the design reminds us of many fun family memories.”

Created by Nicolls Design Build and Bungalow 56, the area was designed to be the “ultimate beach retreat for the owners,” said Jessica Nicolls, owner of Bungalow 56. It has a roof above it but large cutouts and an open wall that steps out onto a fully outdoor patio make it a breezy, open-air space. As such, the space is functional year-round. “In the fall and winter we have a cozy fireplace to curl up around; in the summer we have a shaded place to lounge,” the homeowner said. “The design team really took into account all seasons, and we just love it.”

A large conversational seating area that surrounds the fireplace and an oversized central ottoman are perfect for entertaining. Soft blankets draped about enhance the warmth of the fire on chilly nights or brisk days, and a rock fountain built into the corner fills the space with tranquil babbling sounds. The barbecue, outdoor refrigerators and serving area were built close to the house to allow easy access to the kitchen, making it an effortless extension of the indoor living space. Lush palms planted about complete the casually elegant beachy feel.

An “Outdoor Dining Room”

When Scott and Meridith Metzger wanted to create an outdoor dining room at their A Avenue home, there was no more perfect space than a paved corner of the backyard where their three girls once swung from the overhanging Podocarpus tree and laughed in a hand-built playhouse. Later, that same space housed a whirlpool spa and bar space that hosted many parties, including Scott’s surprise 40th birthday party and his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. “The backyard,” said Scott, “has always been a place where family has come together, and we wanted to honor that when we created a new gathering space. Sitting out there now, you can feel how it’s grown along with our family.”

The Metzgers hired NSS Interior Design (owner is island local Nancy Smith) to build a mortise and tenon pergola and install electrical elements such as the hanging lanterns to create an outdoor space that feels like a dining room. They’ve filled the space with numerous potted plants, which lend themselves well to changing out flowers with the seasons and moving the arrangements around to keep the space feeling fresh and adaptable. Whimsical elements such as the family’s old copper mailbox and a chiminea are tucked away in the surrounding garden. The family gathers there every Sunday night for family dinners and conversation and, says Meridith, “we’ll sit out there chatting and laughing for hours, not realizing how much time has passed.” And, she says, “in the summertime, the music from Concerts in the Park drifts over and makes for a family night one can only get in Coronado.”

Room with a View

“One of the things that makes this outdoor space so special,” said Coronado homebuilder Lorton Mitchell, “is its direct connection to nature.” The view from “Bella Vista” at 701 First St. overlooks San Diego Bay with the downtown San Diego skyline beyond. Designed by architect Dorothy Howard and built by Lorton Mitchell Custom Homes, the home offers up an ever-changing view of the bay’s wildlife, including osprey, porpoises, seagulls, leaping fish, and seals (recently a curious seal was spied trying unsuccessfully to scale the glass wall to have a swim in the Bella Vista pool.)

Because of the way the patio is angled off the kitchen, making a cup of coffee in the early morning comes with a view of the sunrise in the east, while sunsets cast a rosy glow along the coral stone patio floor. The balcony off the master bedroom above shelters the patio from some of nature’s brisker breezes.

Waves from passing ships lap and crash against the glass wall along the pool, which follows the natural line of the beach. The space was designed to sit lower because, as Mitchell said, “People think the higher the better for a view, but on the bay here that’s not the case. The lower the space, the more water we see.”

Through trial and error, Mitchell matched the color of the pool as closely as possible to the color of the bay. “It took lots of different samples and viewing trips at different times of day to get right — so the pool is a continuum with the bay,” said Mitchell, who was particularly pleased with the results. “Sometimes the only detectable difference is that the bay will be rippling but the pool water will be still.”

Utilizing the natural elements and beauty of an outdoor space really maximizes both its form and function, as evidenced by the home’s certification as a LEED Gold house — the first home to be so designated in Coronado. The LEED Gold award, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a prestigious and difficult stamp of approval to obtain, and signifies a building’s “green” status through such elements as sustainable materials, partial solar heating and radiant heat.

The Great (Outdoor) Room

“My life in the desert involves managing a huge orthopedic group and can be very stressful,” said orthopedic surgeon Steve O’Connell. “On weekends, when I drive over the big blue bridge and head to our house on I Avenue, the stress melts away -— our home here has become a true escape,” he said. The O’Connell house, designed by architect Christian Rice, sits on a small plot of land (35 feet in width and 140 in depth). The challenge, Rice explained, was to create a space that would feel open and expansive despite some size restrictions. The solution was to create a great outdoor room directly off the kitchen with a disappearing wall to the outside. Said O’Connell, “Even though we are outside, it feels like we’re in a living room. Marble flooring, accented with plush furniture and a big roaring fire in the outdoor fireplace ties the outdoor space in with the inside. It makes what would otherwise feel like a tight indoor space feel big and open.” O’Connell, and his wife, Jean, do most of their entertaining in the kitchen, so the windowed walls that disappear into pocket doors create a continuum — people can sit inside at the kitchen island, at the bar, by the fireplace, or near the grill, and no one is separated or isolated.

“The open space,” said O’Connell, “makes it always feel party-ready. People walk by the front of the house and, because of its design, can see all the way to the fireplace in the backyard – they always wave and say ‘it looks like you’re having fun!’”

The best part, O’Connell said, is that even though it’s such a light, open space, it still feels intimate and warm. The open-air environment contrasts well against the black granite countertops and rough-grain wood floors. The deep-color décor, surrounding greenery and the stone fireplace add further depth and character. “Our entertaining area,” said O’Connell, “is the perfect blend of spacious living and cozy, intimate warmth.”

Nicolls 2
Kristen Vincent Photography

 The outdoor living room and barbecue area in this B Avenue home was inspired by its proximity to the beach. With a fireplace made from rocks and shells collected by the homeowners’ children (inset) and a roof for those rare rainy days, the space is comfortable year-round for gatherings.

Metzger Pergola 4
Photo by Samantha Bey

A paved corner of Scott and Meridith Metzger’s backyard was transformed into an outdoor dining area with the addition of a pergola and electric hanging lanterns.

Photo by Ed Gohlich
Photo by Ed Gohlich

The color of the pool was chosen to blend with the bay at Bella Vista on First Street. A glass wall helps maximize the view.

Christian Rice 1
Photo by Ed Gohlich
Photo by Ed Gohlich
Photo by Ed Gohlich

A disappearing wall creates a seamless transition from indoors to outdoors, expanding the living space in this narrow lot. “The open space makes it always feel party ready,” said Steve O’Connell, the homeowner.

CLM Starfish

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