Spending time outside has numerous physical and mental health benefits beyond the obvious opportunity for physical exercise. Numerous studies have demonstrated that being outside can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve mood, as exposure to sunlight helps to increase levels of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood. Moreover, spending time in nature has been linked to improved cognitive function, creativity, and better sleep quality; so, it is not surprising that people all over the world are increasingly looking for ways to enhance their outdoor space.
Here in Bermuda, a BTA survey conducted in August 2020 concluded that 60% of respondents reported spending more time outdoors since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, 66% of respondents reported that they had visited a beach or park more frequently than they did before the pandemic with walking, hiking, and cycling being the most popular activities.
Similarly, a January 2021 survey conducted by the International Casual Furnishing Association found that 88% of Americans with outdoor space said they were dissatisfied with these spaces and nearly 56% of these were not completely satisfied with their function.
Whether you used your outdoor area simply to relax or for gardening, grilling or playing with pets there is one thing on which we can all agree, it is that the pandemic gave us plenty of opportunity to spend time at home and realize just how underutilized our outdoor space had become.
MAKING USE OF OUTDOOR SPACE
So much so in fact, that many of us actually overcame the initial discomfort of being “confined” and began instead to focus on making our homes as liveable as possible.
While this initially meant make-shift home office renovations were done in haste, as the pandemic lingered on, and many people started to cast a more critical eye over other areas of the home – then attention soon turned to some of the most neglected areas of our property resulting in a renewed appreciation of our outdoor space.
Now that the pandemic has subsided, people are using their time very differently than they did before Covid and this desire to spend as much time outside as possible is persisting as people look to connect their indoor and outdoor spaces in new ways.
I sat down with representatives of some of Bermuda’s most innovative exterior design specialists to learn more about new products and design features for making the most of your outdoor space.
SIMPLE IMPROVEMENTS CAN BE EFFECTIVE
“More customers have been coming to us with a desire to create safe and inviting outdoor areas,” says Susan Kessaram of Bermuda Brickyard. This can be a simple upgrade such as installing “new hardscapes (pavers, stone or tile), garden walls, or wall systems, completely reimagining a space to install built-in cooking areas such as pizza ovens, full outdoor kitchens and fire pits”.
The products that are available have come a long way,” says Sonja Wayman of Bermuda Brickyard. “The new generation of porcelain tiles have finishes that realistically replicate the look and feel of wood and stone finishes and they come in both indoor and outdoor ranges. The indoor tiles have a smoother finish and can be perfectly matched with outdoor tiles which are thicker – and have a higher anti-slip rating to create a seamless transition from one area to another.”
“Thanks in part to YouTube, we have also seen a trend toward installing wood-fired pizza ovens which can be a fun and rewarding project for anyone who has the DIY bug and is comfortable taking on a larger project. We offer a mould kit that can be used to pour a concrete foundation and domed oven, or if you really want to go all out – you can purchase fire rated bricks and other materials from us and build the whole thing yourself.”
A HOME OASIS
Jennifer Davidson, a Landscape Architect at OBMI agrees, “There is an overall trend to make gardens more natural – like a backyard resort”, she says.
“Many of the people I work with are investing in their home because they are consciously travelling less, and as a result they are looking for ways to seamlessly transition from indoor rooms to outdoor areas that feature shade and comfort.”
“Covid also showed us how important it is both to establish an appropriate work-life balance, and how beneficial it is for mental wellness to spend time in nature and work with the soil even in a simple way.”
“During the lockdown many people started planting vegetable and flower gardens and this interest has continued – but not everyone has the time or the skill to envisage the best way to make use of their space,” says Ms. Davidson.
Working with a landscape architect can help turn anything from a tiny patio or a treeless lawn into a cozy place to restore your sanity or gather with family. Although this might sound expensive, a landscape expert can actually help clients select materials, plants, and equipment that are appropriate for the project’s budget, while still achieving the desired results.
Ms. Davidson’s top recommendations for edible plants that can endure Bermuda’s climate include rosemary, pomegranate, kale, swiss chard, bananas, avocado, paw-paw and peaches.
“In some ways our location has forced us to be more aware of the environment. Even small changes such as adding a few planters with water-wise, or endemic plants can make a big impact”, she explains.
CREATING SHELTER FROM THE SUN
Katherine Fisher, owner of Gotcha Covered agrees. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has been receiving a steady stream of requests for customized fabric shade solutions.
These man-made geo-textiles are composed of ultraviolet (UV) protective fibres which are made by adding chemicals to the fibres during the manufacturing process. These chemicals absorb or reflect UV radiation, preventing it from penetrating through the fabric and reaching the skin – and also protect the fabric from UV degradation (sun rot) which shortens the life of the cloth by, causing it to become weak, brittle, and discoloured.
“One of the best parts of living in Bermuda is being able to be outside, but we all need to be careful of getting too much sun,” she says. “We have done a lot of custom projects for schools, private homes as well as awnings and marine upholstery for quite a number of boats”.
While it is fair to say that in some respects, the recent pandemic has forever altered the way that humans interact, the situation is not without a silver lining in that it has also enhanced our appreciation of outdoor space and reminded each of us of the simple joy of spending time in the natural world.
Being outside in nice weather to enjoy nature is not only good for our physical health but also our general mood – it’s hard to get too upset when listening to the soft coo of mourning doves in the garden. Perhaps most importantly, the fresh air is a wonderful addition to our lifestyle and peace of mind. Making your space comfortable simply increases that feel-good factor.