Renovate Your Outdoor Spaces

Audio, video and lighting turn bland yards into entertainment havens.

outdoor entertaining

A/V and lighting control can set the mood for outdoor entertaining. Photo: Glenn Cormier

In suburban Phoenix, Jack and Sandy Lindskog sought a pleasant soundtrack to their nightly sunset viewing on the patio. And they found it. Now they can select whatever CD they’re in the mood for that night, kick back and adjust the volume — depending on how loud the crickets are — without returning inside.

Across town, Bobby Kelly and Janet Duval hoped some cool tunes would make hanging out in the pool or holing out on the putting green more fun for their family and friends. With six pairs of speakers and a weatherproof volume control, audio doesn’t get drowned out at pool parties.

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A little farther west, outside of San Diego, Amy and Steve Finley wanted plenty of glowing light and flowing music — courtesy of 18 pairs’ worth of speakers — to turn their outdoor space into a lustrous environment for entertaining guests. Between the ambient music and different lighting scenes, a dinner guest might mistake the Finleys’ backyard for a gourmet restaurant.

Homeowners are beginning to realize that they can take advantage of electronic enhancements indoors and out. When it comes to basking in audio and lighting experiences in particular, more of today’s homeowners can head out to the patio, pour themselves a cold one and drink to that.

Outdoor Becomes Additional Home Zone
Yes, the days of plopping your boom box down on a picnic table or piece of patio furniture and cranking it up to fuzzy noise levels are gone. Homeowners have a multitude of speaker choices (see How to Choose Outdoor Speakers) and can also select music from their CD collections, iPods, satellite radios or AM/FM tuners to stream outdoors, thanks to simple distributed audio systems.

Installations can range from straightforward listening setups to expansive multizone ones. When Jack and Sandy Lindskog approached Phoenix, AZ–based installer Dennis Sage Home Entertainment (DSHE), they conveyed to owner Dennis Sage that even in retirement, they engaged in a busy lifestyle. Without children living at home, though, they could find time to relax in a peaceful atmosphere — one that their outdoor space could provide.

Sage’s company installed an audio system that would blend in with the home’s exterior furnishings and landscaping, match their vision of a calm retreat and be simple to operate. The Lindskogs’ yard has two distinct areas: one “underneath” patio where they can quietly watch the sunset and another, more standard patio for when they’re entertaining neighbors. The second patio has a 26-inch Sony LCD TV “where the guys can sit and watch a game while the ladies are on the [other] patio comparing notes about their husbands,” says Sage.

The Lindskogs’ easy-to-use system is powered by an Integra stereo receiver, an Integra CD changer and SpeakerCraft outdoor volume controls. Three pairs of StereoStone “rock speakers” blend in perfectly with the craggy desert terrain, while a pair of SpeakerCraft flush-ceiling models are hardly noticeable tucked into the patio roof’s corners. The volume control device is weatherproof, making it unfazed by Arizona’s 115-degree summer swelter.

Hiding Wires Outdoors
The DSHE installation in suburban Phoenix at the residence of Bobby Kelly and Janet Duval is more of a playground. The half-acre backyard includes a patio, fitness area, and pool with a 10-foot rock slide, as well as a putting green and five-hole chipping course. Kelly and Duval have four pairs of StereoStone rock speakers, one pair of NHT outdoor speakers, and one pair of SpeakerCraft flush-mount speakers to cover each part of the area.

Because aesthetics, durability and budget are as relevant outside as they are inside (especially with an elaborate exterior like that of Kelly and Duval’s residence), homeowners and electronics system designers need to consider issues involved in the hookup. “People still want wires to be hidden,” Sage says. “When you’re outside, you don’t have two-by-fours to bury wire in, so that usually means digging trenches and putting conduit underneath. But that can double the labor times (and costs).”

In Kelly and Duval’s extensive outdoor area, DSHE ran a handful of wiring feeds and tried to keep them in places with little grass landscaping. In cases where it can’t run conduit, the company uses 12- or 16-gauge wire with a thick sheath over it, “specifically made for withstanding weed whackers and the like,” says Sage.

A Marantz stereo receiver fuels the audio, and the family can play with the loudness levels in the different sections by using the two SpeakerCraft volume controls or the Niles Audio volume control manufactured for the outdoors.

“We point out to homeowners how important A/V is in their lifestyles, and the same thing goes for being outdoors,” says Sage.

Aim Sound in to Keep Neighbors Happy
In southern California, Amy and Steve Finley wanted to fill their property with rich sound that both their family and guests could enjoy.

The Finleys’ outdoor space consists of 12 audio zones, which they can control using an RTI U1 waterproof remote that integrates with the AMX whole-house control. When installing the speaker system, One Touch Audio & Video Integration owner Corey Brushia took into consideration the owners’ wish to keep elements hidden within their home’s modern design and optimize audio for entertaining (the Finleys have an outdoor PA system and theater that can accommodate 100 guests). He prefers the sound of traditional outdoor speakers to rock speakers and went with Sonance.

“The goal for the outdoor sound was to have the most cutting-edge technology and best sound possible while maintaining the design integrity of the house,” says Amy, whose firm Finley Design worked on the home, giving her the perspective of designer and owner.

One Touch hid Sonance’s outdoor speakers in plants and other foliage on the property or mounted them to fences behind bushes. There are 18 pairs of speakers outdoors, half of which dot the outer perimeter.

“I like to use more speakers on the outside perimeter of properties aiming toward the house instead of by the house aiming out,” says Brushia. “The neighbors are [usually] close, so I tend to use more landscape speakers and use more of them than I ordinarily would so I can maintain a normal volume level.”

Outdoor Lighting Design and Control
Perhaps the most important element in an outdoor installation is lighting control. Lighting scenes not only create a particular atmosphere but also provide security, safe passage and even energy savings.

As a designer, Amy Finley knows the value of lighting control, and she worked with One Touch to produce a Vantage Legrand system that brings an extra dimension to her own property’s elegance. She incorporates functionality and appearance into her designs and placed particular importance on those factors for her own house because the home effuses modern art and architectural design.

“The idea of no boundaries between indoor and outdoor was one of the main design concepts for Malaga [the Finleys’ home],” Amy says. “For this reason, it was very important to design the house and patio area to take full advantage of natural light while it was available and to choose lighting that would not look out of place outside.”

The lights make the residence glow. What’s more, LED lighting fixtures were incorporated to produce almost a blue light when shining upward, creating a cooler feel.

The Finleys’ lighting is also easy to control remotely through preset scenes that command certain lights to turn on at certain times, such as when the front gate opens and triggers the driveway and pathway lights. The system features an astronomical clock, and power-saving abilities can be incorporated by setting lights to turn off earlier on weeknights than on weekend nights, for example.

As frequent social hosts, the Finleys also have lighting tied into their outdoor music. In arrival mode, louder music and bright pathways assist in escorting guests into the yard. In dinner mode, the music lowers and the lighting dims to an appropriate level for that night’s engagement.

Whether it’s for a simple barbecue area or full patio cooking zone, lighting control goes hand in hand with outdoor meal prepping and eating. Cooks need a particular amount of light to see what they’re doing, but it shouldn’t compete with the dining area atmosphere, even if the two spots are in proximity with each other.

“People are setting up huge, elaborate bars and putting in giant Viking barbecues and custom-built brick pizza ovens,” says Brushia. “The area has to be lit differently from where they’re entertaining on the patio, pavilion area or backyard lawn. Cooks have to see what they’re doing, and when they’re presenting food, it’s usually a darker area with mood lighting.”


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