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The Outdoor Space: Fun in the Sun

Jun 11, 2014 03:41PM, Published by Jason Huddle, Categories: In Print

Southgate Masonry is a local supplier for all your building needs


One advantage to living in the South is the weather and the ability to extend our living spaces out the back door…perhaps an annex to the man cave.  While porches or decks are often standard fare,  more homeowners are taking them a step further.

Dakeita Vanderburg-Johnson is president of Southgate Masonry & Lumber in Concord, an independently-owned business founded by her father and employing 16 faces long-familiar to those receiving deliveries on their jobsites. In her role of overseeing purchases, customers, public relations and strategic goals, Vanderburg-Johnson has seen trends in building come and go.

“I think the most change has come in the last five years when we have taken on the hardscape products and started taking on projects like a pool deck, outdoor living sections and outdoor kitchens,” she says. “I think if people don’t have the money to do a larger project, there are those who want to spruce up their home in some way. This way it gives it a little more pizzazz. I think people enjoy entertaining in small groups.”

And those driving by Southgate are bound to have noticed an outdoor kitchen space take shape on the premises – a model, if you will, of what has become increasingly important to homeowners. Within this structure are grills, a fireplace, even a pizza oven, all enveloped in the latest materials for cabinetry, seating, roofing and countertops. Southgate regularly entertains vendors and clients there.

The kitchen has long been considered the heart of the home and is now the room trending its way outdoors the most. The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) says that more than 75 percent of all American families own a barbecue grill or smoker. And the popularity of outdoor cooking can be translated into dollars. According to the DIY Network, “The entire outdoor ‘leisure lifestyle’ industry now nets $6.2 billion annually – up 5.4 percent compared to 2002, adding, ”Although outdoor living has been trendy ever since the Weber kettle-style grill first appeared more than half a century ago, the alfresco movement has reached epic proportions in the last several years. In fact, Weber’s Grill Watch Survey, an annual third-party study of outdoor home cooking, notes that spending on outdoor appliances is up more than 8 percent this year over last season, a remarkable figure given the recent state of the economy.”

As such, the grill is one of the most important purchases for the space. Southgate’s model displays the Big Green Egg and the Fire Magic gas grill.

“In the past I have bought grills every 10 years. The Fire Magic grill is by far the most economic grill with the most even cooking,” Vanderburg-Johnson says. These stainless steel grills have been manufactured for more than 75 years and are made in the U.S.A. Models range in price from nearly $2,000 to more than $10,000 for the crème de la crème.

Your mental image of the Big Green Egg would be correct and it comes in five sizes. Accessories abound, like an infrared cooking surface thermometer, baking stone, table nest (stand)…even a trailer hitch.

“We also have the Chicago brick oven,” Vanderburg-Johnson adds, although she and her husband are still going through a learning curve. “We have done some pork tenderloins in that,

An outdoor fireplace adds just the right touch, especially in the fall.

that were amazing. We burn half of the pizzas; our foray into the pizza business hasn’t worked out. You can also do baked spaghetti and casseroles.”

These pizza oven kits are sold bundled, meaning they contain all the parts needed for assembly: dome, hearths, door, flue, install kit and cooking kit. Depending on the model, a homeowner could spend well over $10,000.

Now that the grill has been purchased, there are decisions regarding what wraps around it…weatherproof cabinetry, lighting, furniture, fireplaces and firepits, space heaters, refrigerators, water features and audio systems.

“People are thinking more of sustainability, green products,” Vanderburg-Johnson explains. “Decking made from recycled materials, permeable pavers as opposed to pavers that water runs off of. There are new products coming out, like stacked stone that is actually molded fiber plastic. You can encase wood with this, stacked. I see this working inside a house, too…no mortar.”

With regard to cabinetry, HGTV says, “It is of utmost importance to keep the weather in your particular regional climate in mind when choosing materials for your outdoor kitchen cabinets. While most outdoor grills and appliances are going to be stainless steel, and most countertops will be stone to hold up to the weather, you have a few options for outdoor cabinet materials that are both weather- and termite-proof. Some of these materials include stainless steel, marine-grade polymer (plastic composites), teak and stone.

“Stainless steel is a good material, as it likely matches your grill and outdoor appliances, and it is weather- and bug-proof. Marine-grade polymer is popular in outdoor kitchens because it can be hosed down for cleaning with no damage, and it holds up to the harshest of elements. While teak is a wood, and therefore not as weather-resistant as steel or polymer, it possesses natural attributes that make it more weather-resistant than other forms of wood. Finally, for a completely custom outdoor cabinet look, you can choose masonry cabinets that use a cement block or metal frame covered in a decorative stone to create a natural stone look (see sidebar).”

Moving to the countertops, Southgate’s model incorporates a stone surface, but it resembles wood; the grain is beautiful. offers other possible materials. Polymers resist stains and weather; glazed ceramic tile comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, but the grout requires sealing and the tiles need a weather-resistant substrate (material you’ll build your countertop on); stone tile needs a sealant, which will provide stain and water resistance; granite doesn’t require a substrate but it does need a sealant to fight water and stains; slate is solid so it doesn’t need a substrate. It’s also stain-resistant and cleans up easily; a stone slab is usually cut about three inches thick and does not require a substrate; concrete needs a sealant for water and stain-resistance; and brick and flagstone also need a sealant and require more maintenance.

Flooring tends to mirror countertops and HGTV explains why. “Natural stone paving can give your kitchen a look that’s at once elegant and natural. But stone can absorb oily stains, and it’s expensive. Your best budget bets are sandstone, limestone, slate and marble ($25 per square foot).

“Concrete can be colored, imprinted and finished for a wide range of looks, including that of natural stone. If you live in a cold climate, consider a formula with a base additive that will help the concrete withstand the freeze-thaw cycle without cracking ($8-$10 per square foot).

“Tile is affordable and available in many different styles. Choose between ceramic and porcelain tile, and pick a frost-proof, unglazed product, and have your installer coat it with a penetrating sealer.

“Tile must be installed on a flat surface or it’s prone to rocking and cracking. In cold climates, the freeze-thaw cycle can damage grout and tiles ($10-$30 per square foot).”

And there are many products that will help supply shade to your space: traditional roofing, pergolas, shade cloth, even trees. Besides the benefits of shade, natural landscaping can add that pop of color and beauty, and invites butterflies and birds to your yard.

Some homeowners like to mix the floral with the edible. Growing vegetables and fruit trees near the outdoor kitchen means being able to essentially harvest dinner right before preparation and grilling.

Guests can enjoy the outdoor, weather- and fade-resistant acrylic fabrics used for seating and pillows, as well as wicker, glass, teak and wrought-iron furniture.

Budget dictates design, but options are so varied. “Some of our products are commodity-driven so we are cheaper on some things (than big-box stores),” Vanderburg-Johnson says. “We sell everything from the foundation through to the actual building stage; (The bigger stores don’t) typically do the brick and masonry. Someone can come in and see the samples here in our showroom.”

Even if an outdoor space doesn’t typically add equity to a home upon re-sale, it’s still a feature that is often sought after by the homebuyer, so it is valuable in that respect and could help bring a better price. And Vanderburg-Johnson, who ran a tight ship during the heart of the recession says, “One of the things that has been really cool coming back is the builders walking back in the door with a set of plans, saying, ‘Look what I’ve got!’”

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