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The Great Grill Up by Brian Patrick Flynn

An Atlanta bachelor’s neglected grilling deck is reworked, polished up, and whipped into shape just in time for spring and summer …

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My web designer friend Matthew has become a grumpy little $%&*#. But I say that with the utmost respect and charm, since he is, after all, my friend. Up until a few weeks ago, I could not for the life of me figure out what was making this easygoing guy so high-strung and serious. Let’s see: he lives in one of the most desirable areas in the greater Atlanta area; he’s insanely intelligent, good-looking and in crazy-good physical shape; career-wise, he’s at a place where most people twice his age aspire to be; and, oh, he’s a classically trained pianist as well as a successful dance instructor. I wanted to ask him, in my sad excuse for a Heath-Ledger-as-The-Joker voice, “Matthew, why so serious?” Then I came across the sad and lifeless grilling deck in his back yard, and I instantly understood why the role of Matthew was now being played by Grumpelstiltskin. An active athlete slash jet-setting professional without a great place to relax and entertain friends, he was majorly in need of an aesthete. That’s where I came in.

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Potted plants hang from a semi-open overhang.

When Matthew bought his 2,300-square-foot, traditional, two-story house in Decatur, Ga., he was drawn to its architecture and generous space plan as much as the safe, well-manicured appeal of his new-construction neighborhood, Crescentwood. Surrounded by towering trees, the sounds of birds chirping and happy families playing in their own yards, Matthew’s lackluster deck had all the potential to become an ideal spot for grilling out, lounging, and just enjoying great weather with cocktails. But it would take some serious retooling to get there, including extending the deck and adding a pergola for shade. After a full week spent turning Matthew’s grilling deck into a full-fledged outdoor dining and entertaining space, it’s safe to say that mopey Matthew has turned that frown upside down and summoned good ol’ reliable, easy-going Matthew again. If that’s not the case, I’m going to invite my own friends over to Crescentwood and change my name to Matthew.

After three years of not going to Matthew’s for social reasons, I quickly noticed why: the grilling deck was more of an eyesore than a place to bring guests … and it seemed almost intentional. Um, why is the grill not on the grilling deck?

Overall, the main activity of the deck is grilling. Before deciding on any other elements for the design, I zeroed in on finding the perfect grill: a black-toned, industrial-style grill-and-smoker combo. From this, I decided on a color scheme of black, sand, white and grassy green. When space-planning for outdoor living rooms or straight-up grilling decks, it’s important to consider safety first and foremost. Although half of the updated outdoor space is covered by a pergola, I left the grilling area unobstructed above, to safeguard against any rogue flames.

Not just stylish, the grill-and-smoker combo is versatile, too. Whether Matthew keeps it simple with hot dogs or gets all gourmet with smoked turkey, chicken or fish, this single, classically styled component – complete with a stainless steel tool kit – can handle it all. P.S. While stainless steel grills have been all the rage for a decade, keep in mind that black – especially matte black – smokers have just as much charm, and are way easier to keep clean.

Once Matthew grills or smokes a meal, he’s able to lay out everything on the dining table in a well-coordinated, colorful fashion – from the plates and bowls to the sand-toned linens to the drinkware.

Thanks to a 10-foot extension leading to Matthew’s yard, there’s now an uncovered grilling space complete with seating for up to six, as well as a separate, pergola-covered area dedicated to lounging.

To further delineate the grilling deck from the lounge space, a black and sand-toned saddle-stitch indoor/outdoor area rug spans the entire surface. If you’re scared to use straight-up black or white area rugs due to heavy traffic, kids, or pets, keep in mind that textured rugs with small-scale stitched patterns really help hide everything.

Since Matthew and I want to start designing and decorating his entire house from the outside in, we both agreed to choose classic, practical pieces that will get a ton of mileage. French bistro-style chairs have timeless appeal, but they can get trendy depending on what finish is selected. We opted for stackable metal bistro chairs with an electroplated finish, almost basic in nature – and certain to be just as much in vogue in 20 years.

Matthew’s a bachelor, and this usually means there will be some sort of alcohol-inclusive lounging happening at some point. To give him a fully stocked outdoor bar, we simply picked out a rustic potting bench and outfitted it for occasional use as a bar – but it’s also practical for year-round outdoor storage.

A potting bench, although not every homeowner’s first choice for a stocked bar, offers loads of utility. The attached hutch has shelves perfectly spaced for housing stemware and rocks glasses, as well as entertaining essentials such as fondue sets. The top surface, standing at console-table height, is ideal for laying out liquor and keeping blenders within reach.

A cold beverage is always a match made in heaven for potting bench bars. Most have integrated, removable trays, which are ideal for keeping cold drinks on ice. You know what else cold drinks on ice are ideal for? Getting Matthew to shed his grumpies for happies.

When not entertaining, Matthew can put the potting bench to good use as a place to work on gardening, whether it’s for the potted plants on and around the deck, or more involved projects out in the yard.

As a guy who doesn’t drink much at all, the last thing I want to deal with is schlepping bar stock in and out of my house when alcohol-loving guests come by. Keeping that in mind, I armed Matthew with a genius creation involving three flasks, four shot glasses, and a shaker, all confined in a teeny-weeny, take-it-with-you-wherever-you-go kit. Plus, its black leather exterior coordinates perfectly with the deck’s color scheme.

Tucked into the corner beside the potting bench bar is an island-inspired rocking chair with a striped throw pillow – an ideal spot for Matthew to casually chat with his guests as he gets up and down to check on the grill. And when I say casually chat with his guests, I mean hide from them once they’ve had too much to drink, and let them fend for themselves. Just kidding! (Maybe.)

When designing indoor or outdoor spaces, I take a mental note of all materials used, trying my best to curate a great mix of materials. Aside from the grill, I wanted to make sure I introduced metal somewhere else between the grilling deck and the lounge area. Just beside the rocking chair is a wire table, which brings black over to the white-and-beige rocker to keep the color scheme cohesive.

Just off the grilling area is the pergola-covered lounge complete with a striped area rug, seagrass coffee table, a pair of teak sofas, and woven pendants … along with 17,000 ferns. If I were to name this space, I would likely call it Fern Forest. Why? Well, again, because there are 17,000 ferns in it. Matthew is rarely home Monday through Friday, but once the weekends roll around, the deck is his territory. To add tons of life to the area without having Matthew commit to any serious maintenance or plant care, I went with Boston ferns, which simply require tons of shade and water once or twice a week.

One of the reasons I went with the black, white, sand, and grass green color schemes was Matthew’s existing outdoor draperies. The custom panels feature a traditional damask pattern, which I found unexpected for a guy’s space. So, by pulling the taupe and black from it, then introducing it in different ways throughout the lounge area, I was able to keep Matthew’s original design direction in mind while giving it an updated spin.

The one adjective I kept in mind throughout the sourcing of Matthew’s grilling deck and lounge space was “casual.” Often, when I picture a casual setting, coastal elements come into play. The coffee table in the lounge area is tropical in style thanks to its woven abaca exterior, a material I love for both its texture and graphic braiding. Since the top is hinged, the table opens, making it the perfect storage space for throw pillows.

The nautical stripe is another popular design element associated with casual, coastal style. Instead of being super-literal, I went with a fractured stripe, which is introduced on the floor in the form of an indoor/outdoor area rug. Not only does this rug keep Matthew’s and his guests’ feet comfy, it also grounds the space visually, delineating the lounge area from the grilling and dining deck.

To maximize seating in the pergola-covered lounge, I added a pair of reclining teak sofas, complete with indoor/outdoor cushions in white. The moment I laid eyes on these sofas, I couldn’t help but think of St. Bart’s – a place I’ve never been, but assume that if I did, these would be the sofas I’d sit on while thinking to myself, “Here I am, sitting in St. Bart’s and being casual and coastal, just like the sofas I saw at grumpy Matthew’s house.” The teak construction is totally timeless, and should Matthew decide to be extra lazy over a weekend, the sofas recline into more of a bed-like form, making it next to impossible not to spend the whole day outside.

Short and sweet: I put pillows on the sofa to tie the green, black, and white tones of the design together using solids and stripes. The end.

A trio of all-weather rattan pendants grounds the lounge area and also adds another layer of casual, coastal texture to the mix. An excellent way to integrate lighting into your own pergola is to have exterior, waterproof outlets installed along the vertical beams or the sides of rafters. Once plugged in, the cords can be concealed tightly along the top of the rafters with zip ties or coax cable clips. What the hell are coax cable clips? Well, you know those things that run along the bottom of baseboards to keep your TV cable hidden? Coax cable clips … bam!

Gentlemen are known for loving leather, so why not bring that into the mix, right? Not only did I mix black leather – not the stripper sofa kind, but more the Don Draper weekend jacket kind – with another bachelor favorite, alcohol, but I threw in a set of etched-glass drinkware, a black stitched tray, and a decanter. True story: I am not a big drinker, but I still like the look of a bar, so sometimes I just pour water into my own decanter, and even pretend a rocks glass with water and ice in it is actually vodka … simply to be one of the cool kids at my own gatherings.

See all of Brian Patrick Flynn’s Styleboards at the Style Gallery!

- Brian Patrick Flynn, HGTV designer/producer; Decor Demon

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