There’s an outdoor shower for every “body” and budget

If you loved running through the sprinkler as a kid, the kid in you is likely to find the same pleasure in an outdoor shower. Or if you longingly associate showering outdoors with watching the sun set over the sound and savoring a book during an afternoon storm from the cocoon of a screened porch—in other words, vacation—we can help extend that off-duty relaxed feeling long after the sunburn fades.74th St Outdoor Shower


Don’t have a pool or live at the beach?  No worries?  The chlorine-saturated and sand-coated no longer have exclusive rights.  If you exercise outdoors, do lawn work, have dogs to bathe, or simply want to feel a little freer and more in touch with the natural world, alfresco showering may be perfect for you.  And there is an outdoor shower for every budget and every style. An outdoor shower can be as simple as a garden hose run between a spigot and a showerhead fixture.  And there are plenty of DIY models on the market.  But if your sights are set a bit higher, here are a few tips to keep in mind:


Better design the key for great outdoor spaces on any budget

A fireplace anchors one of the outdoor living spaces at the Ettel home, May 22, 2014.

There is nothing wrong with a backyard grill and a couple of Adirondack chairs. However, if you are at a point in your life where you want your outdoor spaces to feel more like your indoor spaces, consider our tips for better design regardless of budget.

First, decide on the extent of your transformation. Do you want a simple patio or deck, or is a series of outdoor rooms more to your liking? If the latter, yet your budget is tight, consider creating an overall design that can be installed in phases for a result with cohesive flow.

Regardless of the size of your project, consider how you want the outdoor spaces to function. Is it for dining, cooking, conversation, lounging, recreation? How will they connect to the indoors visually and physically? How will they connect to each other and relate to surrounding areas.

Outdoor spaces that aren’t easily accessible, regardless of how beautifully appointed, are not likely to get much use. So consider the inside-to-outside transitions from both the interior and exterior perspectives.

Zones can be established in a number of ways like shifts in hardscaping materials from, say, concrete pavers to brick, or defining boundaries through the placement of planters and plantings. Regardless, moving between zones should feel seamless.

Traffic patterns can be established in similar ways to create spaces that unfold into each other through simple openings or down more formal walkways. If the latter, a curve to help create a sense of discovery is nice.

Always consider the “borrowed landscape” or what lies beyond the areas you are developing, taking advantage of attractive features and views and minimizing or camouflaging those that aren’t, like your neighbor’s shed.

With your plan mapped out, next consider focal points for each area, including sources of fire and water. A full-size fireplace will draw people to it outdoors just as it will indoors, or perhaps more so. But so will a more flexible and affordable fire pit if your space or budget is restrictive. Just be sure to consult building codes in relation to fire safety. Water features, whether an extensive pond or a tabletop fountain, provide both beauty and soothing sounds. Other focal points might include a specimen tree, a garden wall or trellis, or a piece of sculpture.

Provide a variety of seating options for people of all ages: low, high, stationary, portable, rigid and upholstered. Maybe even a swing or hammock. But coordinate colors, styles, and materials and limit the number to avoid a cluttered look. For upholstered furniture, invest in fabrics that can take a beating from the sun and that dry quickly. Overhead, consider some protection from the sun in the form of pergolas, umbrellas or awnings.

And lastly, have some fun decorating your spaces to engage all of the senses and create visual interest in support of your focal points. Be thoughtful in your selection of shapes, colors, and textures in both manmade and natural materials: accent tables, candles and outdoor-rated lighting, throw pillows, rugs, planters, decorative objects, rocks, and plant materials, including some with scents.

Whether your outdoor areas have a kicked-back Parrothead vibe, country-cottage charm, or sleek South Beach sophistication each should be a function of your personal style combined with the style of your home. Outdoor spaces can offer surprise elements perhaps not found inside your home, but generally a few repeated elements, colors, or motifs ensure a more satisfying and harmonious look and feel between indoors and out.

If an outdoor kitchen is in your budget, be sure to read next month’s column. The considerations are many – materials, location, appliances, storage, work surfaces, and ambiance – and we will get you cookin’ outdoors in comfort, safety, and style.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to

Bright ideas for night light

We spend significant money beautifying our landscapes with just the right trees, shrubs, flowers and hardscaping, but when night falls, all of that effort “goes dark.” 

As warm weather approaches and we tend to be outdoors more often later into the evenings, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy our homes and streetscapes even as the darkness deepens?

Landscape lighting is the answer. And, besides aesthetics, mood and atmosphere, there are at least two other good reasons to brighten things up a bit: safety and security.

Like anything else, outdoor lighting can be incorporated into your landscape design along a spectrum from minimalism to maxed out. Here are some “bright” ideas for designing a landscape-lighting plan that is just right for your context.

1. Be clear about your goals, be they illuminating walkways, driveways and steps; creating an ambiance for outdoor entertaining; highlighting your home’s architectural and landscape features; or even deterring intruders.

2. Respect your neighbors and those coming and going from your home by choosing and positioning fixtures to avoid outdoor light pollution, which comes in many forms. Those intrusions include shining a light into a neighbor’s window or your guests’ eyes, washing out the night sky, or creating glare. Shields, collars and guards are among the considerations that can help.

3. Invest in LEDs. Though they cost a bit more than halogen, LEDs offer vastly longer life, are more energy-efficient and withstand shock, vibrations and inclement weather. LEDs offer nearly unlimited flexibility for dimming, brightening and creating a design plan with layers of subtlety.

4. Choose your look. Gentle, dramatic, elegant? Regardless of the look you desire, landscape lighting can provide it through a strategically placed mix of down-lighting, up-lighting and cross-lighting. Down-lighting, referred to as moon lighting, creates a romantic glow by mounting downward facing fixtures in trees. Up-lighting is positioned at ground level and creates more drama by aiming light directly at elements you wish to feature. Cross-lighting will grace the landscape with more depth by illuminating water features, specimen trees, swings and arbors from both sides while helping to eliminate shadows.

5. High wattage bulbs are too much of a good thing. They lend harshness to the landscape when a very different effect was the goal. You may be surprised at how much sophistication even 20 watts can deliver. Consider, as well, volts. Most landscape lighting today is low voltage which is safer to work with and less costly to install than 120-volt systems. A step-down transformer delivers one-tenth of the power, but the effects are, nonetheless, virtually limitless.

6. Think of the big picture. Types of outdoor lighting to consider, as with indoor lighting, include task, accent and overall achieved through fixtures like bullets (narrower beams), floods (wider beams), garden (on short posts), wash (softer and more diffuse) and well (buried in the ground). Incorporating all of these types of lighting will result in a fuller look and feel to your landscape. Timers ensure convenience and energy savings.

Through a combination of artistry, engineering and electrical know-how, you can look forward to a bit more brightness in your (night) life.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to