Real Estate, Design, and Landscaping Experts Dish on How to Keep Your Backyard in Great Shape

Wondering how best to feather your nest? Don’t neglect the outdoor areas. Our panel of East End real estate, design, and landscaping wizards shares the latest trends.

Listed by Mala Sander, 27 Cooks Lane in Bridgehampton features gorgeous landscape design by Jack deLashmet, highlighted by an 18-by-45-foot Pebble Tec pool with saline filtration.

This week, our panel of local experts features real estate pros Tim O’Connor and Mala Sander, pool guru Ian Fyffe, builder Ron Friedman, landscaper Michael Derrig, and interior designer Zoe Hoare. Read on for highlights of their up-front conversation about what’s new in the backyard.

What does outdoor living mean to your clients?
Mala Sander:
If I were to show two houses, one with beautiful outdoor living spaces already set up and one that was just grass and a pool, they’d be like, “Wait, where’s the patio, where’s the outdoor fireplace and kitchen?” Even if that one was priced less, most would go for the one that was already done, because it reflects how they see themselves living in the Hamptons.
Michael Derrig: Husbands, especially, will say, “I don’t go inside. I stay outside under the pool house or arbor. I spend all my time here. I shower here.” It’s amazing how much time they spend in the backyard.
Tim O’Connor: A lot of clients want bigger doors that open up, so inside and outside intersect. Every chance they get, it’s like, “Where are the exits? How quickly can you get out?”

What about the idea of outdoor “rooms”?
People need to be concerned about overprogramming them with pizza ovens and grills and fire pits. I try to make them disappear in a green landscape.
Ian Fyffe: I don’t want to see all that stuff until I want to use it. MS: But some people do. It’s part of the prestige of having those things.
TO: It’s a trophy to people.
MD: That’s too bad. You gotta try and educate them that it’s not a good look.


A recent spa project in Southampton from Ian Fyffe’s Harbor Hot Tubs and Sparkling Pools.

What are people spending on these things now?
A lot of money.
TO: It’s not an afterthought anymore.
Zoe Hoare: Yes, it’s not going down to Kmart and picking out a few blue-and-white waterproof cushions. Now you go to your decorator and say, “I want performance outdoor fabrics, and I want trim, and I want some tassels, because my Fendi handbag has tassels, so I want to go bohemian outside.” Performance fabrics are as fashion-forward as fabrics we live with indoors, fabrics we wear.
Ron Friedman: For one house, we just ordered all cushionless outdoor lounges and couches.
ZH: I don’t like the sound of that!
RF: It’s very soft, almost like a mesh but very comfortable. Your body leans into it.
MS: By the pool, when you get out wet, you get on that and it doesn’t matter.
IF: With pool covers, they’re [using] some of those fabrics instead of that pleather finish. And a self-contained hot tub doesn’t have to be ugly.
RF: On most houses, we design phantom screens that come down; you want to make sure you feel comfortable with the door open all day. It used to be a real luxury, and now it’s almost a must-have.


This poolside pergola, designed by Landscape Details, creates an idyllic setting you’ll never want to leave.

Are your customers telling you about trends they’ve seen?
People come with interesting ideas but think it’s all going to happen in half an hour, like on those thousands of design shows on TV.
ZH: Yes, a “daykover.”
RF: I also think it’s what they’re seeing in the resorts they go to.
ZH: That’s where the bar outside came from— the hotel.
IF: I haven’t seen a more consumer-driven product than saltwater pools. I’m not a fan; it’s too corrosive. Our basic pool maintenance gives you a low level of chlorine— bottled-water quality— without having to use the salt.
TO: I’m finding if customers don’t see something, they can’t envision it. We have a home that’s new construction, unstaged, and we’re going to Photoshop it. Then you see a lot of homes built in the early ’90s—“Dynasty homes,” with the double-height ceilings, the grand staircase. No one can sell them because they’re just too big. One street has seven of them! People want the space, but they want it to feel more intimate.
MS: The pendulum swings so dramatically. I sold a six-year-old home to people who then tore it down because it just wasn’t the [current] design—and believe me, it wasn’t priced as a teardown. They ripped it down and built a beautiful modern home. Overall, I’m seeing that clean trend, the clean box.
ZH: Less cluttered.

How does that modernism translate outdoors?
Very easily. You have doors that slide open, so a simple room opens to beautiful “rooms” outside.
ZH: Outdoor lighting. You can buy a tree that’s worth the same as a small Picasso, so you’d better light it at night and make it a piece of art.
MD: Gardens are less fussy, with less flowers, more simple lines. Also just simplifying the landscape, so it has longevity: People forget how big plants should be. If you want to keep a 12-foot shrub at three feet for 20 years, it’s going to look like a green meatball.

One personal question: Where do you go when you want to be outdoors?
RF: I use my outdoor cooking area constantly, even in the winter.
MD: I’m an early riser, so I saw the sunrise this morning at the beach.
IF: Pretty much anywhere outside is fine. The stars early this morning were just amazing. They were from the horizon line all the way around.
MS: People will say, “Oh, it’s winter, come down to Florida.” I’ll be packing my bags in the morning, and I see this beautiful light and beautiful sky. It’s like being on vacation all the time. Why am I going?

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