Making the Most of Outdoor Living Spaces

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These two families – who both live near the borders of Durham and Orange counties – enjoy spending time together in their backyards and screened-in porches

outdoor living space with the Link family
Nadav Howard Link, Neva Howard, Shahar Link and family cat, Bacon, cozy up on their California-style back porch. Photo by Beth Mann


Most mornings, Neva Howard joins her husband, Shahar Link, on the screened-in porch behind their home in Solterra – a cohousing community in the western part of Durham County near the border with Orange County. The early hours are peaceful, and the space offers room for the couple to meditate. Later on, their 10-year-old son, Nadav Howard Link, who attends Duke School, might wander outside to share a meal with his parents or play with the local kids on the shed’s rock wall installed by Progression Climbing. Neighbors walk by throughout the day along a series of trails that connect each of the 37 homes in Solterra. “Each house looks completely different,” Shahar says. “You’re motivated to do something different with your house because everyone else has their own cool thing going on. That’s part of our inspiration.”

outdoor living space with the Link family
Grant Bizios Architecture and David W. Roberts Construction made Neva’s vision of a large outdoor family space into reality. Photo by Marilyn Peryer

Shahar, owner of Mindspire Test Prep, and Neva, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at UNC School of Medicine, moved into Solterra in 2012. Originally built by Chapel Hill artist Emily Eve Weinstein, the house’s eclectic design was one of the main selling points for the couple.

“There’s craftwork everywhere indoors,” Neva says. “[Emily] took a lot of scraps and old things from the lumberyard and carved wood and created beautiful stairwells.” There’s even a window with a stained-glass nature scene that highlights golden sunflowers, hand-painted by the former homeowner.

Home and Garden
A granite and marble walkway, built by former homeowner and artist Emily Eve Weinstein, leads up to the front door. Photo by Beth Mann

Surrounded by inspiration, Neva and Shahar decided to add their own personal touch – the screened-in porch. The California-style back porch encloses 650 square feet and features two-story-high ceilings, a casual dining area, a stone fireplace and a copper hot tub.

“I wanted a large family space that we didn’t have indoors,” Neva says. “I realized that I could only get that through building a screened-in porch. I turned the dream for the indoor space into the outdoor space.”

They hired Grant Bizios Architecture to custom-fit the design to fulfill Neva’s vision. For the building and engineering of the porch, they hired David W. Roberts Construction. The entire project took a little more than 11⁄2 years, plus one giant crane to lift in the hot tub.

A skylight above the hot tub allows the family to gaze up at the stars or passing clouds. In a community with a high amount of socializing, Neva and Shahar value the private oasis of their porch, but it does also offer enough space to socially distance with family and friends during the pandemic. That includes both sets of grandparents, Florence Link and Thomas Link, and Guy Howard and Sharon Howard, who were fascinated by Solterra’s community concept and happy to live closer to their grandson.

Home and Garden
Nadav, 10, hangs from the wood-carved stairwell. Photo by Beth Mann
Home and Garden
“The hot tub is in the screened-in porch so we can avoid the bugs and be out there in the rain and snow,” Neva says. Photo by Beth Mann

Solterra has a garden where residents can contribute plantings and share the harvest of sweet potatoes, berries and more. The recent arrival of two beehives provides the neighborhood with an abundance of fresh honey. Neva and Shahar’s own front yard is filled with fruit trees. Landscaper Michele DeRose of DeRose Garden and Landscape helped the family select native plant species.

“We have a fig tree, pawpaw tree, pear tree, muscadine grapes, blueberries and even a kiwi vine,” Shahar says. “We make tons of fig jam, and the pawpaws get eaten raw – it’s an interesting native fruit that you can’t get at most stores.”

A granite and marble walkway, built by Emily, leads up to the front door. Inside the house, Shasta, a white golden retriever puppy who the family adopted earlier this year, has rule over the main floor. Each house in Solterra was built with south- facing windows to get maximum sunlight; Shasta and his 8-year-old cat siblings, Bacon and Flour, often lounge in the rays.

Neva and Shahar's house in Solterra
Throughout the pandemic, the screened-in porch offered Neva and Shahar a private and safe space to socially distance with family and friends. Photo by Marilyn Peryer

Every door in the house is recycled and is a different shape and size, and Neva has added artistic light fixtures and decor to complement the eclectic home. Yet, the family’s favorite space remains inside the screened-in porch.

“During a storm, it’s incredible. Water barely comes in,” Neva says. “We’ve had dinners out there in the middle of a storm.” – by Marie Muir


After completing graduate school studies in Australia, Tracy DeLozier and Steve Choi decided it was time to move back to the States.

They found their way to North Carolina when Steve matched with Duke University for an internal medicine residency program in 2001. They lived in Orange County for two years, then spent the next seven in Durham County. Their current house – with its Chapel Hill address in Durham County – has been a welcome compromise.

outdoor living space with the Choi family
Family dog Ozzy tries to steal the show from William Choi, 12, Tracy DeLozier, Mena Choi, 15, and Steve Choi. Photo by Cornell Watson

Tracy, Steve and their two kids, Mena Choi, 15, and William Choi, 12, have called Southpoint Manor home for 10 years. “We settled in this neighborhood due to the family-friendly vibe, the walkability and the neighborhood pool,” Tracy says. “The location between both Chapel Hill and Durham … made it an easy choice as well.”

The home is a reassuring home base for the busy family, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic. Tracy, a consultant for PharmaDirections, works virtually from her home office. Steve works as an associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center and is chief of gastroenterology at the Durham VA Health Care System, but always does his best to make it home in time for dinner. The recent specialty on the menu has been classic shrimp and grits, in large part courtesy of Mena, a cooking aficionado and the 2016 North Carolina winner of Michelle Obama’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. When the DeLozier-Choi family isn’t cooking bulgogi or bibimbap under Mena’s watchful eye, they are often gathered outside. Steve utilizes his Big Green Egg outdoor cooker on the deck to smoke ingredients like duck and Brussels sprouts for all to eat out on the sunporch. The porch’s plush couches and dimly lit lanterns provide a comforting reason to stick around after dinner. “Mena also enjoys painting out there with her friends,” Tracy says. “We are planning on putting a TV on the screened porch to utilize it more for entertaining.”

outdoor living space with the Choi family
The family spends most of their outdoor time in their screened-in porch, but the wide-open backyard lends itself nicely to the kids’ hobbies of baseball and volleyball. Photo by Cornell Watson

The wide-open, airy backyard offers the perfect expanse to serve as a makeshift practice baseball field for William, who plays for the Riptide Baseball Academy team. Mena uses the space to work on her volleyball serve as she prepares for future games with Carolina Edge Volleyball. Plus, it’s open terrain for Ozzy, the family’s Pembroke Welsh corgi, to roam as he pleases.

The backyard also served as the ideal spot for William’s 12th birthday party in May. “We kind of made our own backyard movie [theater],” Tracy says. A blow-up screen created the perfect socially distanced celebration. “It was a good time,” Tracy says. “[His friends] came over in masks and gloves … and played PlayStation on the big screen.” To ensure the boys’ safety, William and his friends “ate individual pizzas from Blaze Pizza, individual chips, individual cupcakes, and we also popped individual popcorn bags. [The] party gifts were masks from Nokona, the baseball glove [makers],” Tracy says.

outdoor living space with the Choi family
Card games are serious business for the family. Tracy was ahead in this game of “War.” Photo by Cornell Watson

As for Tracy, she’s enjoyed watching the plant life flourish in the family’s yard. “We have some gerbera daisy plants as well as schefflera plants … for foliage and greenery in our screened porch, [but] our gardenia bushes in the backyard … are my favorite when they bloom in the spring,” Tracy says. “They were planted with the house – but I love [them]! The smell is amazing.” – by Megan Pociask

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