In the beginning, outdoor living was the only option. Early humans then took shelter in caves and huts, and with the progress of civilization retreated to cottages, condos, tract homes, and mansions. Eventually, humans ventured outdoors again, to cook on tin barbecues and nap on aluminum loungers.

Oh, how we've evolved since then.

For upscale homeowners, outdoor life is now warmed by fireplaces, fire pits, and radiant heaters; brightened with intricate music, lighting systems, and flat-screen TVs (the ones that can be hosed down); entertained by elaborate fountains (one offers a fountain spray backlit by flickering gas flames); and softened by indestructible Oriental-type rugs, and handsome teak and wicker furniture. These al fresco living areas are likely to be called “outdoor rooms,” rather than patios.

The basic barbecue has given way, for those with means, to full outdoor kitchens, replete with 4-foot-wide grills, infrared rotisseries, high-powered burners, warming drawers, granite- and tile-topped islands, under-counter refrigerators, ice makers and wine coolers, and full sinks with filters, disposals, and instant hot water.

Following are four upscale projects that take outdoor living to the highest levels of luxury. The two projects in southern states — Florida and California — are geared to four-season outdoor living, while the two projects in northern states — Washington and Massachusetts — allow for the space to be enclosed when the weather turns.

Although each project has been designed and built for a different climate zone, all have the same goal: to satisfy the wants and needs of the upscale client.

Take It Outside

The outdoor-living trend is growing across economic strata. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 45% of new single-family homes have backyard patios, up from 37% in 1992. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) found that 74% of new-home buyers surveyed say they want or must have a rear patio, while 82% say they want or must have a deck or a porch.

According to Donna Myers, a spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, surveys show that about half of the households with an annual income of more than $75,000 who own a grill actually have outdoor rooms. Nearly half of that group also have an outdoor stereo system or speakers, 28% have swimming pools, 18% have a spa or a hot tub, and 9% have outside TVs.

Still, the percentage of super high-end outdoor rooms with the priciest accoutrements is relatively small. For instance, of the 14.4 million new grills shipped by manufacturers in 2004, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 83% sold for less than $300, and just 1% sold for more than $1,000.

Indeed, according to the association, only 1% of households with gas grills have a “very upscale outdoor area” with a permanently installed grill on a patio or deck, upscale outdoor furniture, and a place to eat and relax.

So while the average homeowner may be content with a portable grill, propane heater, outdoor speakers that resemble rocks, a water feature, and a set of teak-look furniture, the high-end client will want much more than that.