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Celebrate family outdoors

by: Vern Uyetake, Bryce, 2, and Ian, 4, hang out with their dad, David Ovist, in the backyard of their Lake Oswego house, at left. Situated on the Blue Heron Canal, the outdoor patio is roomy enough for guests but the perfect size for the family of four to spend dinner together.

It's officially summer and to Oregonians this is celebratory news each year. We are now free to open our sunroofs, clean off muddy golf bags, check the expiration date on the sunscreen and fully enjoy outdoor spaces. With America's birthday next week, many local families will be firing up their barbecues and parading around in red, white and blue. And of course there will be fireworks.

To the Ovist family in Lake Oswego, July 4 means a time to celebrate not only the birth of our country, but also their new covered outdoor patio - their favorite room.

Located on the Blue Heron Canal, David and Diane Ovist's property is a Northwest masterpiece - with intricate stone details, exposed rough cut cedar beams, greenery and just a quick boat ride to the main portion of Oswego Lake. After a year of transformation, their backyard has become the gathering area for the family of four.

Before, the backyard referred to one large deck and lake water too accessible for their children, ages 2 and 4. After an extensive house remodel, the backyard was next.

Now, a locking wrought iron fence keeps the kids safer while David and Diane enjoy the new covered patio and outdoor kitchen. A table sits between a large gas fireplace on one side and the cook-top on the other. The airy space is comfortable but also feels like a castle or mountain cabin - somewhere special to retreat to and man the post, fire up the grill and just watch the kids.

Above the table and on three sides are natural gas heaters.

'You just hit the switch. There's three different switches,' David said. 'It's great because if I come out here and read a book, I flip the switch on the heater (above me). If I'm by the barbecue, I can flip that switch. It keeps it nice and cozy.'

The heaters allow the family to take advantage of the airy space year round. Overhead fans keep the warm air from the sun in the summer or the heaters in the winter circulating within the room.

'We got the idea for the heaters from Five Spice,' David said, of the Lake Oswego restaurant that services its patio even if the weather is a bit colder. 'And it gets rainy here. We wanted to be able to have outdoor time with the kids year 'round so we put the fans in so the bugs don't get us. It works great.'

Designer and contractor Marion Rusnak from West Linn created the space to be functional on all sides. With stainless steel appliances on one side - a refrigerator, ice maker, barbecue - and large gas fireplace on the other, Diane said there's plenty of room for family night and for entertaining.

'We have to have the neighbors over soon. We live on the best street in the world,' she said. 'You should have seen us last Halloween.'

Located just off their kitchen, a long covered area connects from the side door of the house to the covered patio and family area outside. French doors also open to the area.

The tightly packed stones on the ground are exactly what David was looking for, he said - something that looked 'old and European.'

'I knew I didn't want cobblestones. These pavers are perfect. (The new area has) pushed us outside a great deal more. We're thinking about doing an outdoor pool table in this area over here,' David said, pointing to the long stretch of open space along the side of the house.

Rusnak said that side area is perfect for a kids table, while the adults can gather by the fireplace.

'That's why that's the main cooking area,' Rusnak said. 'I was trying to have the (entire structure) blend with the squirrel siding of the house and give it a rustic feel with exposed beams.'

After months of protecting the kids from the construction site that was their backyard - 'it would have been dangerous for them to play around the nails and concrete,' Diane said - the kids, Ian and Bryce, now roam freely between their play structure, the table and grass by the water.

Getting the area completed took an extra push. The Ovists promised some friends they could have a wedding reception in their backyard months prior, but as the date approached the bride and groom became nervous; the backyard looked like organized rubble and hardly romantic.

'We were getting down to the wire. A week before this wedding reception with a hundred people and the structure wasn't done. The beams were in but not the rest of the structure,' David said. 'We hired 16 guys who got it done in five days. We put up flowers and the bride showed up and cried. It was great. Later the crossbeams and gutters went in.'

Diane walked through the space and pointed out that her favorite feature is the grill, although she said she never touches it.

'I let them do all the cooking. I'm known to slice up some asparagus inside but the grilling is left to the boys. They help each other,' she said. 'We have dinner out here at least three times a week.'

When not behind the barbecue working with tiny-tot chefs-in-training, David is strategizing about wrapping-up the outdoor remodel project for good.

All it needs?

A TV.

'The TV is going to go up here,' David said, pointing to a corner near their house. A cable outlet sits unused. 'It'll drop down (in the corner). It's all ready to go. I just need to figure out how to put it in. For right now, we're just loving (this space).'

And the room allows for clean-up when you have young kids.

'Spending time outdoors has brought us closer as a family,' David said, 'and we don't have to worry about the kids making a mess.'

Designer and contractor Marion Rusnak can be reached at 503-320-8041.