From the April/May 2020 Issue  

Sustainable Outdoor Living with Esther De Wolde

Writer Marirose Krall
Sustainable Outdoor Vinyl Room

Clear vinyl “walls” can “transform your home and how you live,” Esther De Wolde says. “On a covered porch, they make the difference between using it a few months a year and using it all year-round.” | Courtesy of Phantom Screens


Esther De Wolde

Esther De Wolde
CEO, Phantom Screens
888-742-6866 |

In the Garden State, we’re fortunate to enjoy the variety of a four-season climate, and we like to make the most of our outdoor environment all year long. New Jerseyans are not alone, according to home design expert Esther De Wolde, CEO of Abbotsford, British Columbia-based Phantom Screens.


“Homeowners are flocking to the outdoors, and many consider outdoor living space one of the most attractive qualities when searching for their perfect home.”

Naturally, we want to take care of our outdoor spaces. And while eco-friendly practices have been in the mainstream for a long time, recent severe weather events have made the need for environmental awareness seem more urgent. “Sustainable home design continues to take the industry by storm,” De Wolde says. “Homebuyers are very much influenced by energy-efficient strategies and care about their impact on the planet.” If we want to enjoy nature, we need to be good to nature. Here are some ways to make the most of outdoor living while taking care of the environment.

Sustainable Outdoor Solar Grill

Harness the sun’s power for a cookout with a solar grill, like this one from GoSun. Courtesy of GOSUN

Go High Tech

It stands to reason the best way to maximize outdoor space is to use it as often as possible, no matter the weather. With homes in both British Columbia and Mobile, Alabama, De Wolde knows a lot about outdoor living in any climate. She also knows that home automation can play a major role in extending the outdoor season. Smart-home technology isn’t limited to interior spaces.

A screened-in porch that’s used when the days and nights are temperate can be pressed into service all year long if properly equipped. Augmenting those screens with retractable vinyl “walls” can create a four-season room, offering protection from the elements without interfering with the view. “In summer, they keep the cool air in and do the exact opposite in the winter,” De Wolde says. “They are energy efficient.” They also allow for comfortable, warm “outdoor” time even on a snowy day. “People get a real kick out of that,” she notes. “And the use of an outdoor space in the colder months expands your living area so everyone is not sitting in the family room all winter. It’s a joy to be able to use your outdoor space 12 months out of the year.”

Certainly, solar panels can involve a large investment, so De Wolde recommends starting smaller. “Solar-powered barbecue grills are fuel-free and produce no emissions. They provide a clean alternative to traditional grilling and yield the same delicious summertime favorites.” The same goes for heating a pool, which can be an expensive proposition using an electric pump. “Consider heating your swimming pool with a solar blanket or solar rings. They’re available at pool-supply stores,” De Wolde says, and they’re energy efficient and budget friendly.

Sustainable Outdoor Table Setting

TABLE SETTING | Using “indoor” china in an outdoor setting feels luxurious and is a good way to decrease your carbon footprint. (The recycled vintage door used as a table adds rustic charm and is also eco-friendly.) | Courtesy of Phantom Screens

Go Low Tech

The fastest, easiest way to make your outdoor entertaining more eco-conscious is to reduce the burden on our landfills by forgoing paper plates and cups. “From a climate-change perspective, the best eco-friendly outdoor dining tip is to reduce the amount of garbage we generate,” De Wolde says. Real china plates are a stylish, reusable, cost-effective way to set an outdoor table, though they’re obviously not advised for use on hard stone or tile patios or around a pool.

For less fragile outdoor tableware, De Wolde recommends “using alternatives to traditional plastic disposable dishes. We all are aware of many countries banning single-use plastics, and for good reason. Durable and reusable outdoor dishes made from sturdy materials such as melamine are a good option. And, fortunately for outdoor lovers, never before have homeware stores offered so many styles and designs that have the look and feel of indoor-use china.” Reusable dinnerware in materials such as wood or bamboo are also a good choice and on-theme in an outdoor environment.

Bamboo Tableware

Bamboo tableware, like this from Bamboozle is reusable and sustainable. | Courtesy of Bamboozle

If you’re not keen on washing dishes, there are some ecologically sound alternatives. “While even bioplastics and compostable plastics require energy consumption to break them down,” De Wolde says, “plant-based dishware, like those made from palm leaves, is likely the best product to compost.”

High-tech, low-tech or something in between — there are a variety of ways to be mindful of environmental concerns while enjoying outdoor space, De Wolde says, “whether it’s a tiny sundeck off an apartment or a big backyard.”

Phantom Screens are sold in New Jersey through Garden State Retractables in Freehold, 732-534-9173,