It was actually the creation of an indoor room that led Gary and Lisa Allen to expand their outdoor space.

After two years in their River’s Bend transitional home in Maineville, the couple turned to Neal’s Design Remodel in Blue Ash to finish the lower level, creating a great room with a theater section, pool table, bar, wine cellar and gaming area.

So thrilled were they with the results that boosted their entertainment and hosting abilities, that they began thinking about a way to tie their basic slab patio into the finished lower level to create a complete indoor-outdoor retreat.

“Their backyard was fine,” says Alan Hendy of Neal’s Design Remodel. “It just didn’t provide them with as much entertainment space as they wanted.”

Up until Neal’s came on board, the couple sat on the kidney-shaped, stamped-concrete patio to grill, but would usually go inside to eat. “It was fine,” Lisa says, “but we wanted some flexibility to do multiple things out there, as well as an area to sit and enjoy the outdoors, even if it’s raining. And we wanted something that looked like it was part of the original construction.”

Their initial wishlist included a built-in grill, fireplace, bar, hot tub and TV. Later, out of concern for small grandchildren entering the scene, the hot tub was subbed out for a fire pit; it has turned into Lisa’s favorite spot.

The resulting series of flowing, cozy spaces earned Neal’s recognition as the regional winner of the 2009 Contractor of the Year Award.

To meet the challenges of a severely sloped site and the desired connection to both the first floor kitchen and the lower level, architects sketched out a 675 square foot outdoor room with a vaulted ceiling of tongue and groove wood and cedar-wrapped cross beams that continued the pitch of the original home’s design. Divided into three levels, the space includes a kitchen area with Viking grill, refrigerator and beverage sink, fireplace and TV; a fire pit trimmed in graceful arches framing the backyard views, several protected seating areas and an outside patio.

The project is a tribute to cultured stone and its advantages in creating a lodge-like setting without the structural complications required of natural stone. Walls, arches, counter bases and fireplace are covered with handsome stacked stones in taupe, sand and grey, while floors are either stamped concrete or tile. Ceiling fans mounted between exposed trusses give it a rustic look, and furniture from Patio & Hearth was carefully planned to create several seating conversational spots.

“We spend a lot more time out there in warm weather,” Lisa says. “It’s the first place we go when we come home or have people over, especially after golf. With the flowers, the trees and grass, it’s so relaxing, so quiet and so tranquil. And yet we have room for big gatherings of family and friends that can spill over into the lower level.”

“It’s really made a difference in where we spend our time now.”