With the growing trend of “staycationing” – spending a vacation at home – more people are looking to spruce up their landscapes, making their backyards just like their favorite vacation destination. Gone are the days of picnic tables, plastic pools and folding chairs. Today’s luxury outdoor landscapes feature fully-equipped kitchens, couches, bars, televisions, heaters and fire places. Nowadays it’s all about extending the living space and bringing the comforts from inside outside. It’s also about going green, which is why landscape contractors can expect to see a rise in the amount of hardscape construction they do this year. Hardscape designs, such as patios, decks and terraces, not only reduces the amount of lawn space that requires watering (a definite plus for green enthusiasts) but it also caters to your clients’ desire for an outdoor living space that is both comfortable and pleasurable – two absolutely-necessary ingredients for a good “staycation.”
Looking for fresh, innovative ways to bring the inside outside? Here are some hardscape feature ideas to offer to your clients:
Patios – Patios are drastically growing in size to make way for bigger outdoor living spaces. One of the biggest trends right now is treating the backyard like you would a house and dividing it up into separate ‘rooms’ or living areas. These distinct living areas could be divided according to their specific use, for instance: a dining area, a lounging area and a bar area or they could be divided according to a specific theme, for instance: a Japanese-inspired area with a pond, a woodland area with a rock retaining wall and an English-country-inspired section with a gazebo.
And patios no longer have to start right at the back door! These living areas can also be designed as “retreats” tucked away in various locations throughout the backyard, which is especially appealing to clients who are looking for patio designs that keep privacy in mind. And as customers look to spend more and more time outdoors, they may also be interested in sheltered areas. Arbors, hedges, trees, atriums, and pergolas all provide different degrees of shelter and privacy. The design and function possibilities for a patio are completely dependent on the client’s (or the designer’s) imagination!
We’re also seeing patios made with more permanent, natural-looking materials, such as natural stone and pavers. While the idea of installing a patio typically evokes images of hard concrete slabs, today’s patio materials come in an array of different colors, shapes and sizes. Natural stone patios might be created from slate, flagstone or fieldstone. Clients could also choose from different varieties of brick or pea gravel. And for those who are still tied to concrete, there are a number of staining and stamping techniques that, when applied, improve the look of traditional concrete. In terms of shape, today’s patios tie in nicely with the organic, earthy look of natural stone and pavers. Many clients will lean towards natural curving shapes instead of hard edges in their patio design and layout to compliment and highlight their garden beds, ponds and other softscape features.
Outdoor kitchens – The outdoor kitchen trend has become so prevalent that, in some cases, it is even more detailed and elaborate than an indoor one! Backyard kitchens can include: built-in barbecues, bars, pizza ovens, wine coolers, refrigerators and prep areas for food and drinks. And just like an indoor kitchen renovation requires attention to design and build details, so too does the outdoor kitchen. Some of the factors that should be taken into account when establishing the location and design of an outdoor kitchen include:
Where the indoor kitchen is located – an outdoor kitchen adjacent to the indoor one is much more convenient for food prep and for quick and easy access to equipment and materials.
The visual features of the landscape – a beautiful view, a water display (such as a pond or a fountain) and the rise and setting of the sun are all features that enhance the experience of backyard dining and entertaining. NOTE: Be sure to consider how the location of the outdoor kitchen will affect the views from inside!
The physical features of the landscape – are there a lot of trees? Trees may need to be added or removed to improve the views and privacy of the dining space. How about slopes? You will need to consider how the terrain of the landscape will affect the look of an outdoor kitchen. Will retaining walls need to be added to support hillsides?
Heat and light – while outdoors kitchens installed near the home can be powered through a nearby or common wall, kitchens installed away from the home need separate electrical and/or gas lines. If cold weather is a factor, heaters (such as propane and gas heaters) are options, as well as fire pits and fireplaces.
Fire pits and fireplaces – There are numerous types and styles of fire features for the backyard landscape, all of which add a modern flare and cozy ambiance to the landscape design. Aside from the fireplace, the following fire features may appeal to your customers:
Fire dome – fire domes are globe-shaped sculptures hand-cut from sculptural-grade steel. Each dome contains unique cut-out designs (a wide range of figures, landscapes and patterns) that work to shape the flames as the fire flows through the dome. The result is a silhouette of flickering flames.
Fire pit table – fire pit tables come in a variety of different styles and sizes, including both dining table heights and coffee table heights. They are used as both a source of heat and as a nice ambiance for dinning and lounging. Fire pit tables can also be built as fire pits with a wide rim that serves as a table. These unique features also come with a lid to cover the fire pit and transform the device into a fully-functioning table.
Fire bowl – outdoor fire bowls are commonly made of precast concrete and, like the fire pit table, they come in a wide variety of sizes – some are small enough to display on a table, others are large enough to function as a fire pit. Fire bowls can be powered by gas or wood and can be filled with any sort of fire-resistant decorative material, such as lava rock or colored fiberglass.
Bonfire pit – bonfire pits are circular fire rings which people can gather and sit around. Traditionally, fire pits are wood burning, however, gas or propane fire pits are also options. Fire pits can be made of natural boulders and stone and can be filled with lava rock or fiberglass.
Fire hearth – a fire hearth is a cross between a fire pit and a fire place and is typically fueled by gas or propane. It is used more for ambiance and heat and is best suited to small groups of people as fire can only be enjoyed from one side.
Christina Coughlin is a writer for the Landscape Management Network (LMN), a web-based budgeting and estimating software and profit toolbox for landscape contractors. Developed by landscape contractors for landscape contractors, LMN’s suite of online tools and systems offer landscape contractors anytime, anywhere access to tools that drive productivity and profit.
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