Extending living space outdoors is as old as time itself.
"Creating an outdoor room is a natural extension of your indoor living space," says landscape architect John Johnson. "By creating a space in the open air and adding elements like fireplaces, pergolas, water features and greenery, you get a very different feel. People want and need that connection to the outdoors."
Without erecting the traditional four walls and roof, outdoor living space can be easily added to large, small, twin or town homes. Enhancing an outdoor space with hardscapes adds value and can be adapted for multiple uses.
"Homeowners continue to embrace the trend of maximizing outdoor living space, whether it's an outdoor kitchen or patio living room with a fire pit," says Lonny Sekeres, a landscape designer. "Real estate experts say that for every dollar you invest in landscaping projects, you could see up to a $2 return when you sell your home."
Do-it-yourselfers will find easy-to-install, maintenance-free pavers and segmental retaining wall systems are budget-friendly for patios, walkways, courtyards, raised gardens, fire features and wall projects. New construction should include plans for exterior hardscapes, and remodels can benefit from the advice of design-build professionals or experts from a landscape supplies retailer, says Sekeres.
"There are so many solutions to fit any budget and need," says Sekeres. "Products like permeable pavers allow rainwater drainage if needed, and retaining walls come in colors that complement any environment."
Al fresco living
As a natural extension of the home's ground floor, a patio expands a family's living and entertaining space significantly. It provides a perfect gathering spot for guests and family who will be drawn from indoor dining areas to this enticing space.
A popular trend is to expand kitchen space with outdoor grilling areas, stone fireplaces for cooking wood-fired pizza, or stone counters around a grill for food preparation.
"Because the kitchen is typically the customary gathering place in the home, it's a natural extension for family and entertaining guests," Sekeres says.
A fire feature such as a fireplace, pit, table, pot or ring creates an inviting outdoor focal point as well as a functional spot for entertaining, says Sekeres. A half-circle seat wall or outdoor furniture around a fire pit or table creates a cozy nook, and adding a grill, pub set, chaise or settee can transform a patio into a lounge for gatherings well into the evening and late in the season.
A newer trend is the green or living wall, says Sekeres, and now there are products that let do-it-yourselfers and professional installers alike easily add drama and beauty to retaining walls.
"A living wall planted with herbs near an outdoor grill or a landscaped wall of flowers is an eye-catching, eco-friendly and unique use of retaining walls," says Sekeres.
Pathways created with pavers, stepping stones and permeable pavers can join both back and front outdoor living spaces.
"New homes and older homes make good use of the longstanding porch design," says Sekeres. "It's easy to create a paver walkway linking the front and back or an outdoor kitchen to a lounge area."
Lighting installed within steps and along paths can also add a unified ambiance to a home's hardscape. Adding decor such as pergolas, trellises and arbors covered with natural materials like bamboo or fiber screens is a great solution for privacy, shade or continuity of design.
"There's no limit to the hundreds of ideas to enhance your yard," says Sekeres. "Many products are easy for the do-it-yourselfer with manufacturer instructions, seminars and other resources. Talk to a landscape professional, visit a home and garden show and landscape supply stores, or search the Internet for inspiration. Take advantage of the outside to easily expand your living space."