A significant trend in the last decade is to cultivate outdoor living spaces. Most people want to relax in their yards, bond with family and friends, and enjoy nature. Backyard living spaces have evolved from the 1950s idea of a grill and a picnic table on a patch of concrete, to lavishly landscaped patios and decks with eating spaces for many people under shaded pergolas or ramadas. Other amenities include seating areas around a fire pit or chiminea, couches, flat screen TVs, and fully outfitted outdoor kitchens with a grill, sink, and refrigerator.

Advances in outdoor fabrics, carpets, furniture designs, and gas and natural fireplace options have expanded the options for outdoor living. Today, the backyard space has become an extension of the indoor family room and kitchen. If you want to create, expand, or enhance your outdoor living space, below are a few things to think about. Remember that you don’t have to do everything all at once. If you have an overall plan, you can build your space in stages as funding and time permits.

  • First think about how you want to use your space. Is it primarily for entertaining and eating out or other activity? How many people need seating? Do you want a formal dining area or a more casual party space? When will you use the space most—at night or during the heat of the day? The answers will help you focus on whether outdoor lighting or shade and landscaping are larger priorities. Do you want to create a space for kids and grand kids to play or is the space mostly for relaxing? In that case, shade, water features and landscaping might be a greater focus.
  • Plan it out. Even if you can only do a small part each year, a master plan is important at the beginning so that you don’t end up changing your focus (or mind), requiring plants or structures to be ripped out or torn down as plans progress.
  • Design it. Many styles are available to choose from. It is important that your design complements the architectural style of your home. You can choose a modern living space with rock gardens and sleek and angular designs, a natural, overgrown cottage style, or a very structured, manicured estate style. Whatever you choose, have a style in mind for each individual design space before you begin selecting plants, furniture, colors, or masonry materials. If you aren’t sure of your options, check with a landscape professional.
  • On a tight budget? If you are on a budget or have a small space, then start with the foundation by anchoring your space with a deck or patio made of pavers, bricks, or stamped concrete. You can make your patio or deck lush with cozy furniture and containers and hanging plants. Add large patio umbrellas or build a pergola or ramada to provide shade. Remember, plants grow. You may be able to save money by buying smaller plants and spacing them according to the size they will eventually reach rather than planting full-grown plants that will require cutting back immediately.
  • Take it up a notch. If you are enjoying your deck or patio and want to enhance it, think about adding a landscaped walkway to a gazebo in the yard or a stepping stone path to a cozy, shaded seating area. Add a kitchen and bar area or a stone fireplace. Stone walls around the patio add extra seating and enhance the feel of the outdoor room. If a pool or spa is in the budget, think about adding those amenities early in the design process. A well-placed and well-designed pool entertainment area can add to the family experience as well as add to the resale appeal of your home.