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Living outside the box
Here’s what you need to thoroughly enjoy the great outdoors at home


April 2006

The great outdoors is getting better as more and more people find that getting away from it all can be as close as their own back yard.

And they are finding new ways to spruce up their backyard digs and make them even inviting to family and friends alike.

Following are what outdoor pros say will be the hottest trends in 2006 for those looking for a piece of paradise right here on Earth:

1 Outdoor fireplaces

Cliff White, owner of On the Deck in Oconomowoc, says outdoor fireplaces and fire pits remain backyard must-haves, keeping the chill — and bugs — out of the air. Starting at about $300 and running as high as $6,000, there are more than 100 manufacturers of both gas-fired and wood-burning units.

2 Conversation/chat sets

Unlike traditional patio furniture, these sets have lower tables — 42 inches — and are more like a coffee table, White says. They come with chairs that are a little bit shorter than the standard too, making them ideal for drinks and hors d’oeuvres.


3 Tables of alternative materials

"No one’s buying glass anymore at all," White says of outdoor tables. Outdoor enthusiasts are opting for more durable materials — like wrought iron — that won’t break if tossed about by strong winds. And they’re often more stylish, with a wide variety of frame finishes and chair pad fabrics and prints.

4 Outdoor kitchens

Rodger Northouse, owner of Northouse Landscape, Milwaukee, says backyard dining goes beyond the basic grill. "In the ’50s and ’60s, there were elaborate grills with grilling areas," he says. "There’s a bit of a resurgence." Prefabricated concrete block partially walls off the grill and creates a frame, he says, which "cleans up the appearance."




5 Ecologically friendly back yards

Northhouse says more municipalities are reinforcing the need for environmentally friendly design. "There’s a push to eradicate yards of buckthorn and other noxious plants," he says.

Additionally, as water runoff has become an issue, rain gardens and rooftop gardens, where water is reused, treated as a resource, are becoming more popular. "I think we’re at the very, very beginning of a much bigger trend toward environmentally friendly design," he says.

6 Planning ahead

Christopher R. Miracle, senior landscape architect at Bret Achtenhagen’s Seasonal Services in Mukwonago, says more people are scheduling landscaping services well in advance. "People are scheduled in August and September for spring work," he says. "We’re involved before the ground is even broken."

The work may be elaborate and, hence, time-consuming, and with more people creating backyard havens, scheduling well in advance means the work will be done when you need it to be. "It’s especially true of people doing renovation work," he says.

7 Shade structures

Miracle says shade structures are "pretty hot" right now. They are usually a bit farther out in the back yard and may have a flagstone surface and some chairs. "They can take in the grounds from a different perspective," he says. The area is a bit more secluded, and it "may be a bit of a journey to get there."

Any material can be used, he says, but usually the structures are tied into the style of the house.


8 No-mow lawn

Miracle says a new product — a seed mix that has a stable look — requires mowing only every four to six weeks. And it’s becoming very popular among those with lots of land. "I would say we tend to use it more as a perimeter thing," he says. "It’s a pretty transition to a wooded area. Doing these transition zones is really quite popular."

Some don’t mow it at all, he says, as it just doesn’t’ grow very high. "You may have to spot treat for weeds, but it’s thick, so they are hidden."

9 3-D design

Jim Drzewiecki, architect and CAD manager at David J. Frank Landscaping, Germantown, calls it "one of the most amazing advances in landscape architecture."

It involves a "before" photo of the property that’s digitally enhanced to show the additions of new features, from retaining walls to new flower beds and trees.

"And unlike traditional blueprints, our computer program takes you into the design," he says. "You can walk through or fly over your new yard and know you will love the results long before we break ground."

10 High-end sound and lighting systems

High-quality satellite systems and weatherproof speakers blend into today’s yards more and more often, Drzewiecki says. Lighting is subtle but attractive, with artistic detailing and stained-glass housings. Flexible rubber mounting systems mean lights can take a few hits from lawn mowers, hoses, pets or kids and easily return to their upright position.