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Boosting the backyard
Outdoor living trends go beyond grills and pergolas


March 2016

According to a survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the top three most requested outdoor design elements for 2015 were fire pits, lighting and grills. Other popular choices were pergolas and decks and spa features like hot tubs, saunas and swimming pools.

Gone are the days when all a backyard needed was a picnic table and a Weber grill. Today more people are looking to create outdoor spaces that afford all the comforts and conveniences of the indoors. "Backyard patio spaces have become an essential part of our everyday living — a true extension of our indoor living spaces," says Carl Merisalo of Century Landscaping. "Today people are looking for an outdoor living area capable of multiple uses. Yes, built-in grills with counter space, fire pits, pergolas and hot tubs are all very popular, but the key is to combine these elements and create subtly distinctive ‘rooms’ for each area."

Landscape designer David Guthery of LandCrafters says adding a pergola is a great way of creating the outdoor "room" feel because a "ceiling" is often put over an outdoor dining or living space. "But right now more than anything else our clients are asking for fire features, especially fire pits. Unlike an outdoor fireplace, they allow us to gather around. By designing an oversize coping, a fire pit can hold drinks and food or it can be a place to sit and chat. We are social people, and fire pits encourage or reflect this," he says.

In terms of materials, Merisalo says his clients are looking more and more to natural products even though the weather does play a role in determining the materials used in construction of the space. According to Merisalo, natural stone and clay brick are at the top of everyone’s list. "Natural materials are truly timeless and can be used with any architectural style. The character they give to the space is second to none," he says.


Photo courtesy of LandCrafters Inc.

Guthery agrees that most of his clients also prefer using natural materials whenever possible. "Since we have the weather we do, material choice is a big deal, he says. Most real stone and brick pavers actually wear better than artificial ones. They do not fade under the summer sun or need to be sealed to prevent fracturing during the winter freezes. Today, people also want real stone and clay bricks for walls, walkways and patios and patterned bluestone paving and irregular and patterned limestone pavers. Natural stone walls are popular again, as they often match materials in the older homes. And bluestone or limestone are often used for a fire pit or counter top for a grill station. One exception to natural materials is in decking, where we almost exclusively use a product called Azek — it’s an artificial material that requires no maintenance other than an occasional washing."

How easy is it to take the indoors outside in Wisconsin? "Fire pits, for instance, get used a lot in fall, but actually our clients report utilizing at other times, even occasionally in the winter," says Guthery. "Outdoor kitchens are utilized typically for up to eight months a year. We have one good client who makes pizzas in their outdoor pizza oven every Sunday and wanted it included in their landscape because that was their major family time. We are starting to get more requests for coverings on pergolas and over outdoor family rooms to shade in the heat, hold some warmth in the cold, and allow use when it is a bit damp. We are an outdoor people, and perhaps the fact that we have winter for four months or so makes us value our outdoor seasons even more. That is clearly reflected in the way we design our outdoor living spaces."



This story ran in the March 2016 issue of: