(ARA) - Four walls and a ceiling no longer define a living space.
Homeowners who want to reduce yard maintenance, bring natural environments into their living spaces, and expand their houses are reinventing the "great" in great outdoors.
It started as a trend toward outdoor kitchens. Now it extends to great-room concepts and other ways to create outdoor retreats from simple to elaborate. Conversation nooks, pergolas, gazebos, arbors, trellises, raised beds, walkways and benches are all being used to turn back yards into tranquil retreats and havens for al fresco entertaining.
"Homeowners are reconnecting with their outdoor spaces, often in creative and imaginative ways," says Perry Howard, president of the American Society of Landscape Architects. "It's no surprise that people want to take elements that work so well inside their home and recreate them outside."
Outdoor living spaces commonly feature natural materials, especially woods like Western red cedar. The wood's beauty and durability make it a popular material for pergolas, decks, gazebos and other structures. It creates a natural outdoor feel combined with indoor comfort and design.
A movement toward low-maintenance landscaping is contributing to the outdoor living trend. Landscape architects anticipate yard maintenance costs will increasingly influence the size of the traditional grass lawn among cost-conscious consumers, according to a recent American Society of Landscape Architects survey.
Converting part of the lawn or garden to an outdoor living space reduces both maintenance and water usage. Experts recommend that natural materials play a key role.
"People find woods like Western red cedar allow them to spend a lot more time enjoying their surroundings, with minimal investment in maintenance," says Paul Mackie, or "Mr. Cedar" as he is known in the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association.
Home and garden shows, popular in the spring and early summer, are full of ideas for building the perfect outdoor oasis. Low-maintenance wooden planter boxes with ornamental plants, basic and elaborate roofing systems, accent lighting, and patio heaters are among the additions helping homeowners enjoy their outdoor spaces well beyond the summer months.
Real estate and landscaping professionals offer a few considerations for creating that perfect outdoor getaway.
* Keep it natural. It is an outdoor space, so use natural materials. Woods and stones, whether used as primary materials or as accents, are durable and relatively easy to maintain.
* Make multi-purpose magic. Add a wide edge to a planter box or join two with a bench. Multi-purpose amenities can transform a space, add function to decoration and keep costs down.
* Have fun with the space. To add charm, salvage furniture and decorative pieces not currently in use around the house or incorporate the whimsical touch of second-hand finds. Personal style and creativity commonly found indoors are every bit as important outside.
* Use low-maintenance plants. Incorporate native and drought-resistant plants to save water and lessen the time spent maintaining the yard. Planter boxes make changing the locations and types of flowers and bushes much quicker and easier. Planters are also an inexpensive way to define an outdoor space and create privacy.
* Keep some of the lawn. Real estate experts recommend leaving at least some lawn. Green grass has a natural cooling effect on hot days and complements woods nicely. It can also be beneficial when reselling, especially for buyers with young children or pets.
* Consider your lifestyle. Be practical. Think about how the space is going to be used and how much time it will take to maintain. Beauty, durability and ease of care can all come together.
Outdoor retreats, whether for conversation or relaxation, can transform a yard, add hours of enjoyment, and cut down on maintenance demands. A little time and investment now will pay dividends this summer and for years beyond. Courtesy of ARAcontent