During the warmer months we’re called outdoors, and tend to spend more time enjoying our morning coffee in the garden and entertaining al fresco. To help us make the most out of our yards, we asked three outdoor experts to weigh in on the easiest ways to enhance our spaces. Whether you’re looking for a quick fix or thinking about planning a bigger project for next season, these ideas are sure to inspire an outdoor upgrade.
ADD A PERGOLA
Donna Bain, co-owner of Bain’s Outdoor Living in Rumson, New Jersey says, “When it comes to adding character to your outdoor living space, pergola designs are one of the best options. Not only do they combine beauty and function, but they also offer a great deal of flexibility in size, style and location.” Here are her recommendations for what to consider when approaching the project:
- Create a defined space. Pergolas can delineate an entryway or walkway, or your pergola can create a spectacular outdoor room with space for entertaining—on the patio, in the garden, or by the pool. “I like to think of pergolas as an extension of your home,” Bain shares. “These structures can be combined with other backyard elements for a welcoming transition or stand on their own to create a focal point.”
- Placement is key. Most pergolas are placed on the patio, poolside, in the garden, or are attached to the home. Here are some key considerations for each potential location:
- Patio: This is one of the most popular places for a pergola. There, you can control lighting and add green growth, creating a perfect social environment.
- Poolside: If your pool deck is lacking in shade, a pergola is the perfect solution. Not only does it look charming, but it will provide a much needed permanent respite from the sun. Consider placing chaises or a dining table here.
- Garden: This is the ideal spot when you’re yearning to spend more time among the foliage. The versatile design allows pergolas to be installed over walkways or garden paths with ease, while the open configuration makes them perfect for creeping vines and flowers.
- Attached: Many clients choose to add a pergola to the exterior of their home, often to enhance an attached patio area. This is another great idea that literally expands your home.
- Simple care. Most pergolas are constructed in natural cedar wood or AZEK (a product engineered to look like wood). Wood can be cleaned with the same products that are used for the porch or deck. (Note: Refrain from using power washers on wooden pergolas because it can damage the wood.) AZEK is virtually maintenance-free and has a long life free of chips and weather-related damages. Bain recommends using a mild soap and water to clean.
According to Lindsay Cline-Shrader, co-owner of Shrader Stone in Amherst, Virginia, there are many things to think about when adding permanent stone structures to your properties. And while it’s obviously an investment, it’s one that is worthwhile. “Each structure has its unique properties, from stone walls to fireplaces and walkways,” she says. “All improve curb appeal, add structure, and create an inviting tone to your outdoor space.” Here, she breaks down the process of adding improvements to your yard through hardscaping.
- Evaluate your needs. First, consider how you want to use the space. Then, assess the site itself—sun, breeze, views and privacy needs, frame, focal points and terrain. From there, you can begin to sketch ideas about where to place a patio and sitting area, fireplace, or kitchen. Consider smaller stone elements—a pathway, concrete planters, small statues, a bird bath or sundial, a small wall or stone columns—near your larger stonework to repeat the stone texture. Most importantly, invest in plants to soften the edges and integrate the structure. Plantings, garden beds, and borders move your eye through the space and give the impression that the structure was part of the garden from the beginning.
- Decide upon the type of investment you’re interested in making.
Fireplaces and outdoor kitchens are typically larger investments, while patios can be smaller ones. Once you get to the heart of the project—whether it’s a place to entertain, to relax, or simply to enhance an entry or area of your garden, materials and the scope of the project can be adjusted based on budget. Good design has a balance of one (perhaps two) larger stone features with supporting stonework and gardens.
- Choosing materials. Natural stone has a beautiful color and texture and is an investment in your home and property. It will last a lifetime and look as good in twenty years as it does today. However, there are some man-made materials that can be used to partner with natural stone or to replace natural stone that will still result in a beautiful space. An elegant look is possible at all price points, and the investment truly depends on the space, the goals, and homeowner’s style.
- Don’t overlook other areas of the yard. People tend to focus on the back yard, but try to be open-minded about all of your space. It may make more sense to put a patio in the side yard or to create a small sitting area in the front. You can also add columns and walls in the front yard as a focal point and to set off an entryway.
ENHANCE WITH LIGHTING
“Lighting can transform your space,” says Daniel Keeley, founder and principle of DK Design in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “Just as original design defines your space during the day, lighting does so at night.” Opting for a singular enhancement or going with multiple light sources can really bring your outdoor space to life. Here, Keeley outlines what to know when looking at outdoor lighting options.
- Go for a multi-pronged approach. It may not be in everyone’s budget, but from a landscape design perspective, adding multiple forms of light—uplights, downlights and accent lights—will maximize your efforts. Here’s a breakdown of each:
- Uplights: These are placed on the ground and are used to accent a focal point such as a tree, statue, or the facade of your home. They call attention to areas of particular interest.
- Downlights: This lighting is placed high up in trees and shines down to give a moonlight glow. It offers general beauty but also lights the way in a lovely way.
- Accent Lights: When you’re looking to add charm, accent lights do the trick and come in the form of outdoor table and pedestal lamps. String lights also fit into this category.
- Use restraint with string bulbs. String lights are all the rage right now, but they need to be placed in the right setting and done properly. When used in a casual, private space—definitely not the front yard— they add a charming vibe. What you want to avoid is anything that looks like Christmas tree lights. Always use high quality, commercial grade lights and try to hang them in a designed pattern.
- Think about hiring a professional.
Just like you would hire an interior decorator, consider hiring a outdoor living designer to help you achieve your goals. They will assess, design and install everything. These professionals will consider the best outdoor spaces for you—from gardens to entertaining areas—so that you can get the most of your landscape, whether it’s a quarter-acre or five.
Pictured above: Hardscaping by Shrader Stone. Photograph by Marcelo Asher Quarantotto.