Living the Good Life

Men laying new hardwood flooring

In todays busy world, time and money for relaxing vacations seems scarce. As a result, many people are turning to an old standby as a new escape: their own backyards. No longer is the backyard just a place to send the kids to play or let the dog out. Todays homeowners are transforming their outdoor spaces into outdoor rooms; in fact, some of these spaces are so lush, one may wonder if theyre even outside at all. To help you create your ideal outdoor retreat, review the advice of these Atlanta experts. Youll be lounging in the great outdoors before you know it.

Creating your oasis

When it comes to designing your outdoor living space, the first step should be evaluation. Take a good look around and pay attention to what you see. Are there a lot of trees? Is the groundcover grass, dirt, a patio slab or deck? Do you have many shrubs and flowers? How level is the space? What kind of access do you have to the space? Are there any homeowner association rules or covenants to which you must conform? The answers to these questions will help in planning the space.

Think of creating a room on the outside just as you would inside, says Eric King, residential operations manager for Piedmont Landscape in Tucker. The flooring may be grass, mulch, concrete or stone pavers, he says. The walls may be bushes or perennials, something that creates a sense of privacy. The ceiling could be an arbor, small trees or an extension of the roof of the house.

The second step in designing your outdoor living space is deciding how you want to use it. Do you plan to do a lot of entertaining? Are cooking and dining priorities, or is this strictly a place to sit back and relax? Maybe you want a space for all three. Again, the answers to these questions can help in setting up the space and selecting the right furnishings to meet your needs.

The third stepand perhaps the most importantis setting a budget and sticking to it. It can be extremely expensive, says Mark Deveau, president of Earth Products in Marietta. A lot of what we do is educate people on the complications and why it costs what it does to make a room outside, says Deveau. King agrees. He advises homeowners wanting to work with landscape designers to be upfront about how much they want to spend. Make sure [the landscape designers] know you have a budget, King says. Be ready to discuss that with the designer.

The fourth step should be considering your lifestyle. How much time will you spend in your outdoor space? Can you maintain your furnishings on a regular basis? Do you plan to handle the gardening tasks yourself? Those with less time to devote to maintenance may opt for something simple and easy to clean, while those with more time may choose something more elaborate that requires additional upkeep.

Make yourself at home

In the past, most people have outfitted their outdoor spaces with the same standard furniture options: redwood picnic tables with benches, round PVC tables with matching chairs and coordinating umbrellas, or folding chaise lounges and chairs. Today, however, outdoor furniture options are as varied and abundant as the spaces they will occupy. While the old standards still are available, many homeowners are turning to furnishings reminiscent of their indoor pieces.

For a seamless transition from inside to out, try to duplicate what you have inside, King says, by using similar fabrics, colors and styles. Also, keep in mind that your homes exterior is part of the space. Always consider the homes exterior and make it complement the outdoor space, says Julie Whittmyer of Seasonal Concepts in Roswell. Make it flow with the space. Make it an environment that you want to be in.

For most people, that environment resonates comfort. In the suburbs, most people want a relaxing, rustic, woodsy feel, says Deveau. These usually include comfortable chairs and a coffee table instead of dining sets. In the city, you see more modern designs with finished stone, glass and finished concrete sculptures in smaller backyard spaces, he says. Cushions are very popular in either locale. Bright and bold colors are shown through accent pieces, but mostly neutral earthtones and muted colors are popluar.

Furniture materials continue to improve in style, durability and maintenance. Cast aluminum is maintenance-free, Whittmyer says. Its a little heavier furniture, but lighter than wrought iron. It cannot rust. For deep seating such as couches and loveseats, resin wicker offers a comfortable, weatherproof option. This stuff will knock your socks off! says Dean Luckino, president of Georgia Backyard in Suwanee. Teak also is still very popular.

More traditional dining sets are undergoing some style changes, as well. Luckino says people are skipping glass for other alternative tops such as tile and stone. Also, round umbrellas are giving way to square ones, he says.

Fabrics for outdoor furnishings are seeing new levels of strength and durability. Acrylics, vinyl resin and Sunbrella?? make maintenance almost nonexistent. Sunbrella?? doesnt fade and is mildew-resistant, Luckino says. These new fabrics also are unbelievably fashionable, he says.

Adding special touches

With new heating and lighting options, homeowners can enjoy their spaces now more than ever. Patio heaters and fire pits such as Colemans outdoor fireplace offer great assets to any outdoor space. They allow homeowners to spend more time outside in cooler weather, says Chad Smith, lawn and garden zone manager at Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse in Chamblee.

Todays outside lighting options resemble many of those found indoors. Theres a wide variety to choose from, including direct lighting to highlight specific landscape features and indirect lighting for ambience.

For those who love being near the water, water features offer another wonderful way to make your outdoor space your own. Who wouldnt love to hear the sound of water trickling through the rocks and down a waterfall into a reflecting pool? However, if this is a bit out of your budget, dont despair. There are many water features available for all spaces, styles and budgets. They have the sound and look of larger features, but are easier to maintain and are less expensive, King says.

Outdoor accessories, such as windchimes, bird feeders and sundials, provide a great way to personalize your space.

Cook up some fun

Not only are many people taking to the outdoors for relaxing and entertaining, but they also are bringing the kitchen with them. With the modern innovations in grilling and outdoor kitchens, who needs to be inside? The Jenn-Air?? gas grill is similar to your regular kitchen, Smith says. It is stainless steel, operates on natural gas and contains a large cooking area.

For extra room, the Coleman stainless steel outdoor entertainment center contains a stainless steel sink with faucet (that connects to your water hose), a drawer and shelves for storage, as well as a countertop area (see photo left). You also can use it as a beverage area, Smith says.

Some folks are even bringing refrigerators outside. However, whenever including these types of items, dont forget electrical wires and components should be protected from the elements. Know where water and electrical access is and plan your space accordingly. Also, if possible, you may want to keep items requiring these utilities under a covered porch to prevent water damage. Of course, wireless technology is making things easier and safer for all.

Bringing the inside outside

You can truly enjoy the outdoors all year long by adding a patio room or sunroom to your home. A sunroom allows you to enjoy the outdoors while remaining comfortably inside, a feature that comes in handy on those cold January days.

People want to enhance their day-to-day lives, says Earl Rahn, president of Champion Windows, Siding and Patio Rooms. Other than their bedroom, people spend more time in their patio room than any room in the house, says Rahn, its like having a resort in your home.

One key to sunrooms becoming so popular is that theyve become energy-efficient. When done correctly, they will not drain your energy costs, but rather be an energy-efficient space. According to Rahn, the trend in sunrooms is more about energy efficiency than design. But design elements are important as well. Sunrooms are an extension of your homes interior, so you want it to look the part. The only limitation is imagination, says Rahn.

As with home interiors, making the most of your outside living space can be accomplished with ease. With a bit of research, planning and, of course, money, you can turn any outdoor spot into the perfect sanctuary.

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