June 2015

Backyards with Personality- Living taken to the great outdoors

Author: Kitty Bartell

Whether a secret garden, party central, or just a scrabbly patch of grass and a couple of salvaged lawn chairs, your backyard has the potential to define your lifestyle, express your personality, and even change your outlook. If you’re not really feeling “it” when you step into your backyard, or you are working from a blank canvas, there is hope… and plenty of help.

The first step is to answer some obligatory questions: 1) How will my backyard be used? 2) Who will be there? 3) What finishes and colors capture my imagination? 4) Do I have a style in mind? 5) And most necessary, what is my budget? These answers are the recommended pre-test before consulting the myriad professionals who can bring your project to life.

Whether enlisting the help of a licensed landscape architect, nursery plant specialist, architect, stone mason, interior designer, or unwittingly agreeable friend, laying out a plan with design objects, a list of materials, a budget, and end-use goals is critical to success. Some recommendations that may help your creative team: create a Pinterest board of spaces, outdoor elements, and colors that catch your eye; tear pictures and ads from all those back issues of Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and CH2/CB2 magazines; and jot down the features of spaces, places, and design elements that draw you in. Now begin gathering input from the experts.

Much like with fashion, food, and hashtags, there are trends in outdoor space use, and design, and area professionals know where the hot spots are and how to bring them into your backyard. Expanding a home’s living space by taking living to the outdoors is today’s most in-demand movement in backyard design. Some of a homeowner’s best, and most comfortable days may now be spent out-of-doors in exceptionally well-designed and equipped alfresco rooms, where living, dining, and entertaining are particularly appealing.

A traditional property project is sorted into two main areas: hardscape and landscape. Hardscape is the hard surfaces and construction elements of the design—think decks, concrete, stone, pools, planters, and paths. Landscape represents the trees, grasses, shrubs, and flowers used to merge the existing natural elements of the site with the property’s hardscape through texture, color, and movement. Trending in outdoor living design is a marriage of hardscape and landscape elements, with exceptionally well-equipped kitchens, fully-accessorized living spaces, elements of fire and water, and space to play.

Taking life outdoors is easier than ever with kitchen cooking, storage, and practical use design options ranging from traditional charcoal and gas grills, to ceramic egg-shaped cookers, smokers, fryers, all manner of refrigerators, freezers, and wine coolers, beer taps, and sinks built into stunning kitchen centers, surrounded by every imaginable work surface. Virtually no design options are off the table, and the height of grill and cooking mastery are unlimited.

Bluffton’s American Paving Design owner Tim Niemiec sees the use of natural stone and man-made pavers as a beautiful way to design and build some visually special outdoor living spaces. Bluestone, travertine, limestone, and shellstone are particularly popular right now he says. “I am seeing the use of multiple materials as a way to create texture. Using a travertine with an old-style brick to give some character to a surface gives a very unique and cool look.”

Positive improvements to a backyard are possible, even if on a budget. “I like to add dimension and height. Add a seating wall, planters, or a small water feature. These are not going to add significant costs to the project like an outdoor kitchen or fireplace would,” Niemiec said.

The trend toward a more natural look and feel is echoed in pool, spa, and water feature design, says Paul Bullock of A-1 Pool Service. In addition to more dark plasters and natural stone treatments, clients are converting traditional pools to saltwater pools—a relatively inexpensive process. “The whole experience is better for your skin, and less demanding on your pool’s equipment,” Bullock said.

Furnishings for outdoor living have also benefited greatly from advances in materials, design, and fabrics. According to Trevor Ferguson, of Palm Casual Patio Furniture, most customers are buying furniture framed in powder-coated aluminum or cast aluminum, as well as aluminum-framed synthetic wicker. Sunbrella® is the virtually unanimous fabric of choice for cushions, umbrellas, and outdoor draperies; designed not to fade, and no matter the color, may be cleaned with bleach and water.

“Outdoor living is an easy way to increase square footage of a home’s living space without spending the money to put up walls or a roof,” said Jim Dixon, owner of Casual Living Fireside & Grillin’ in Bluffton. “It’s become more of an accessorized environment with lamps and lighting and fabrics that can get wet.” According to Dixon, his wife and co-owner Suzi Dixon is the design force behind most of the exciting things their customers can expect when creating outdoor living spaces through the use of beautiful, durable fabrics, accessories, and furnishings.

Plant materials just may have the most transformative effect on a backyard. With science making cross-hybridized plants better suited to specific environments, homeowners have exciting new ways to make small changes that can provide a big impact. All this science has also resulted in a terrific variety of available colors, extended blooming periods, and greater diversity in texture. For example, 20 years ago, azaleas offered a once-a-year splash of color—of course, fingers were crossed that they would be in full bloom during The Heritage! In addition to more colors, some azaleas are bred to blossom several times a year, offering nearly year-around color. Similar improvements have been made across most families of plants and trees, providing designers and homeowners an exceptional range of choices to meet their wishes and needs.

Additionally, ornamental grasses are the darlings of today’s landscape design, particularly when massed around and near water. These heat- and drought-resistant plants have been bred not only to survive, but to thrive in hot climes. Their subtle colors introduce an ethereal element to the garden, and as a bonus, they offer soft movement with even the slightest breeze, providing even more visual appeal.

Installing an edible garden is an excellent, simple, and economic way to make a big impact on a backyard. A border of herbs ready to be snipped and incorporated into a delicious dish is visually appealing and smells wonderful. Potted plants and flowers also provide an economical way to create a big “wow” factor. More ambitious edible gardens that include fruits and vegetables reap rewards for both table and health.

With an understanding of and appreciation for both indigenous plants, along with the new hybrids, local nurseries are staffed with individuals passionate about gardens and greenery, who can offer valuable knowledge about which plants grow well under specific conditions, how to care for and feed them, and how to avoid pitfalls. Further, depending on the complexity of your backyard scheme, consulting with a registered landscape architect is highly recommended. Incorporating all the homeowner’s wishes and requirements, these professionals know how to get the most out of a property’s assets and have the expertise to guide projects through all the stages of permitting, working with homeowner’s associations, navigating the sub-contracting of that new hot tub or spectacular grilling station, the design and installation of efficient irrigation systems, and all the details required to take you from dirt to backyard denizen.

One of the sizzling trends in backyard design today is the combining of the elements of fire and water. Water features and fountains have long-been a classic choice for backyards and gardens, with the transformative appeal of trickling water well-appreciated in any Lowcountry oasis. According to local landscape architects, it is now the combination of water with fire that is most asked for when designing private outdoor spaces. Fire bowls and fireplaces combined with fountains, waterfalls, and pools… the impact is dramatic and quite simply dazzling.

Play is a happy and nearly necessary part of most backyard designs, whether accommodating the needs of children, or providing diversions to entertain the adults. Grassy lawns are perfect for badminton, bocce, a swing, or a Pawley’s Island hammock. An interesting option for the growing number of individuals who practice meditation is the installation of a labyrinth, introducing an element of tranquility in both large and small spaces. Of course, installing a treehouse or play structure gives children a place to focus their attention while the adults enjoy the benefits of their outdoor environments.

Is casual entertaining the goal, or a more formal English garden vibe? Will children be the focus, or are ambitious culinary adventures on the agenda? Folding lawn chairs and beverage-filled coolers are always an option, but why stop there when the ways to express your personality and pursue your passions are endless, all in the great outdoors of your very own backyard. 

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