Upgrading your outdoor space:

Homeowners treat yards like living areas

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Yards have grown into so much more than a manicured lawn with a couple of trees and flower beds.

Outside spaces, usually your home’s back yard, are now places to relax, entertain and even watch TV or use the computer.

“It’s all about the outdoor space,” says Maria Jacobs, who owns Somerset Nursery in Zionsville with husband John. “People don’t want to be inside in the summer.”

A recent online survey conducted on behalf of the industry trade groups International Casual Furnishings Association and the American Home Furnishings Alliance showed that 70 percent of those taking the survey enjoyed spending time outside in their yards and 40 percent would spend more time outdoors if their outside space was more comfortable.

“Whether enclosed or open-air, outdoor spaces have come into their own as legitimate rooms in the American home,” says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance and executive director of its outdoor division, the International Casual Furnishings Association. “Today’s outdoor rooms have it all — somewhere to dine, to relax and be entertained, with furnishings that function like they would for any room in the home, and with style and flair that distinctly says out-of-doors.”

The survey says top purchases for outside spaces planned for 2018 include fire pits, lighting, lounge chairs and dining sets.

That’s an opinion echoed by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a trade group in Arlington, Va., which expects one in 10 consumers to add fireplaces and heaters to outdoor kitchens this year.

Brightly colored grills will replace the traditional stainless steel or black grills. Another trend the group sees is the homeowner being able to monitor grill temperatures remotely through an app.

Whether it’s new furniture, a grill, landscaping or something like adding a pond or a fountain, homeowners want the upgrades to be as effortless to maintain as possible.

A current trend they see in landscaping is the desire for features that are natural looking and that are low maintenance. A trend that goes to the opposite of the design spectrum is the use of a pop of color.

“It’s either naturalized so it looks like it’s been there forever, or it’s going to be colorful, a pop of color and trendy,” Maria Jacobs said. Somerset Nursery also has a location in Glenmoore.

Smaller yards — sometimes no yard at all — is also driving the desire to have container gardens, potted plants and landscaping feature that don’t require a lot of upkeep. Hedges of arborvitae that grow fast with very little pruning are also popular.

“People are going for the ‘bed-head’ look for flower beds, not the freshly cleaned and mulched,” she says. That garden look means less dead-heading of flowers that are spent.

There are varieties of flowers that also last longer now and some even change color as the blooms age. John Jacobs pointed to butterfly bush as an example of plant varieties that have been cultivated to bloom all summer.

Container gardens are popular for flowers as well as for growing vegetables.

“People want home-grown things but they don’t want a big tilled area,” Maria Jacobs says.


Homeowners looking to relax often turn to the soothing sound of water and a big trend in outdoor living this year is installing a water feature in the yard.

“Fountains, waterfalls, bubbling urns and spillway bowls are very popular,” says Gerard Touhey, owner of Water Features by Gerard in Wilson. “They all love the sound of the water.”

He says a good starting point for adding a water feature to a yard is a bubbling urn. Of course, you can dive right in with a koi pond, too. Touhey has an extensive water garden at his home in Wilson that is open to viewing.

“I have everything there,” he says. “When people come and see what we do, they say, ‘oh, I want that.’”

Touhey has installed water features across the Lehigh Valley and as far away as France, Ireland, Mexico and Hawaii.

“People love the sound of water,” he says. “It’s very relaxing. When I walk home and go into my yard, I go from the mundane to ‘I’m on vacation.’”

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Homeowners are using natural stone, pavers and retaining walls to dress up their outdoor spaces, says Joe Ciccone, owner of Landscape Products Co., which has locations in Bath and Trexlertown. Other items that are popular include statues and birdbaths.

“If they don’t want to spend a lot of money, they can add a little retaining wall to edge out your flower beds,” Ciccone says, “that adds a nice touch to the yard. They can also put little statues in shrub beds for visual interest.”

He also recommends mulching flower beds and around trees — black mulch is a popular choice — as it helps to keep the weeds down and enriches the soil as it decomposes.

“In the spring, you should rake it into the soil and then you can add your new mulch on top,” Ciccone says.

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Homeowners are wanting to create a gathering spot farther into their yards than just on their back porch, says Brenda Snyder, owner of Storage Solutions by Snyders, which has locations in Germansville, New Ringgold and Lehighton.

“I know a lot of people are doing a pavilion,” she says. “It’s a trend — they are creating a spot in their back yard, not on their porch — a place to gather and enjoy their backyard.”

It depends on the homeowner’s preference as to if they pour a concrete pad for the pavilion or prefer to keep the ground natural under the structure.

Snyder also gets requests for “she sheds,” those decorated sheds that women use as a retreat at home — the men’s version is a “man cave.”

“Some people will finish it off and run electric,” she says. “You can customize it and create exactly what you want … or even a potting shed or a gardening shed as an area the woman can go to so she can do her own thing.”

When planning to add a pavilion or a shed to your property, Snyder recommends thinking of your needs five years in the future: Will you have more stuff and need more space because your kids are older or will you be empty-nesters? After thinking on those possibilities, then measure out your area where the structure would be located.

“People dream about it and then they buy it,” she says. A custom-ordered pavilion can take about a month to come in.

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