11 Ways to Creating A Backyard Fantasy
The backyard is a favorite spot for spring and summer entertaining for American families. When we were kids, our backyard consisted of an old rusty grill, a patio table and a few chairs. No matter that it looked like it was ready for the trash heap, our dad could turn out some of the most mouth-watering meals on that old grill.
Times they’re a changing! Today, the sky’s the limit when it comes to outdoor living and entertaining. After a tough week of work and the gridlock that goes with it, Americans are increasingly turning to their homes and backyards as a retreat for comfortable, cost-effective and carefree entertaining. Patios, decks, pools, hot tubs, ponds, fountains, waterfalls, fireplaces, play structures, gazebos, decorative lighting, synthetic putting greens, elaborate outdoor kitchens and lavish landscaping are many of the components that Americans are choosing to create their very own backyard fantasy.
Decks & Patios: As the centerpiece of backyard entertaining, the complexion of decks and patios has changed dramatically. When it comes to products and finishes, consumers are seeking form and function — it’s all about aesthetics and ease of maintenance. Broom finish grey concrete has been upstaged by architectural “stamped” finishes that are attractive, durable and easy to clean. And although wood is still a popular choice for decking, a grown number of consumers are opting for “composite” materials that offer the look of real wood without all the maintenance that goes along with it. No painting, staining or water sealing. Some composite materials can fade and become hot to the touch; however, composites made with virgin plastic resin will prevent fading and remain cooler.
An Outdoor Kitchen: Though freestanding barbecues are as popular as ever, an increasing number of consumers are opting for a built-in, high-end outdoor grill. In contrast to years gone by, the grill is no longer a one trick pony. Today, an outdoor grill is typically only one of multiple appliances installed as part of an outdoor island “oasis” that doubles as an outdoor kitchen and entertainment hub. And today’s outdoor grills aren’t your daddy’s barbecue. Better models have multiple commercial-quality burners, infrared grill or rotisserie burners that sear-in flavors and cook food in a fraction of the time and a smoker tray that produces mouth-watering flavor. All this is wrapped into an attractive and durable package of stainless steel, copper, porcelain, brass and/or chrome.
A set of independent or integral side burners for cooking side dishes such as corn on the cob or baked beans are a must have for the serious backyard chef. It doesn’t stop there. Griddles, woks, warming drawers, under-counter refrigerators, ice makers along with handsome storage and organization systems round out the most popular amenities for the ultimate outdoor experience. Add a flat screen television and music and you’ll never want to go indoors!
An outdoor kitchen can be custom built to your exact specifications or prefabricated models – complete with granite tops and a palapa — are increasingly available at home and garden centers or backyard specialty stores.
Pools, Hot Tubs, Waterfalls, Fountains & Ponds: Be it a babbling brook or a placid pond, the sight and sound of running water has become a must-have for many fantasy backyards. Fountains range from a simple bird bath to elaborate multi-tiered streams that excite the senses. Fountains are a favorite do-it-yourself project because they are easy to assemble and the project can generally be accomplished in an afternoon. Ponds and water gardens that feature colorful stones, unusual water flora and perhaps some fish are more popular that ever, primarily due to the broad availability of product at local home and garden centers. Prefabricated plastic models and in-ground freeform liners are easy to install and create a micro ecosystem that can be fascinating.
When it comes to swimming, the trend is toward smaller, more intimate pools. However, what is lost in size is gained several fold with elaborate components and finishes such as pebble-finished plaster, integral “beaches”, stone coping, an infinity waterline and fiber optic lighting. Elaborate rock waterfalls that often double as a waterslide have become the rage and rival what can be found at many theme parks.
Safety first! Keep in mind that a child can drown in as little as a couple of inches of water. If you decide to incorporate water into your backyard fantasy, be sure to keep small children safe by taking the proper safety precautions.
Play Structures & Gazebos: When we were growing up, you were one lucky kid if you had a metal swing set in your backyard. Swings are as popular as ever; however, instead of being attached to a metal pole they are part of a complex wooden play structure that can include a fort, tire swing, fireman’s pole, slide and climbing net. Play structures can be built fro scratch or easy-to-assemble kits can be found at most home and garden centers or backyard specialty stores.
A gazebo nestled into a lushly landscaped corner of the backyard can create an intimate storybook setting that can serve as a great location for a family meal or can be the perfect locale to while away a rainy day engrossed in a book. Many easy-to-install gazebo kits can be found at home and garden centers, lumber yards or specialty stores that sell play structures and other backyard basics. Copper roofing, built in benches, lighting, and removable screens and shutters are a few of the available options that you might want to consider for your gazebo.
Fireplaces, Fire Pits & Space Heaters: Though the spring and summer account for the majority of time spent in the backyard. In order to extend their enjoyment and maximize their investment, many people are spending time outdoors during chilly times of the year. A raging fire from a built-in fireplace or a fire pit provides a great source of heat and acts as a cozy conversation pit while sharing a cup of hot chocolate and toasting marshmallows. As with the outdoor kitchen a fireplace or fire pit can be custom built or can be purchased as a prefabricated component.
Fireplace or not, propane-fired portable space heaters are an excellent means of taking the chill off evening entertaining and because their portable, they can be placed where they are most needed.
Landscaping & Lighting: What tropical paradise would be complete without lush landscaping? There’s no substitute for the beautiful colors and fragrances that landscaping can provide. Plus, strategically-placed trees can lend some much needed shade for both the backyard and your home. Want to lower your utility bill in the summer? Plant a tree.
Artificial turf has been around on the gridiron for quite a while. However, now you can putt just like a pro right in your own back yard on a putting green made of synthetic turf. It looks and feels like grass with none of the maintenance – no water, no fertilizer, no mowing. That means more time to polish up on your putting.
Finally, a little landscape lighting can go a long way toward creating the perfect mood by highlighting trees, shrubs and other architectural elements and features. In addition, path and patio lighting can make getting around your backyard fantasy safer and easier. Low voltage landscape lighting kits are more affordable than ever and, like most electronics, you just plug and play.
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