Backyard Beauty—Landscaping Your Outdoor Living Space With Style

March 2014 View more

Photo courtesy of Hursthouse

Photo courtesy of Hursthouse

One of the best things about the arrival of spring and summer is the opportunity to spend time outside with friends and family. In Naperville, as well as across the country, homeowners are recognizing the benefits of improving their residential landscaping, particularly in the backyard. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, American homeowners invest $6.2 billion yearly for outdoor improvements.

Backyard Luxury Retreat

From homeowners to real estate agents, landscape architects to homebuyers, everyone agrees that turning your simple backyard into a luxury retreat will make your home infinitely more desirable when it comes time to sell. “A well landscaped house sells itself,” said Jim Rose, owner of JR’s Creative Landscaping. A well-planned landscape can also improve in value. “As the trees and shrubs grow in, their value can double,” said Barry Conlin, owner of C.B. Conlin Landscapes.

Other landscape elements also hold their value well. According to the National Association of Realtors, outdoor lighting can yield a 50 percent return-on-investment . The ROI of building a deck is 77 percent according to a cost vs. value report from Remodeling Magazine. However, professionals say the ultimate ROI for any landscape project varies greatly depending upon the quality of your design and installation, your neighborhood, home value, how long you’re in the home and the specifics of the improvement.

The introduction of popular and unique backyard elements such as outdoor kitchens, fire bowls, TVs and roofed structures remain in high demand. Today’s homeowners come to their favorite landscaper armed with eager inspiration from their sun-soaked vacations at luxury resorts and spas, hoping to incorporate similar opulently landscaped, alfresco dining and lounging spaces into their very own backyard.

Here’s what’s trending on the wish list of Naperville homeowners.

Much More Out the Door

Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes

Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes

“In the past, people simply built a deck or a cement patio,” said Conlin. “Now, homeowners are looking to create more of an entertainment area that they can enjoy with their family. They want to do something that blurs the line from the inside and the outside.”

A 2013 survey of Top Outdoor Living Trends by the American Society of Landscape Architects reveals that 94.5 percent of respondents agree with the trend. Today’s homeowners want their backyard to be an extension of their indoor living space. No longer is there a desire simply for a deck or patio, but a continued outdoor living space featuring several adjacent wall-less rooms. According to the survey, high on the list of popular amenities are fire pits, fireplaces, grills, seating and dining areas, terraces, patios and decks, and low maintenance landscapes.

The exterior kitchen has replaced the basic outdoor grill and now includes classic indoor features like granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances like sinks and refrigerators. The patio is replaced by the great room concept that may feature any or all of the following:

  • An inviting fire pit or fireplace for gathering.
  • Ample, comfy couches for lounging.
  • Weather-proof flat screen LED televisions for watching the big game with a crowd.
  • Soothing water features like a fountain, waterfall or ornamental pool for quiet meditation.
  • Shelter from an overhead pergola or pavilion for intimacy and protection from the elements.

Give Me Shelter

Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes

Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes

Building an overhead structure gives an outdoor living space an indoor feel. Pergolas are typically four-columned, large wooden structures that provide shade cover with a partially open, trellised, or beamed roof. The more luxurious option is the pavilion, which offers a completely closed, often shingled roof with partial walls. “While you may spend up to 40 percent more to build a pavilion instead of a pergola, you get complete shelter from the sun and rain and more usable time in the structure,” said Rose.

Conlin explains that he creatively adjoins or separates the living areas using various landscape elements. For example, changing the type of flagstone or flooring between the areas with different materials or colors can clearly define the kitchen from the dining area. He also adds dividing borders of stepping stones, water features, or hedges to form hallways into different patio sections. Similarly, Rose said that when using pavers, he lays them in a different direction to define areas.

Nice and Easy

Photo courtesy of Bruss

Photo courtesy of Bruss

Landscapers agree that a low maintenance landscape is high on the Naperville homeowner’s list of must haves. And thanks to the many options available in landscape materials and accessories, homeowners no longer have to choose between beauty and low-maintenance. According to Rose, low-maintenance, pondless water features are on the rise. These bubbling urns with basins recycle the water used without a pond and include long-lasting, IonGen™ purifiers that keep the water sparkling and algae-free. Plantings can be selected for minimal maintenance and built-in seating areas embellished with strategically placed urns that need only be changed seasonally with available blooms or evergreens at the holiday time.

New and improved construction materials also contribute to the low maintenance landscape. While natural stone is still a beautiful, quality choice, innovative wet cast pavers are now on the market and mimic the characteristics of natural stone at a considerable time and cost savings. “Wet cast products are incredibly durable and can withstand up to 17,000 psi (pounds per square inch) of pressure, several times more than concrete. They are impervious to salt, sun and moisture and don’t require sealing. It’s the new wave of the paver industry,” said Rose.

Decks, long considered one of the more maintenance needy structures in the backyard, have low-maintenance options too. Conlin encourages homeowners looking for low-maintenance, real wood decking to consider ipe (pronounced ee-pay), an extremely dense, hard as nails, splinter-proof tropical wood that stands up well to the elements. It compares in price to the premium composite material decking but has the advantages of wood.


Fire features are more popular than ever and add a rosy, warm glow to any backyard living space. The typical fire pit has evolved into outdoor fireplaces and beautiful fire bowls that range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars and are typically gas powered. Homeowners like to install them onto columns to pierce the night with hypnotic, spiraling gas flames that add interest to any landscape.

Now and Later

Photo courtesy of Hursthouse

Photo courtesy of Hursthouse

It’s typical for a homeowner’s dreams to exceed their budget so landscapers encourage you to implement a design in phases. For example, Conlin suggests designing the $100,000 dream yard now, but only adding the essentials such as the deck and patio right away. “Your biggest investment is your home. It’s OK to do things gradually so you get exactly what you want,” he said.

Rose said he also provides dream plans that are turnkey down the road. “We create the plan, and then install everything needed to hook up water, fire, and electronics features later on when the homeowner is ready,” said Rose.

Creating an outdoor living space can be exhilarating and challenging. It also requires plenty of research, thought and decision-making. A qualified landscape architect can help you create a master plan within your budget that will satisfy your needs for a fabulous backyard improvement, now and in the future.

Top 10 popular items to consider in designing an outdoor living space

  1. Outdoor kitchens
  2.  Grills
  3. Counter space
  4. Sinks
  5. Refrigerators
  6. Entertainment Areas
  7. Pergolas/Pavilions/Gazebos
  8. Gardens/Landscaped Spaces
  9. Fire Pits, Fireplaces or Features
  10. Seating/Dining Areas (traditional and bistro), Installed Seating (benches, seat walls, ledges, steps, boulders)