Getting More from the Outdoors
Great options to update your backyard living space
By Merry Wise
Here comes the sun! And with the warm weather comes inspiration to create new spaces or improve on others for full enjoyment of your home. In our area, we are blessed with the ability to enjoy outdoor living almost the entire year, and focusing on creating your outdoor room adds value and enjoyment to your home. Making the investment in a posh home exterior will pay off in greater pleasure in your home now and higher resale value later if you choose to sell.
Hot Stuff: Fire Pits
Harking back to the happy days of summer camp, adding an outdoor fire pit surrounded by comfy seating will enable your family to make fun memories. There are many appealing fire pit options on the market today. You can go sleek and modern with a snazzy fire enhanced by colored beads. Or you can go rustic right down to the tree stump! Yes, there actually is a fire pit available made from a concrete tree stump so real you would swear it housed squirrels in the not-so-distant past. The addition of a fire pit is something your family will enjoy for years, from making s’mores to sitting around it swapping ghost stories and laughter.
Perhaps this is the year to ditch the tired bargain patio furniture for an upgrade. Patio furniture has become more sophisticated and durable than ever before, and the choices in materials and colors are absolutely lush. From go-with-everything neutrals to a splash of color, simply adding new patio furniture will make your outdoor space your go-to spot for entertaining family and friends.
Look Out for a Cook-Out
Go big and go home — to a total living outdoor paradise! Adding a summer kitchen complete with high-end grill, sink, bar, fridge, and lots of counter prep space could give cooking for your family a whole new vibe! Everything seems to be more fun and more delicious when cooking outdoors, and it seems much easier, too. The grills available are ever more simple to operate and clean and produce excellent results. Having a summer kitchen space will make entertaining a breeze.
Staying Cool is a Breeze
Speaking of breezes, there are some unique ways to add climate control
to your outdoor venue. A screened or open porch, gazebo, tropical palapa or awnings all add welcome shade. Consider adding ceiling fans for a more pleasant ambiance as well. There are outdoor mist systems to cool you off or add a mysterious effect, and there are even very effective mosquito fogging systems to keep those unwanted visitors at bay while you and your guests play.
Fun Factors: Music, Media and Games
Your outdoor living room can also be equipped with an outdoor television, so the family can enjoy watching the big game poolside. But it’s a good idea to house this equipment inside a weather enclosure made to protect it from the elements. The best kind will also have a built-in fan to distribute heat outside. And do consider adding a distributed audio sound system. The speakers no longer have to look like “speakers”! There are outdoor speakers that look like rocks to blend in with your pool’s rock waterfall, or contemporary globes, for example. And what could be cooler than swimming underwater and listening to the sounds of whales and dolphins? Underwater speakers are great fun and sound travels well through water.
Another way to amp up the “cool” factor is to add an outdoor ping pong and/or pool table. Some tables provide both games. Many of the outdoor pool tables also “flip their top” and double as elegant dining tables!
If your area is large enough, you might also want to add a sport court for volleyball, basketball or tennis. The more entertaining your space, the more it encourages your teenagers and their friends to want to stay at the house with all the fun — and your supervision, of course. ➝
In the Swim of Things
Of course, nothing says summer enjoyment in the Houston area more than adding a swimming pool and/or spa to your outdoor space. Even the smallest space can be equipped with water, and if you want the option to swim but space is limited, a swim spa is a good option. Pools have become increasingly simple to care for over the years, too, and energy efficient components also make them less expensive to operate.
The newer variable speed pumps are a very useful energy upgrade for swimming pools and spas. These pumps offer an excellent savings on energy costs for operating your pool, and are quieter as well.
All Hands on (the Updated) Deck
To update what’s underfoot, consider upgrading any deck areas. Old concrete patios or decks can be redone with realistic coatings that look exactly like stone or brick, or you can have these areas resurfaced with materials that will give them a whole new look. Pavers, slate, stone, all kinds of materials and many techniques such as stamped concrete can be used to enhance these areas. The addition or renewal of a wood deck is also a good way to completely update your outdoor space, and there are materials impervious to weather that simulate wood, but last much longer and are easier to maintain.
Fencing for Privacy and Safety
Fencing can also be an excellent upgrade. Whether you want to hide an unwanted view, enhance your yard with a decorative fence, or perhaps create a child barrier for your pool area, there are some excellent choices that will add security, beauty and value to your property.
Wood fences are great screens and good as a privacy option. Metal fencing can add a more open and elegant look while also serving as a good security detail. Childproof fencing for pool areas is an excellent addition as well. Some of this fencing can even be installed so that it can be removed temporarily for adult parties or for use by grandparents only when the grandkids are visiting.
Light Up Your Night Life
Evenings in your great outdoors can become even more magical with proper lighting. Path lighting, uplighting of trees and other landscape features, and unique color-changing lighting for pools and spas all make a big difference for a more beautiful space after dark. Color-changing lighting for pools is available that can be retrofitted into the older, traditional light niches, too. One company even has a new product coming out that interfaces with your computerized technology to project pictures of your choice onto the pool walls! ➝
Refresh the Landscaping
Choose some new plants to add color and texture at varying times of the season for a constant, colorful display throughout the months you will be spending the most time outdoors. June is the month to use such colorful and long-lasting choices as crepe myrtle, vitex and parkinsonia. The variety called “Montrose Purple” is an especially vibrant choice for intense color. Hardy standbys for our area also include oleander and gardenia, and of course creamy white gardenias will infuse the space with a lovely fragrance as well. Other great choices for summer are lantana, salvia, and black-eyed Susan. As September arrives, add container gardens to your outdoor space. Good plants for these that will add splashes of color include crotons, snapdragons, dianthus, mums, marigolds and petunias.
A spring and summer spruce-up can provide many years of added enjoyment. The fun your family makes in your upgraded home resort will turn that outdoor investment into a priceless future memory.