Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
How Homeowners Can Make the Most of Their Yards—Even in Winter
After almost two years of pandemic life, homeowners understand the significant value of having a yard. Here are 8 ideas for getting creative with outdoor space.
January 3, 2022
- Backyards continue to be a way to extend square footage, even during colder months.
- To get started, homeowners should make a list of their favorite ways to spend time outdoors.
- They should consider decorating “rooms” of the yard but also have a place to store items when storms and winds come.
Spending time outdoors at the height of the pandemic was a way to get fresh air, exercise safely, and expand living quarters. Now, nearing two years later, an outdoor retreat has become even more sought after, causing homeowners and design professionals to get creative in maximizing square footage.
Whether homeowners have a big suburban yard, rural acreage, or a small urban balcony, there are multiple ways to take advantage of the space, even in winter. They can pile on layers or follow the Swedish mantra of Friluftsliv, which translates to “open-air living and the value of spending time in remote locations for spiritual and physical well-being.”
The key isn’t the size of their space, or which activities homeowners do, but taking advantage of Mother Nature’s gifts—air, sky, clouds, sun, and greenery.
Millennials and other new homeowners have become particularly adept at using their yards for almost everything—from camping out with a tent and fire pit to organizing a staycation, or setting up an alternative office when they need a break from their indoor space, says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of TurfMutt Foundation, the education arm of the Alexandria, Va.-based Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which encourage enjoyment of nature.
Kiser says there’s even a new term for this trend, which doesn’t need translation: Backyarding!
Here are eight ideas to share with clients to help them make the right investments in furnishings, landscaping, appliances, and more for their yards.
1. Link the indoors and outdoors by blurring lines. The most common way to do this is to add more windows and doors to connect the spaces and make the glazing bigger to achieve better views. It can also be done by using more colors and textures found in nature inside the home and bringing in plants. Homeowners can also decorate outdoors as they do inside, according to the online design resource, Houzz. The company’s search data shows that people want their backyards to be relaxing extensions of their interiors, which can be handled with stylish, durable materials, as well as by adding a fireplace or fire pit, outdoor TV, sound system, and comfortable seating, pillows, and rugs.
2. Set up an outdoor office. Many people made do with cramped makeshift offices during the pandemic. Others created separate indoor spaces but working outdoors can literally offer a breath of fresh air to ramp up creativity. Flowers, bushes, and trees can become the living backdrop on conference calls instead of the kitchen counters or office bookcases. Essentials to make it work include strong Wi-Fi, an electrical outlet or two for equipment that’s not wireless, a sturdy table for a laptop, a comfortable chair, lighting for night-time work, and a rug to add warmth underfoot. Some may want a small portable generator to keep power running, Kiser says.
3. Dine al fresco. Homeowners shouldn’t limit themselves to only eating dinner outdoors. Any meal—breakfast, brunch, lunch, cocktails, and snacks—can be enjoyed plein air. They should have a nice flat area, whether a balcony, terrace, or deck, to set up a table and chairs with enough space to navigate around them. Homeowners also should choose a material that won’t need frequent repainting—many closely resemble real wood and stone and are sustainable. Add the right equipment—a grill, pizza oven, running water from a spigot that won’t freeze (or a sink), and firepit—to make the experience more enjoyable. They can hang some lights, maybe a curtain, and if there’s room and funds, construct a pergola for an overhead cover. If the homeowners like the sound of running water, they can add a recirculating fountain so the water won’t freeze in the winter.
4. Add entertainment. All work and no play isn’t fun, and the outdoors is a perfect place for classic games like croquet and badminton, and board games such as Monopoly and Clue, or jigsaw puzzles. Many families are also investing in large-screen outdoor TVs and movie projectors. And then there are all the pools being built. If there is no room or funds, they might consider a less costly above-ground pool or smaller hot tub. Suggest they position it close enough to the house so they’re not trekking far in the cold or snow.
5. Establish a wildlife habitat. Attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds by planting the right flowers and plants. Add a greenhouse if there’s room, which will allow homeowners to garden all year. A birdhouse and feeder or two, and great additions; even a chicken coop is becoming more commonplace.
6. Make a yard pet friendly. Are your clients' pet owners? If they have a dog, they could add a fence of some type, maybe a sandpile for digging, a doghouse that’s large enough so Fido doesn’t feel cramped, and perhaps an agility course so he or she gets good exercise. Hardscape like bricks, concrete pavers, or stone can be an alternative spot to urinate that won’t ruin your lawn. Also, homeowners can consider some faux lawn choices—many look authentic—and avoid planting things that are toxic to dogs and people, according to The Spruce.
7. Store neatly. Even outdoor spaces can become cluttered. A shed or closet in a garage can be set up with shelves, bins, and hooks to hang rakes, bicycles, helmets, and more. This will also keep tools out of reach of young children, and provide a place to store fuel safely, too, says Kiser.
8. Create some privacy. While homeowners may want to have a friendly relationship with their neighbors, they may also want some privacy at times, especially when working from home or throwing parties. Fences work well, but so can living screens of greenery—rows of trees, bushes, or vines. They should choose native materials that don’t require a lot of watering and consider materials that provide color or texture year-round. Suggest they start small with plantings that will grow over time, which is less costly than investing in big, mature plants.
While many of the tips on this list can be undertaken by a skilled DIYer, homeowners should also consider contacting a contractor, landscape designer, or architect sooner rather than later since many are booked far in advance.