(BPT) - Last year, many people took a fresh look at their outdoor living spaces, as life outdoors became of renewed importance as spaces to gather together. Backyards transformed into stay-cation retreats, and front entries were revamped into spaces for social distancing reminiscent of old-fashioned porches.
No matter where you live, your outdoor space can be enjoyed all season with simple upgrades using hardscapes, such as adding a fire pit for warm gatherings or an outdoor kitchen for the taste of summer all year. Whether you do it yourself or hire a landscape professional, hardscaping materials — including natural stone, interlocking concrete pavers and retaining wall systems — can add value to your home and help set the stage for a heated hot tub, cozy seating around a fire, wood-fired ovens for pizza parties and more.
1) Add a fire feature for chilly days and nights. A fireplace, fire table, fire pit, chiminea or patio heater will enhance any outdoor space with warmth and ambiance. "One of our most popular hardscape installations features a fire ring surrounded by a seat wall," said Scott Arnold, manager of Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minnesota. "A fire feature is a useful and beautiful addition to any outdoor space that you can enjoy all year." Fire pits and fireplaces also are available in kits including all materials that are popular with do-it-yourselfers.
2) A dedicated outdoor cooking space lets you grill in any season. Along with multifunction grills, compact wood-fired outdoor ovens are popular choices, and hardscape designs can make the perfect countertop or grill island. "Cooking outside isn't just for summer," Arnold says. "Easily accessible grills, wood-fired ovens or outdoor kitchens built with hardscapes are essential in outdoor spaces."
3) Create easy access from indoors to outdoors. A raised patio, built with retaining wall units and pavers, is a low-maintenance solution as compared to a deck. Its surface absorbs heat and may help keep ice at bay. Pavers come in many styles, textures and colors, and require little to no maintenance if properly installed. “We often vary paver shapes, colors and textures to define space and create distinct outdoor rooms,” says Arnold.
4) Consider year-round seating, such as seat walls created with segmental retaining wall units. “VERSA-LOK is the one block I do 90% of my projects with; it can do it all,” says Stan Genadek, owner of Genadek Excavating and Landscaping in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, and creator and host of a YouTube channel on landscaping, “Dirt Monkey University.” Says Genadek: “Because of its versatility and ease of installation, VERSA-LOK is the gold standard in retaining wall systems.” Use it for retaining walls, freestanding and seat walls, couches, tiers with bermed seating, planters, columns, curves and more.
5) Accessorize with functionality in mind. Lighting, pergolas, shades, awnings, screens and year-round furniture should be considered in an outdoor space all-season refresh. Low-voltage LED lighting can be installed between courses of retaining wall units, under capstones and along paving stone patios and paths. Look for furniture, such as Comfort Craft Outdoor Furniture, that's durable against the elements and doesn't need storage or maintenance other than cleaning.
Outdoor living is an essential part of everyone’s health and well-being, and hardscaping materials help you create an outdoor space that adds value to your property and keeps you outside longer into the night, earlier in the spring and later into the season.