Options abound for outdoor living spaces

Options abound for outdoor living spaces

Dave Hoffman, owner of Outdoor Creations in Indianapolis, noticed a shift in consumer demand for hardscape designs around 2008. Home values had started to plummet, and more homeowners were investing in their existing homes rather than buying new.

“Since the economy fell into the toilet in 2009-10, what we’re seeing a lot of is people are adding these outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and fire pits, and expanded big outdoor spaces,” Hoffman says. “I think people are definitely putting money into their homes, whether it be to stay there longer or to make them more valuable down the road.”

Kevin Schluchter, owner of Cutting Edge Hardscapes in Indianapolis, says he too has seen what he calls a “paradigm shift” in homeowners wanting to spend more time outdoors than indoors.

“It’s a huge phenomenon that’s going on,” Schluchter says. “Younger couples are buying smaller footprint homes to be able to afford to have outdoor living immediately, whereas years ago your clients were more established homeowners — maybe empty nesting or close to raising their families or paying off their mortgage — that type of thing. Now, people want to finance it as part of their home and have that outdoor-type of living space a lot earlier.”

Consumers are adding outdoor seating areas, fire pits, even fully equipped outdoor kitchens.

“We’ve done a lot of paver patios, where we’ll have seat walls surrounding fire pits,” Hoffman says. “We’re seeing a lot of multi-level patios with bars in them. On one side, it’s a regular 36-inch tall cabinet with a granite top or a custom-made limestone top and on the other side, it’s a bar stool a step or so lower, with custom grills, refrigerators, ice chests and sinks.

In some cases, homeowners have only a general idea of what they want and rely on a hardscaping contractor to create the design. In other instances, the homeowner has a specific idea they got from a magazine, television show or from another property they’ve seen.

“Oftentimes, people are bringing to us (ideas) I haven’t heard of yet,” Schluchter says. “We try to stay abreast of what’s out there, but there’s so much media and so many sources for information nowadays, it’s not uncommon for people to come to us and say, ‘Can you do this certain type of water feature we saw in a movie or on a show, or a clipping out of a landscape magazine?’”

They key to developing an outdoor living area is to think about functionality, to think long term and to manage your expectations going into it. For the majority of homeowners working within a budget, it makes good sense to plan the project in phases.

“It’s critical to have a master plan, (for example), if you can only afford to do the patio this year or the landscaping this year,” Schluchter says. “You should have cutoff points within the plan, so if you never implement Phase Two or Phase Three, it doesn’t look like something that’s incomplete.”

Always look at a hardscaping company’s history of work before you hire. Portfolios are fine, but are meant to show the best work. Ask for examples of existing hardscaping projects the company’s done in your area, so you can look at it in person. If you can, it’s great to see a project done some years ago so you can see how well the work held up.

“So many companies say they can do what you propose to do, but take the time to talk to a few people with a project that’s a couple of years old,” Schluchter says. “It’s a lot for a company that’s experienced to undertake, let alone a homeowner or somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing and they’re learning it at the consumer’s expense.”

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 5, 2012.

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