Outdoor Living
24 tips and ideas from our panel of experts on how to create your own backyard oasis.

You’ve wanted to create your own backyard oasis ever since you spied your friend’s outdoor entertaining area last summer. A complete outdoor room, with plush furniture, sound system, and state-of-the-art kitchen would make a natural extension to your home. A stunning swimming pool and waterfall-fed spa would guarantee your family’s comfort year round. This is what you’d like to come home to at the end of the day. And this is where you’d like to entertain your friends and family.

Where to begin? Should you choose a covered patio or an open space with ivy-covered trellises? Which would look better: natural stone or stained concrete? Can you mix flowerbeds with potted plants? And how does one narrow down the selection of beautiful, new weatherproof furniture and accessories?

We asked our panel of experts for advice on how to begin and what to include in the design of your own exquisite outdoor entertaining area. We’ve got tips, trends, and information that will help you make decisions on everything from stonework to high-tech appliances.

Image courtesy of Williams Landscape.
Develop a Master Plan
Homeowners who are developing outdoor living areas should start with a detailed master plan. It is very important to plan and build in properly sequenced phases. Once you have a master plan, you can continue making additions over time that are both functional and cost effective. If you think you want a pool, but you aren’t ready to put it in yet, at least put it in the plan. If you want a fire pit or grill, consider where you may add outdoor stone shelving or additional seating. Look ahead and consider what elements you’ll want in the future, such as a bar prep area or outdoor appliances. Think about the big picture before you begin.
" Jodi Maze, Complete Landsculpture

Image courtesy of ValleyCrest Landscape Company.
Plan Furniture Placement
In terms of buying furniture, it’s important to think about actual placement before spending lots of money. There are so many choices in outdoor furniture now, and products have different strengths. Ask yourself: Will the pieces be in a covered or uncovered area? You need to know if the fabric will tend to fade in the sun or if it can stand up to the elements. This is true of accessories as well. Now there is UL-approved outdoor lighting, rugs that are very durable, and side mount umbrellas. If you’re really putting together a complete room "it makes sense to consider where everything will go and how it will be used.
" David Schweig, Sunnyland Furniture

Do Your Homework
Understand the new products, technologies, and design techniques that have evolved for comfortable outdoor living. In this part of the country, people have begun to realize the potential of backyard entertaining because of these recent innovations. For instance, we now design areas with features that maximize air circulation, minimize heat, and keep it cool enough to enjoy throughout the summer. We have materials that will stand up to Texas weather, and we understand how to engineer them into dynamic spaces for family functions and entertaining. When everything works together, people prefer being outdoors. Properly designed patios and yards can truly become extensions of the home.
" Jamie Turrentine, Southwest Fence & Deck

Colors are very vibrant now, not just green and shades of brown. People want pizzazz and strive for the wow factor. " David Schweig, Sunnyland Furniture. Image courtesy of ValleyCrest Landscape Company.
Lighten Up
Don’t underestimate the importance of good outdoor lighting. Much of your entertaining will occur in the evening. Try not to make the mistake of using too much bright lighting. Instead, use soft lights that create shadows and a more subtle feeling.
" Brian Millspaugh, M.R. Landscaping

Room to Spread Out
I am seeing that outdoor family rooms are not only growing in popularity, they’re also expanding in scope and square footage. People used to just have small patios barely big enough for one table and set of chairs. Now, families are realizing that they need more room to cook, entertain, and spread out. It is not unusual to see patios that are larger than 16 feet by 20 feet, excluding the space needed for built-in grills and appliances. We are also seeing the return of covered, screened-in rooms. They provide more protection for furniture and also add a level of safety for families with small children and animals. Since screens limit mosquitoes, they are also great for those who are skeptical of or dislike pesticides and misters.
" Dan Sauerwein, ValleyCrest Landscape Company

Image courtesy of Marlin Landscape Systems.
Beautify Naturally
I am seeing a focus on creating warmer, more elegant outdoor spaces. We are using more ornamental trees, especially Japanese maples. I am also seeing taller, more mature trees being put into new landscapes, right from the start. Patios that are truly covered by arbors and pergolas work well in areas with high traffic and lots of entertaining. Even the weatherproof furniture does better with some protection.
" Kristi Miller, Outdoor Home Living

Color Your Surroundings
Customers are approaching outdoor Dcor exactly the way they perceive their interior design. Colors are very vibrant now, not just green and shades of brown. People want pizzazz and strive for the wow factor.
" David Schweig, Sunnyland Furniture

Image courtesy of Marlin Landscape Systems.
Work with Your House
Be careful not to install landscapes that are overpowering or compete with the home. One approach is to frame the house with ornamental trees, such as dogwoods and Japanese maples. For beds, we like sweeping, flowing curves, rather than formal, straight lines.

Also, when making a major investment in landscaping, you should minimize risks by protecting expensive plants and trees. A maintenance package should be part of every plan.

Pay special attention to irrigation. One of the classic mistakes is over watering, especially new trees. But don’t assume that the same sprinkler system that is taking care of your grass will be enough for your trees.
" Brian Millspaugh, M.R. Landscaping

Ruibal’s in Lakewood.
Maintenance Matters
It doesn’t make sense to just assume everything will continue to grow and be healthy without proper care and attention. Be ready to really roll up your sleeves with your landscaper and figure out what needs to be done. As professionals, we check on all new installations weekly.
" Kristi Miller, Outdoor Home Living

Beat the Heat
The heat in Dallas poses challenges, especially for plants in pots or ceramic containers. There are a few products that make a difference by raising the containers slightly off the ground to allow proper drainage. Another great product, Soil Moist, is a mix added to potting soil that reduces the need to water by up to 50 percent in the peak of summer.
" Josh Bracken, Nicholson-Hardie

Image courtesy of Golf Turfs of DFW.
Blue for You
We are definitely seeing an infusion of blue flowers. In the heat of the summer, the cooler colors of blues and greens give a different feeling than the hot reds and oranges, particularly in shady areas. We’re also seeing a lot of tropical hibiscus being used as bedding plants, and I am seeing customers shift from marigolds and petunias to zinnias and pentas. People are creating little oases for themselves, incorporating flowers as colorful accents.
" Mark Ruibal, Ruibal’s

Contain Yourself
Container gardening is one of the biggest trends in the industry. We are finding that all kinds of planters and pots full of flowers are being used to accessorize patios and yards. They are easily changed and maintained.

However, an under-utilized idea is using indoor tropical plants outside in the summer. These lush, warm weather plants will thrive and add beauty to covered patios. When the weather turns cold, they can be moved back inside.
" Josh Bracken, Nicholson-Hardie

Image courtesy of Southwest Fence & Deck.
Place the Right Plants
Azaleas are always a favorite choice in Dallas, especially coral colored ones. However, it’s important to understand what kind of customer you are working with before determining plant choice. Typically, I spec very hardy plants. However, if they like to work in their back yards a lot, we can select plants that require a little maintenance. Most importantly, you need plants that will endure our long hot summers.
" Chase Schavrda, Marlin Landscape Systems

Be Thoughtful
Our clients are putting a lot of thought into the landscape design of their outdoor spaces. Among the special touches I am seeing is an increased usage of travertine around pool deck, rear loges, and formal patios, also the return of rose gardens, especially antique roses. The English-country garden look, with some formality in the shrubs, adds a special, nostalgic feeling.

We create a lot of custom, one-of-a-kind water features as well. Antique sculptures make wonderful fountains and may be accented with beautiful flowers.
" David Williams, Williams Landscape

Accessorize
Accessories can add the finishing touch to outdoor spaces. We like to use metal wall hangings and trellises. I also find that fountains add a soothing, comforting feeling. They drown out neighborhood noise and are much easier to install than you would think. There are also lots of possibilities when planting interesting greenery around water features.
" Josh Bracken, Nicholson-Hardie

Image courtesy of ValleyCrest Landscape Company.
Stay Grounded
Our fountains and statuaries, particularly heavier, stained concrete pieces, are in high demand right now. Classic, earthy designs seem to be the most popular.
" Mark Ruibal, Ruibal’s

Get Personal
We have been asked to put in butterfly gardens, koi ponds, streams, and waterfalls. It just depends what kind of atmosphere you want to create. Everyone loves to add a personal touch.
" Chase Schavrda, Marlin Landscape Systems

Ironwork Is In
Iron gates, balconies, and railings make beautiful accents to outdoor living areas.  We do custom designs and no two are ever the same.  This ironwork is created to suit the homeowner’s personality and adds another special touch to the outdoor living experience.
" Marci Jones, Fashion Door and Window

Play Ball
Since 9/11, parents want to know where their children are, so they try to offer as much outdoor entertainment as possible. We’ve seen sports courts and playgrounds  for years. Putting greens are gaining popularity, and they provide a unique activity that is popular for all ages. The greens can be put in small shady areas or extended across a larger piece of land with bridges and streams. The newest artificial turf is the same that is used at Texas Stadium and in high schools all over Dallas-Fort Worth. The ball reacts the same way it does on a real green. Combine this turf with a pond, bridge, or water feature, and you will feel like you’re on your own course.
" Don Lemaster, Golf Turfs of DFW

Mix Your Stones
Pavestone has been around for a long time. Think of it as segmental paving. It may be installed, expanded, and repaired in segments (versus large poured pieces). We are using it in driveways, patios, sidewalks, and retaining walls. Because it’s set in sand, the stone has a low moisture absorption and is strong, so it won’t crack.

The trend I am seeing is mixing natural stone with pavestone in outdoor areas, such as around the pool and on walkways. It is also a great product choice for extending or replacing existing patios. There are at least 30 different colors, a wide range of patterns, and many decorative applications. " Charles Graves, Decorative Paving Systems

Concrete Details
The techniques for stamping and staining concrete have improved dramatically. The end product is now authentic looking. We are able to create stamps that look just like rock, wood, and tile. We create the stamp from an imprint taken off the actual surface we are replicating and get a very realistic look. Acid staining is also popular, especially on driveways. Custom colors can be made to match anything.

Not only do the stained and stamped concrete applications last for decades, they are at least half the cost of natural stone. Typically, stamped concrete is priced between $7.50 and $10.50 a square foot. Installed flagstone is usually $20 or more a square foot. The concrete products are a wonderful alternative.
" Nevin Bannister, Titan Concrete Concepts

Go Top-of-the-Line
The trend in outdoor kitchens is high-end, top-of-the-line appliances. Not only are people enjoying the entertaining aspect, they are realizing that they will get a very strong return on this kind of investment, when done correctly. Upgraded barbecues, side burners, warming drawers, built-in smoker ovens, infrared broiler and burners, ice makers "you name it, it’s being put in.

Remember to pick a product that will last. Stainless steel is one of the few materials that won’t warp, so it is a great choice for cabinetry, grill doors, and general outdoor surfaces. Also, do the research and make sure that all products and materials are UL approved for outdoor use. They will perform better, last longer, and will likely be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.
" John Green and Helene Terry, Capital Distributing