Top Outdoor Living Trends

A recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) pinpointed the residential outdoor living and landscaping design elements that are developing in 2011, and many of them are continuing from 2010. While getting back to basics was the guiding theme for much of the outdoor living market last year, "basic" is a relative term. Homeowners at nearly every level are still very much interested in creating livable outdoor spaces that function like indoor rooms, according to ASLA's executive vice president Nancy Somerville.

"The economy is trimming back a little bit on activity and preferences, but it's certainly not keeping people from adding outdoor rooms," she says. What's keeping the market going is the value—up to 13 percent—that creating outdoor living spaces and landscaping adds to a home, she adds.

In 2011, homeowners' landscape design and outdoor living plans are still scaled down somewhat because of economic concerns, but they're not eliminating the elements that make outdoor spaces comfortable, attractive, and usable. They still want seating, lighting, and cooking features, but they're willing to do without fully outfitted kitchens or audio/video entertainment systems. It's only the high-end clients who are moving forward with such expensive luxury features and finishes, Somerville notes.

Topping the list of most popular outdoor living features for this year, rated as somewhat or very popular according to ASLA members, are exterior lighting (96.2 percent), fire pits/fireplaces (94.2 percent), seating/dining areas (94.1 percent), grills (93.8) percent, and installed seating such as benches, seat walls, ledges, and boulders (89.5 percent). Weatherized outdoor furniture (83.6 percent) and counter space (74.2 percent) also are popular elements that deliver on consumers' desire for function.

Survey respondents ranked the popularity of many other outdoor living and recreational features, including:

·  Decorative water elements (84.7 percent)

·  Spa, including hot tub, Jacuzzi, indoor/outdoor saunas (75.9 percent)

·  Swimming pools (69.4 percent)

·  Utility storage (61.3 percent)

·  Stereo systems (58.3 percent)

·  Sinks (54.7 percent)

·  Refrigerators (50.2 percent)

·  Sports/recreational spaces, such as tennis and bocce ball courts (47.7 percent)

·  Wireless/Internet connectivity (46.3 percent)

·  Television/projection screens (45.4 percent)

·  Outdoor heaters (44.4 percent)

·  Showers/bathing (42.1 percent)

·  Outdoor cooling systems, including fans (36.7 percent)

·  Bedrooms/sleeping spaces (10.4 percent)

Outdoor structures also remain popular elements, with fences and gates ranked most popular (85 percent), followed by arbors (83.8 percent), pergolas (82.6 percent), steps (79.3 percent), decks (74.4 percent), and porches (72.3 percent).More than 72 percent of ASLA members report that porches are still in demand among their clients.

Not only are homeowners concerned about energy costs and eliminating electricity-gobbling components from their plans, they also are paying greater attention to sustainability. This is driving interest in water-conserving elements, according to Somerville. ASLA members reported the following landscape, garden, and sustainability features are somewhat or very popular for 2011:

·  Low-maintenance landscapes (94.2 percent)

·  Native/adapted drought-tolerant plants (88.8 percent)

·  Native plants (87.2 percent)

·  Drip/water-efficient irrigation (83.1 percent)

·  Fountains/ornamental water features (81 percent)

·  Food/vegetable gardens, including orchards, vineyards, etc. (80.3 percent)

·  Permeable paving (77 percent)

·  Reduced lawn (72.6 percent)

·  Organic gardens (65.5 percent)

·  Recycled materials (64.5 percent)

·  Rainwater/graywater harvesting (63.6 percent)

·  Ponds/streams (62.5 percent)

·  Rain gardens (56.6 percent)

·  Xeriscaping or dry gardens (56.3 percent)

·  Compost bins (49.4 percent)

·  Solar-powered lights (48.8 percent)

·  Geothermal-heated pools (23.2 percent)

Decorative water features such as ornamental pools, waterfalls, grottos, runnels, and bubblers are elements that haven't slacked in popularity, despite a desire to conserve water, and Somerville says this is because of the enjoyment the sound and effects of water add to a landscape.

Homeowners' growing interest in sustainable outdoor spaces seems to be keeping pace with the overall increasing focus on sustainability indoors. There's been a gap between their desire for sustainable landscapes and their understanding of what that entails, but that gap is closing, according to Somerville. "Four years ago homeowners were interested in sustainability, but very few knew how to landscape sustainably," she says. "But now they're better educated and [ASLA] members are being asked more about features like permeable pavements and rain gardens."

From Custom Home Online - Stephani Miller
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