Homeowners' backyards serve as a hub of summer activity. And as they spend more time outside, they'll look for opportunities to improve their outdoor living spaces. Whether it's a new patio, a fireplace or an outdoor kitchen, homeowners have an expanding array of options from which to choose.
You can help them turn what might seem like an ordinary backyard into something special by working with them to plan, design and install new outdoor living amenities.
"I believe people are becoming more sophisticated in terms of how they want their outdoor living spaces to look and feel," says David Jonas, a principal at Terraplan Landscape Architects in Toronto. "They want to make their outdoor spaces an extension of their homes and create a beautiful environment. The design options for outdoor living spaces are endless."
In planning how to maximize the potential of your customer's outdoor living space, ask them about how they live and relax in their homes. Then consider how that lifestyle can translate into an outdoor living space design.
Grant Harrison, owner of Escapes Outdoor Living Design in London, Ont., says he asks clients to tell him about where they sit down for a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning or how they entertain friends and family. Having those answers provides Harrison with a better feel for how the client might use outdoor amenities.
"People want to jump into [outdoor design], saying, "This is the type of stone I want, the plants I want,' but that's the last thing [you should focus on]," Harrison says. "It's "How do you live now, and how do you foresee yourself using the space?"
Not all outdoor living space projects require you to dig up the entire backyard. As a good first step, recommend a homeowner spruce up the look of his lawn with a few well-chosen pieces of furniture.
"Before, people were typically buying a table and chairs," Harrison says. "Now, people are buying a loveseat and two loungers. That's a big shift in furniture-it's becoming more of a living room outside."
Jonas says it's important that customers look for high-quality furniture that will hold up outdoors in all types of weather. Some of the most durable pieces, he says, are made of a woven material that looks somewhat like plastic. Also, recommend that your clients set up an attractive seating area or table that can act as "The Spot" for people to congregate, whether to eat dinner, play a game or converse.
If your customer's budget doesn't allow for a professionally installed patio or walkway at the outset, you can get resourceful and use more cost-effective materials.
"If you need a hard surface right away and you want to be cost effective, use inexpensive [2-foot-by-2-foot] patio slabs with crushed stones between the gaps, or concrete pavers that look like natural stone," Jonas says.
Typically, consumers should expect to pay about $30 to $45 per square meter for the installation of low-end concrete pavers with pebbles in between, including the preparation of a proper sub-base, Jonas says. Typically, higher-end interlocking paving materials can cost $120 to $140 per square meter installed, he says.
A fire pit is another cost-effective addition that can create a campfire atmosphere in the backyard. But Harrison says some people do not like the smoky mess and the work it takes to get firewood and clean up the pit once the fire's out. Many clients are looking to fireplaces as an alternative.
"Fireplaces are becoming a lot more attractive to people," he says. "Most of the designs are natural gas, and it's easy because most people are already on natural gas."
A popular trend right now is outdoor kitchens. The first step in taking your customer's cooking outside is adding a grill or upgrading to a nicer model. Harrison says grills can range from $300 to $10,000, so a client should have a good idea of what type of grill they want and how they plan to use it.
If clients are willing to spend more money, the sky is the limit for outdoor living space accommodations, including furniture, landscaping and kitchens, Jonas says. He's worked with people who have installed elaborate outdoor kitchens, complete with sinks and refrigerators. The design often depends on where the indoor kitchen is located. For example, if the patio is just a few steps away from the kitchen in a home, it might not be worth the investment for some homeowners to run a water line outside.
Typically, Harrison says customers who want outdoor kitchens should expect at least a $5,000 price tag. But prices vary considerably by design, Jonas says, so make sure to talk to your client about aligning expectations and budget.
With myriad of options available for outdoor living spaces, it's easy for clients to get caught up in what they see in a magazine or what their friends have. If funding is an issue, suggest they take it one year at a time, adding something to their outdoor living space annually to achieve their desired end result, Jonas says.
"Create a master plan design" he says, which includes realistic cost estimates. "If [your customer doesn't] have the funds to purchase and install everything immediately, [they] can complete [their] backyard design in stages. Year one, the deck, next year the planting beds, next year introduce a fireplace, and so on."
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