Take It Outside ... With Style

Outdoor living goes upscale.


Outdoor dining becomes luxurious with a built-in grill and stylish seating options. Photo courtesy of Flagstone Landscaping

“Backyard Envy.” “Desperate Landscapes.” “Going Yard.”

Photo courtesy of LandCrafters, Inc.

They’re just a few of the dozens of television shows devoted to outdoor-space design. And for good reason. Whether yours is a huge yard in the suburbs or a tidy urban plot, making the most of your outdoor spaces can feel overwhelming. Here, a few local professionals offer expert advice on the latest trends that will help make your outdoor spaces functional and beautiful.

Get Fired Up
With this year’s brutal winter finally giving way to the promise of summer’s warm days and balmy nights, stylish and upscale outdoor heating elements can prolong the latter on both ends of the season.

“It seems like everybody wants a fire pit or a raised fire feature where people can hang out and extend the season, or they want fireplaces, which are a little more expensive, but give a more dramatic feel,” says Peter Kudlata, owner of Flagstone Landscaping.

Tom Ball, president of Ground Affects Landscaping, Inc., adds, “Fire features with glass incorporated are very popular. … The flames come through the glass. It’s more expensive, but there’s no smoke and it’s easy to maintain.”

Now You’re (Gourmet) Cooking
Looking to expand your outdoor cooking and dining options beyond the grill … or whatever can be skewered and roasted over a fire? Kudlata says outdoor kitchens are more popular than ever. “People are putting more money into outdoor kitchens — not just grills, but bar tops and extended seating. And they’re looking at different ways to cook, like a pizza oven,” he says. According to Ball, Ground Affects’ clients are also seeking year-round options. “It’s trending more to people putting a permanent grill in place and building around that,” he notes.

A Grape New Space
You don’t need a big backyard in the suburbs to enjoy a modern take on outdoor living. Andrew Herndon, a landscape designer at LandCrafters Inc., points to a trend that began with a unique outdoor space he aptly named the “wine terrace.” Herndon explains, “About a year and a half ago, on 91st Street in Wauwatosa, a homeowner wanted a patio space in the front yard. It’s a two or four-person patio, [and] it was super successful.” So successful that the space inspired other neighborhood homeowners.

“A month later, I did another one on the same street,” Herdon recalls. “The lots are somewhat small, and the neighborhood is tightknit. People can sit in the front, and it’s an area that connects you to the neighborhood as a whole.” Herndon says the wine terrace is a fine option for larger spaces too. “Homeowners like how welcoming it is,” he says. “It’s fun. These small changes have so much impact. You’re transferring the warmth and character of the inside space to the outside and then to the broader community after that.”

Water You Waiting For
Neutral colors, which are popular in interior design, have also made their way to outdoor recreational spaces. “Hot tubs have gone away from the glossy marble look to classic earth tones like grays, browns, tans and platinum,” Mark Burkholz, president of  Pool Park, Inc., explains. “We’re seeing the same trend with pools. Colors are changing to reflect the home colors that people are using now.”

And if you remember the days of heaving a heavy vinyl cover off of a hot tub, well, Burkholz says those days are over. “Today’s hot tub covers are lighter and easier to handle,” he says. “They’re no longer made out of faux leather and they lock to meet safety codes, so you don’t need sensors. And the covers are insulated, so they retain heat.”

Lighten Up
Once the structural elements of an outdoor space are in place, details will make your space truly unique. “Low-voltage path lighting and accent lighting seem to be a growing trend,” Kudlata notes. “It’s something we incorporate in a lot of our plans. … Another fad right now is string lights. Bigger bulbs are really in fashion, and there’s a higher grade of those lights out there. They last a lot longer than the ones you get at a super store. In the right situation they can be awesome.”

Go Green. And Glorious.
Landscaping and gardening infuse an outdoor space with beauty and color. This spring, Kudlata is eager to incorporate Pantone’s Color of the Year. “If people want to use the 2019 color, Living Coral, in their garden, we could do coral bells, which are an antique flower,” Kudlata says. “Or a coral burst crab apple, which is a great crabapple tree. It’s great in smaller yards because it doesn’t take up a lot of horizontal space.” MKE