Northshore residents apparently have a new vacation destination: the backyard.
“More people are focusing on lifestyle improvements so they can vacation in their backyard for a long time to come,” said Paul Gagliano, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Louisiana Landscape Specialty, Inc. in Covington.
Landscape architects on the northshore report that the past two years have been some of the slowest they’ve seen. “Most people have been keeping their wallet in their pocket. It’s a trickle-down effect from the northshore real estate market bust. Everyone’s been hunkering down and not spending money,” said Gagliano.
This year though, spring brought new signs of life in the residential landscape market along with the usual flowers. Local landscapers say the number of phone calls is up tremendously over the past two spring seasons and attendance at the recent New Orleans Home and Garden Show was high.
“We expect residential projects to be the lead out of this slow time and are confident things are headed in the right direction,” said Gagliano, who also noted that he doesn’t expect to see commercial work bounce back as quickly.
Perhaps homeowners have rediscovered the simple joys of spending time with family, friends, and neighbors during this tough economy and those with a little money to spend are choosing to spend it by transforming their backyards into functional living spaces that can be enjoyed year round.
The Saacks family of Mandeville is a great example. Last year they renovated their backyard with the addition of a pool, hot tub, lush tropical landscaping, lighting, and a cabana complete with bar, full kitchen, fireplace, flat-screen TV, and living area.
“We have used our backyard more in the past 10 months than we did the previous eight years,” said Beth Saacks, adding that the pool is utilized about eight months of the year, but the addition of the cabana, spa, and fireplace maximizes usage of the backyard to all 12 months. The Saacks’ backyard redo incorporated many of the current top trends in residential landscaping.
The Living Room Moves Out
People want more than just a patio and some lawn furniture. Outdoor areas are becoming more and more elaborate with all the creature comforts normally associated with indoor living rooms. Think cushy couches, ottomans, coffee tables, rugs, flat-screen TVs, and fireplaces or fire pits. Many people are now creating two living areas outdoors: one for dining and the other for more intimate conversation space.
The interest in outdoor living rooms is also being spurred by the wide availability of high quality outdoor materials and furnishings currently on the market. Manufacturers are making comfortable furniture designed to exist outdoors without staying soggy or mildewing in the high humidity of southern Louisiana. All of these products are more moderately priced than ever before.
Not Just Grilling in the Garden
Just as in the indoor kitchen is normally the gathering place for family and friends when entertaining, the outdoor kitchen has become the center of the party. People are building more sophisticated and useful outdoor kitchens with built-in appliances that can stand up to the elements. Typically included in outdoor kitchens are built-in grills, stoves, sinks, refrigerators, icemakers, even dishwashers. One of the newest trends: pizza ovens. And what’s food without drink? Bars and built-in taps are must-haves in Louisiana outdoor kitchens.
The Water Element
While certainly not anything new, adding water elements to the backyard remains at the top of homeowner’s priorities. “Eighty percent of the interest at the Home and Garden show was pools,” said Gagliano. While pools and hot tubs may be the most popular backyard water features, also in style are ornamental pools, waterfalls, and disappearing fountains. The latest trend: adding outdoor bathing facilities with tubs and showers tucked away in the garden.
While the trend toward outdoor living is on the rise, the trend toward environmental responsibility and sustainability is also booming across the nation, if not so much here on the northshore. “We see it in smaller ways here,” said Gagliano, who noted trends like switching from cypress mulch to more sustainable pine mulches and using native plants.
If you’re planning a backyard makeover, you may want to look for ways to not only enjoy the outdoor environment, but be kind to it at the same time. Consider things like energy-efficient LED lighting, permeable pavers that allow for storm water drainage and manage excess runoff, drip irrigation systems for flower beds, and minimizing turf areas. “When our climate is normal, you really don’t need irrigation, but due to climate change we’ve recently seen extended periods of dry weather,” said Gagliano.
Having a Plan is Key
While the Saacks family added all their backyard elements at once, not everyone can afford to do it that way. “Many people will phase things in – most people will stage the pool first and later add in other things like kitchens and outdoor living areas,” said Martin Romero, licensed landscape architect for Smoketree Landscape Services, Inc. in Madisonville. Romero emphasized that having a master plan will assure that later additions will form one cohesive design. Master plans can range from $500 to around $2,000, depending on the complexity of the design.
“People always want to try to save a dollar, but by investing this up front you make sure it’s done the right way as opposed to winging it. You wouldn’t want the contractor building your house to wing it, would you? No, you would want it planned,” said Romero. “Whether you’re spending $10,000 or $100,000, if you plan it right, it can be done,” said Romero, who stressed that each plan is specific to a client’s desires and budget.
Some suggestions for achieving the same atmosphere with less money include extending your hardscape with pavers to increase your entertaining area, adding new furniture and an arbor for shade, instead of a cabana with a full living area. Or, in lieu of a full outdoor kitchen, add a small covered area and upgrade your grill. Whatever your budget, a landscape architect will have great ideas on how best to utilize your space.
Before you hire a landscape architect, gather ideas on what you’re looking for. Do you want a space for entertaining, or a play area? How much time are you willing to devote to maintenance? Develop a realistic budget for the project.
One thing most people forget to consider: drainage. “Drainage is a big issue here, probably the biggest, and many people don’t think about this as part of the infrastructure and cost of landscaping,” said Romero.
An Investment with Rewards
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), landscapes can add as much as 15 percent to the value of your home compared to other houses on the street. If you’re unsure what to budget, one rule of thumb is to start with 5 to 10 percent of your home’s worth.
One of the great things about investing in landscaping is that it has rewards both now and later. While some people are concerned with resale value, many people who plan on staying in their homes for a long time, aren’t as concerned about this factor because landscaping improves the quality of life in the here and now. “The intrinsic value far exceeds anything else you can buy,” said Romero.
Now is a Great Time
There has never been a better time to make this investment. Due to the slow economy and a marketplace flush with a wide variety of materials and furnishings, prices are more reasonable right now than ever. “Thankfully for the consumer, there is increased value now. You can get more for your money right now in both materials and labor. Everyone’s prices are a little more competitive,” said Gagliano.
So this year, make your backyard your first resort and start your permanent vacation. Saacks said, “The weather is so nice here, why spend the money for a condo in Florida? Having young children, I want my house to be the gathering place. The kids have their birthday parties here, we entertain here, and all our friends want to come here for the weekend. The beauty of it is that we don’t have to pack up and go somewhere – we just walk outside.”