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Six Outdoor Design Trends

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From wood-fired pizza ovens to cozy courtyards, here’s what’s in demand

If there exists one (happy) holdover from the pandemic-era, it’s that hunkering at home can be as enjoyable as it is relaxing—especially when voluntary. The appeal among homeowners has expanded of late to include spacious outdoor living spaces, which, in Colorado, makes perfect sense given the whopping number of sunny days nature delivers year-round. Whether entertaining friends or connecting with loved ones, convening on home turf remains all the rage this season.

“There is so much more viability for outdoor [living] spaces in Colorado than in other climates,” says Dan DeGrush, senior landscape architect at Lifescape Colorado. Understanding that folks in Phoenix are not grilling outdoors come summer when it’s 115 and residents of Minneapolis are unlikely to utilize a roof deck in November means he’s uniquely situated to meet the needs of clients in the Centennial State. “I want to create spaces that people enjoy and feel good in,” DeGrush says. Translating that abstract feeling into a very tangible reality is how he defines the art of landscape architecture.

Related: Landscaping for the Future

Read on for some of the hottest outdoor design trends for 2024 and see for yourself why they are, well, trending.

Seamless indoor-outdoor flow

As homeowners get smarter and more sophisticated, extending indoor spaces into outdoor spaces has become de rigueur. In other words, the days of shade-proffering stand-alone pergolas and gazebos in the backyard have evolved. Big time. “[These days], what people really want is a roof extension of their house so, architecturally, [the outdoor living space] feels like it’s always been there,” DeGrush says, citing the inherent appeal of the indoor-outdoor lifestyle—one in which opening a door, not walking across the lawn, is all that’s needed to reach the desired destination. Bonus elements, from outdoor televisions and bars to fire pits and water features, elevate the mood and provide an aesthetic focal point for the brain—both of which maximize living space and lend flair to these dynamic spaces. Of the myriad challenges that can (and do) crop up, deciding on the proper dimensions ranks top of the list. “For folks who like to entertain, the key is creating the right sized space,” DeGrush says, of striking a balance between so massive the space feels stark to so small that, in retrospect, it does not adequately fit the homeowner’s anticipated needs.

outdoor design trends
© Lifescape Colorado

Wood-fired pizza ovens

With outdoor kitchens now commonplace, homeowners are hankering for niche outdoor spaces that serve a distinct purpose. Wood-fired ovens are one expensive custom feature that’s gaining in popularity. “Wood-fired ovens get super hot, up to 1000℉, making them tricky to have indoors,” DeGrush says. Because they are big and bulky, homeowners are turning their wood-fired ovens into focal-point features, akin to a fireplace, capable of turning out everything from classic Neapolitan pies and artisan loaves of bread to steaks and veggies with ease. Add to this menu the need for top-notch, heat-resistant countertops, and “these [pizza ovens] end up being destinations in and of themselves,” DeGrush says of deliciously indulgent en plein air space at the intersection of fun and function.

© Lifescape Colorado

Flowing [water] features

Beyond swimming pools (which require ample space), the myriad soothing benefits of an in-ground oasis can be gleaned from flowing water. “People were not building water features during the recession years,” DeGrush says of these largely luxury items. Water features run the gamut from stand-alone sculptural pieces to elaborate (not to mention elevated), cascading waterfalls—plus dozens of splashy options in between. “Most homeowners go with natural stone or the more contemporary feel of metal,” DeGrush says. It helps to have features that can be easily winterized to withstand Colorado’s freeze-thaw climate. Other aquatic trends include free-form pools, boasting organic (as opposed to geometric) shapes, which come with various advantages—chief among them their ability to seamlessly fit into the surrounding landscape rather than stand in stark contrast to it. Another hot trend for keeping cool come summer is the “spool”—a small pool boasting spa-like features, not unlike an oversized hot tub—also known as a cocktail pool. Beyond being relaxing and aesthetically pleasing, spools are relatively low-maintenance and can fit almost anywhere, making them an ideal option for tight spaces and busy homeowners.

© Lifescape Colorado

Sanctuary spaces

Amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, carving out time to relax and recharge is imperative—as is having a designated space in which to do so. “Intimate spaces with muted colors and soothing sounds invite relaxation,” DeGrush says. Courtyards—ranging in size from 10’ x 10’ to 50’ x 50’ in area—are located off the beaten path and perfect for everything from practicing yoga to curling up with a good book to connecting with family. “Considering the stress and anxiety of today’s world, these are soothing spots where one can simply relax and relish being in a soothing environment,” DeGrush says. Due to their private nature, these highly versatile spaces invite simply being as opposed to doing. “Think singles and couples or up to a family of four,” he says. The best part of these destination spaces? They give the allure of having gotten away without ever leaving home (or stepping foot off your property). What’s not to love about that?

Related: Colorado Homeowners Prefer a Light Touch

Diminutive destinations

While the average size of today’s family home is growing (in Colorado this figure clocks in around 2,500 square feet), those short on space need not miss out on the fun. According to the 2024 Houzz Outdoor Home Design Predictions, small patios and decks are having a moment—as evidenced by rising interest in design solutions for small spaces, including those out of doors. The site’s search trend data from last year revealed significant increases in searches for terms like “small screened-in porch ideas” (up 522%); “small backyard patio” (up 30%); and “small front porch” (up 28%) when compared with similar searches during the same time the previous year—a trend that’s expected to continue. “Among homeowners with modest-size yards, adding a small patio or deck can turn an unused side yard or entry into an inviting outdoor living space,” says Mitchell Parker, senior editor at Houzz. For homeowners with more ample space, adding a secluded deck or patio—further away from the central living spaces—creates opportunities to retreat. Parker points to decks as especially practical, given their adaptability to uneven terrain.

© Lifescape Colorado

Nature-based nooks

Finding creative ways to connect to nature that don’t come with a hefty price tag remains popular among the environmentally savvy set. Interest in native pollinator gardens, oftentimes in lieu of lush lawns, remains high. The idea, while hardly new, continues to trend among homeowners keen on making the most of smaller plots, which includes utilizing containers. “The raised planter game has definitely been elevated,” DeGrush says. Hum-drum terra cotta pots have been replaced with a bevy of cool, contemporary planters—in a panoply of shapes, sizes, and colors—perfect for creating custom vibes on patios and rooftops.

In this vein, DeGrush encourages clients to make note of, “what grows here naturally and looks beautiful,” which—while not inclusive of hydrangeas—does encompass ample varieties of meadow grasses that thrive in mountainous regions like Aspen and Telluride. Ditto for growing one’s own food, even if only via an aromatic avenue (a pathway that literally engages the senses) or kitchen herb garden. According to Houzz, plantings between pavers—for aesthetic or functional purposes—is a great way to tuck pops of green into otherwise urban landscapes.

“Garden paths and patios, made of pavers separated by ground cover, have gained popularity due to their natural look, permeability and design versatility,” Parker says. The approach not only softens pathways but also serves to interrupt large expanses of hardscape, which naturally lends a lush, living element to walkways and patios—making these functional elements feel part of, rather than separate from, nature. 

No matter the specifics of your home’s footprint, design trends abound for expanding your floor plan to include outdoor living spaces. Looking for inspiration? DeGrush unabashedly cites social media (here’s looking at you Insta) as helping to “up the ante,” so to speak, when it comes to keeping up with the Joneses insofar as quality and overall “wow” factor are concerned. While some clients come to DeGrush and his team with ideas that are so detailed and dialed-in that construction might commence immediately, collaboration is usually the name of the (landscape design) game.

“We get people thinking,” he says of a process that includes everything from contemplating the view (Do you really want to be looking at the back of your neighbor’s house from your brand new outdoor living room?) to seemingly inconsequential details (Have you thought about the way the wind blows, and if the smoke from your outdoor kitchen is going to blow right through your window?). What begins with a client’s vision includes adjustments along the way and hopefully culminates in the most effective and enjoyable end result possible, one that will stand the test of both time and trends.

What are you waiting for? It’s nearly summer—when the [outdoor] living should, indeed, be easy. Get designing. Stat.

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Author

  • Hannah Van Sickle

    Hannah Van Sickle is an educator turned storyteller who hails from the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. After a decade spent teaching high school English on the East Coast, and another working with students as an academic tutor and writing coach, she turned her attention to freelancing full time more than eight years ago. Her work has appeared in myriad print and online publications including Parents, Business Insider, Upstate House and Litchfield Magazine among others. When she is not writing, Hannah enjoys cooking, listening to audiobooks and exploring the great outdoors — on foot, via snowshoes, even atop a paddleboard — and adventuring with her teenagers, one of whom attends the University of Denver.

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