116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Backyards have come a long way, baby. People are no longer content with the basic grass, concrete slab and simple patio table and chairs. I once thought inground pools were the pinnacle of what a yard could be, but almost anything is possible with enough imagination and income.
It’s true homeowners have been creating outdoor “living rooms” for some time. The comforts of inside — upholstered furniture, television, access to food and a cold beverage — have gravitated outdoors, but now backyard design is going big and bold. We’re talking cabanas, day beds, giant fans and spiral staircases — sometimes two. Outdoor showers may be in the future.
A Washington Post story suggests that backyards have become a status symbol. The featured home had a deck that cost $350,000, not including landscaping, waterfall, and pool and hot tub. Those features and more cost an additional $200,000. It took first place in the 2020 National Deck Competition. I would guess the first-place backyard is out of financial reach and style preferences for many in the Midwest.
In Iowa, we have to accept that backyard use may be limited by weather. Scorching 90-degree days do not make for relaxing time outside. Then there’s winter. It makes more sense than to scale a backyard budget to the time it’s used. A more limited budget can create a backyard worthy of bountiful compliments.
If your backyard is in need of a refresh, here are some suggestions to keep in mind.
The home featured in the Post article was practically palatial. It could support two levels of outdoor space. It had an enormous yard, but that is not typical. If the home is not new construction, then existing landscape has to be evaluated. Some may try to tame nature, but a better approach would be to incorporate features in the design.
Depending how intricate the project is, an architect or one specializing in landscapes may be needed. Their fees are on top of construction and furnishing costs. Excavating public land will require permits and a call to 811 to check underground utilities. Neighborhoods may have covenants that govern changes that can be made to a home. Just as important is considering neighbors if the homes are close. At the very least give a head’s up that work is being done, which may affect them, and discuss the plans and their impact.
Know what materials are available. Products that are in stock will help complete the project in less time. Special orders or importing materials from overseas will inflate the budget. Some people reuse existing material in new designs, which is a good financial and environmental solution.
Work with the surroundings — outdoors and indoors. Consider the adjoining room. A walkout basement offers the perfect space for a bar, refrigerator and counter with stools. For example, keeping some elements of the original yard may inspire continuing the curvature of a retaining wall. Work with instead of fighting the landscape.
Don’t forget light. Once everyone has gathered is not the time to learn more lighting is needed. Running a line for electricity needs to be decided and planned before pavers are installed. Everything’s great during a sunny day, but come nighttime light is needed for safety. Oh, and string some LED light bulbs for fun.
Subtle or spectacular, backyards should be for the homeowners first. If it makes them happy, chances are their friends will like it too. Or they can’t wait until a Grecian-inspired deck comes to Iowa.
Erin Owen graduated from the interior design program at Kirkwood Community College. She has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer. Comments: email@example.com