Retreating to the Backyard
From a pergola to a fire pit to a new patio, create a paradise just outside your own door
By Jennifer Miko
Mother Nature invites you to sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of springtime. With yards turning greener and flowers blooming, the conditions are perfect for relaxing or entertaining outside. And your backyard can be the perfect setting.
The possibilities are endless for creating a backyard that’s aesthetically pleasing and functional. Many area residents are extending their homes with solid patio covers and pergolas. This classical architecture has existed for centuries, and today these designs still provide shade or protection from the elements, while enhancing the appearance of the home.
Pergolas are built using three or more support posts with beams running between them. The beams can be scalloped and shaped for decorative effects. They can be designed with varying heights to interconnect to create a unique overhead feature.
Vines can be trained to grow through the slatted roof of the pergola to soften the lines of the beams. And the columns present a backdrop to grow a vertical garden that adds a rich appearance to any backyard. Homeowners can also embrace the height created with their pergola by decorating it with colorful plants in hanging baskets.
Creating the Perfect Pergola
Pergola styles vary and can accommodate any sized yard or existing structure. They can be constructed to follow the curves of a pool or a winding concrete path. Or they can extend from the house with sleek lines. Some pergolas are featured as independent structures with their well-known cross-beamed design built over a section of grass or concrete. And with the addition of patio furniture, they become a wonderful retreat for family and friends.
Homeowners can order a pergola kit and build it themselves, or hire a professional contractor. Either way, they need to choose the perfect materials to achieve the desired appearance and durability for the right price. Treated pine pergolas are an economical option, and can be painted or stained. Fiberglass has proven to be one of the strongest and most lightweight pergola materials. But many homeowners choose maintenance-free vinyl because it never needs to be painted, stained or sanded. Eco-friendly vinyl plastic is recyclable and should last a lifetime.
The sky’s the limit when choosing patio covers and pergolas. Homeowners can create a traditional or contemporary feel to complement their yard. There are many choices available when considering the varying shades of wood materials or vinyl colors. Plus, the support columns, whether they’re rounded or have flat edges, also serve as an important decorative accent.
Combining a covered roof and the lattice-design of a pergola offers the best of both worlds. Family, friends, and pets are shielded from rain or sun with the patio cover, while breaks of sun peek through the slats of the pergola’s staggered beams.
Patio coverings essentially create more usable square footage and the opportunity to extend the family’s outdoor living space. With the installation of an outdoor kitchen, homeowners can move beyond the old fashioned “grilling on the back patio” to an entertaining “Grillin’ and Chillin’ ” experience.
Depending on budget, needs and space, homeowners can design a place to prepare food and enjoy meals outside. Whether it’s standing alone, or built into a brick island, the stainless steel barbecue grill usually commands the spotlight. Sizes and features vary, and grills can be heated with charcoals or propane. Some have electric burners, griddles, a warming shelf and even rotisserie functions.
The Outdoor Kitchen is “In”
In addition to the grill, other favorite cooking equipment like fryers, pizza ovens, broilers and salamanders, can be built-in or added to the outdoor kitchen. Locally, smokers are also very popular and are available in charcoal, electric and gas.
Outdoor kitchens can be designed with amenities to function like an indoor kitchen. With proper connections, a built-in sink, dishwasher, refrigerator and microwave can add to the ease of outdoor entertaining. And extended countertops are perfect for food preparation surfaces, or for dining.
The success of an outdoor kitchen depends on its independence from the main house. Homeowners and guests enjoy the area more when it is fully utilized. Cabinetry and drawers are storage essentials for outdoor kitchens. Weather-tolerant cabinets can house vital cooking accessories and serving ware.
By positioning chairs near the counter space, or by setting a separate table, homeowners establish comfortable entertaining areas. Wicker or rattan furniture sets are also perfect for eating or relaxing.
Many patio areas and outdoor kitchens are also wired for audio/visual entertainment. Special outdoor speakers are often mounted in high corners, while some are disguised as rocks or ceramic pots, carefully placed throughout the yard. And now — threatening to overcome the barbecue grill as the main attraction — more and more patios are featuring televisions and video game systems.
Entertain Around the Fire Pit
Outdoor kitchen designs offer homeowners the flexibility to create a backyard paradise. If your wallet is flexible, you can have a custom designed outdoor kitchen, with deluxe appliances, weather-resistant cabinetry, stone countertops, plumbing and lighting for about $60,000. But of course, homeowners should plan within their budget and design a backyard that meets their needs.
Fire pits offer homeowners another option for prolonging outdoor entertaining. They provide warmth, are sometimes used for cooking, and can be enjoyed year-round in the Houston area. Copper fire pits are considered the most durable, and for safety, they come with wire mesh covers and spike guards to prevent sparks from getting loose.
Smaller fire pits can be portable, but larger fire pits are usually built into the patio surface. An impressive brick or stone fire pit can be designed with levels for seating. When the fire pit is not in use, it still serves as a great backyard decoration.
Over the years, builders have expanded the concept of fire pits. Now they offer homeowners full-sized outdoor hearths. These luxurious fireplaces can be fueled by gas or wood, and the design possibilities are limitless. Architects can design a fireplace to add visual impact to the yard, as well as generate heat or serve as an additional cooking source.
Many styles and colors of materials are available to construct a magnificent outdoor fireplace. Combinations of slate, brick or stone can match the existing façade or complement it. Companies are also offering a variety of materials to ignite your fire feature. Now there are fire balls, and stones that are great alternatives to lava rock, gas logs or fire glass. Fire pits and fire places, come alive with these ceramic or natural elements that won’t explode.
Longer days and pleasant temperatures are bringing area residents outdoors well into the night. There are many options for enjoying Mother Nature, and for enhancing it. With proper planning, and a budget, homeowners can create their ideal backyard retreat.