Homeowners desire bigger patios, low-maintenance landscapes, water features, even rectangular fire pits—and local companies are taking note.By Rob Duca
A roaring fire pit providing warmth on a crisp autumn evening. The sweet smell of grilled shrimp on the barbecue. A soft light flickering off a bluestone patio as the sun sinks from the sky. Cape Cod is a playful outdoors paradise during the daytime, with the sun, the sand and the cooling ocean breezes soothing the soul. But the end of the day does not have to signal the end of your enjoyment of the outdoors. Homeowners can transform their outdoor space into virtually a year-round destination. All it takes is a little ingenuity.
“People want to expand their outdoor space and make better use of it,” says Swavi Osev of R&K Landscaping in West Harwich. “That’s why they’re creating all sorts of things, from fire pits and fireplaces to kitchens with stone bars.”
One trend with outdoor spaces this spring is to design multiple sitting areas. R&K Landscaping is tackling projects that create spots for cooking, conversation, sipping wine and watching television. “Everything that people have inside the house, they want outside,” Osev says. “They’ve got their TV hooked up so they can relax around a fire pit and watch sports events, and they have other sections to talk or just cook. People are looking to develop different outside spaces, and you don’t need a large home to do it. You can take a deck with no pool at a small home and turn it into an extensive outdoor living area.”
Using natural stone, especially bluestone, for patios, decks, retaining walls, fire pits and the perimeter around swimming pools is popular, Osev says. Natural stone is approximately 35 percent more expensive than pre-fabricated products, but it retains a natural appearance without fading.
“Natural stone lasts a long time and there is lots of variety in the stones. Travertine keeps its color, yet always looks a little bit different,” says Craig Whitten of Whitten Landscaping in Yarmouth.
Homeowners are thinking bigger when it comes to patios. “Two years ago, the average patio was 200- to 300-square feet,” Osev says. “Now it’s anywhere between 600 and 1,200. People were more conservative a few years ago because of the economy, but that’s changing.”
Vibrant and inventive landscapes remain in demand, but the trend now is on less maintenance, which leaves more time for homeowners to enjoy their surroundings. Elaborate flower beds that require relentless weeding are being replaced by hanging baskets and urns.
“People want to come home from work, sit back and relax,” Whitten says. “They don’t want to see all these giant weeds that need to be pulled in their big garden, or look at what a rabbit did to their tomatoes and herbs. A potted garden is off the ground, so you don’t have to worry about animals destroying it while you’re at work.”
Natural grasses, shrubs and hedges have become fashionable as a way to generate privacy and ambiance. Shrubs hide fencing and soften the landscape around a swimming pool, while blue hydrangeas provide a traditional Cape Cod appearance.
Customized fireplaces and fire pits, along with self-contained water features, also produce a wonderful outdoor space that doesn’t require much maintenance. Fire pits can feature water in the base or above to create a fountain effect.
“I’ve seen a tremendous increase in anything having to do with water and fire,” says Chris Cotoia of Executive Landscaping in South Yarmouth. “Fire pits and water features can be customized into all shapes and sizes. You can do a water feature in a patio where the stream flows into a pool or trickles out from a stone wall. Incorporate LED lighting into that and you’ve created a waterfall that changes colors.”
The traditional circular fire pit is no longer the sole option. Whitten has designed 10-foot rectangular fire pits with a bluestone perimeter that also function as a table for dining. “We make them so the veneer of the fire pit matches the kitchen so that everything blends together,” he says.
Technological advances with lighting now allow for a great deal of imagination. No longer does a strand of lights need to be operated simultaneously; homeowners can now target individual lights of various colors to highlight specific areas, thus shifting the mood of the outdoor space.
“Lighting is really important. You don’t want a spotlight glaring down on you,” Cotoia says. “It’s not just solar panel lights you get from the hardware store anymore. There are now many more options with lighting where you can change colors and control individual lights from your phone or your tablet.”
Many homeowners are enjoying the outdoors without actually going outside by building a screen porch, an option that Chris Childs of Patriot Builders in Harwichport says many customers are choosing. “It really blurs the line between indoors and outdoors,” he says.
With floor-to-ceiling screens, a beadboard or exposed beam ceiling and a bluestone floor installed with radiant heating, you don’t have to ward off bugs or retreat indoors when the temperatures cool.
“You have a roof over your head, but there aren’t any walls,” Childs says. “It’s a nice place to sit during the day when you have sunshine but don’t have the sun beating down on you. And it extends your outdoor time into the evening.”
And extending the outdoor season is what it’s all about. “People spend lots of money on the outside of their property, so they want to enjoy it more,” Cotoia says. “When it gets dark, they want to be able to go outside into a nice, comfortable atmosphere.”