(BPT) - No matter if you live on a coast or in the Upper Midwest, you can use your outdoor spaces to the fullest in any season by adding a few enhancements. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, it's easy to add features like a seat wall and a fire ring for an outdoor gathering spot, or an outdoor kitchen to create the taste of summer all year. A few simple improvements can help you create a space that keeps you outside longer into the night, earlier in the spring and later into the cooler seasons.
1. Add a fire feature. Even in sunny Florida, it can get chilly at night. An outdoor fireplace, fire table, fire pit or chiminea will enhance any outdoor space. A 2013 membership survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects found that 97 percent of respondents saw moderate to high demand for fire pits and fireplaces.
"Some of our most popular installations feature fireplaces on a patio or a fire ring surrounded by a seat wall," says Kelly O'Donahue, a landscape designer from Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minn. "A fire feature is a useful and beautiful addition to any outdoor living space that you can enjoy in all seasons."
2. Create a convenient outdoor cooking space. A dedicated space for the grill close to a door lets you barbecue in any season. A complete outdoor kitchen is even better. "Cooking outside isn't just for summertime anymore," says O'Donahue. "Grill islands and outdoor kitchens are very popular requests when designing outdoor spaces."
3. Add retaining and seat walls. A variety of outdoor hardscape features can be created with Versa-Lok segmental retaining walls. "You can create a variety of features including stairs, retaining walls, freestanding walls, couches, tiered walls, planters, columns, multi-angled corners and curves," says Matt Singer, director of national sales and training at Versa-Lok.
In addition to versatility in design, Versa-Lok's ease of installation makes it a favorite among homeowners and professionals alike. "With the pinning system, it's easy to create inside and outside curves of differing radiuses and other features, like a seat wall around a fire pit or a windbreak around a patio," says Singer.
4. Add lighting. A variety of lighting options for outdoor spaces exist, and it's a good idea to include lighting design for safety and aesthetics in your landscaping plans, says O'Donahue. Low-voltage LED uplights along walls and structures and downlights along pathways and walkways are popular. "Lighting can be installed within retaining walls, under capstones and among paving stone pathways and patios," says O'Donahue. Even a simple string of lights around a patio or deck railing adds a warm ambience to evenings and cool nights.
5. Install a paving stone patio. Interlocking concrete paving stones fit any outdoor landscape style, from classic to contemporary. Pavers are easy to install, come in many styles and colors and require little to no maintenance. Some pavers, like Slatestone from Willow Creek Paving Stones, feature a surface texture like natural stone.
6. Select year-round outdoor furniture. Look for outdoor furniture that's durable and doesn't need storage or annual maintenance other than cleaning. "Due to durability and ease of maintenance, many homeowners and businesses choose recycled HDPE furniture like our Comfort Craft line over traditional wood and wrought iron outdoor furniture, which needs to be stored in the winter," says Dave Johnson of Shop-Patiotown.com with stores in Minneapolis/St. Paul. "People like to set it out and forget about it. When you use it in fall or winter you can add removable cushions for warmth."
7. Shelter's not just for shade. Take shelter from the elements with a variety of pergolas, awnings and other coverings for patios and decks that not only provide shade but also help protect from wind and inclement weather.
8. Turn on the heat. A variety of portable outdoor gas or electric patio heaters and lamps adds warmth and light to outdoor spaces. "Freestanding heaters, lamps and tabletop fire bowls and pots are very popular," says Johnson.