8 Essential Tips for Planning Your Outdoor Living Area!

Looking to transform your yard? Taking time to thoughtfully plan will help you create the space of your dreams and avoid big regrets! We've arranged these tips in the order we feel will give you the best outcome, but expect you may end up going back and forth between these steps as your creative juices begin to flow.

NOTE: You may be tempted to skip over certain points to get to the fun stuff, please don't. All of the tips are helpful to consider before you break ground or even choose your contractor. So let's dive in:

1.       Budget: How much are you willing to spend? It is important for you to establish a project budget with potential contractors. Understandably, customers can feel uncomfortable talking about their budget for fear they’ll get taken advantage of. Overcome this fear by interviewing at least three reputable contractors. This allows you to compare the different designs, quotes and business styles, and make an informed final decision. Ask direct questions regarding cost if you are unsure of an appropriate range to set for your project. If you are upfront about your budget, contractors can usually design a space that fits or recommend a phased plan forward. Contractor Tip: When you get a quote, inquire as to whether it is fixed or an estimate. You don't want to end up at the end of a project with a bill that is much higher than your original quote, only to find out that what you signed was an estimate.

2.       Function: Not just what you want, but why? This is easy if you are installing a path or border, but it gets more complicated when it comes to outdoor living spaces. How are you going to use the space? Just for your family, or are you going to be entertaining? If so, how many people do you expect? You'll want to create the right amount of space and seating area. Be sure to consider the age and mobility of your family and close friends. Also, do you prefer separate dining and lounging areas, or do you need to accomplish both in one space? What outdoor furniture you have or plan to buy? Knowing beforehand can really help in determining the best size and shape of your space.

3.       Privacy and sun exposure: Do you want privacy from your neighbors? Creating a trellis, or placing landscaping or a fireplace in just the right spot can help with this. You may even want to create a barrier from noisy ac/heating units that are often located in the backyard. If you are looking for a backyard sanctuary, where in your yard would be the most suitable? Close to your home or in a far corner of the property? Also, hardscapes absorb heat in sunlight, so think about reducing the amount of direct light that hits your space. There are a variety of ways to create privacy and shade. Think about your options and then choose the solutions that are best for you and your budget.

4.       Grade: Do you have areas where water tends to flow or pool when there is heavy rain? Convey this to professionals you are interviewing. Fortunately, your landscaping project could be part of the solution. Also, keep in mind that your design ideas may need to be adjusted depending on whether you have a relatively flat or sloped yard. Money Saving Tip: When possible, customizing the design to suit the slope of your yard is a great way to save money! Rather than spending your budget on large retaining walls, work with your grade, this will free you to invest in elements that give the most enjoyment and visual impact; such as stone steps, outdoor lighting and landscaping. Work with your land not against it!

5.       Style: The fun part! Do you prefer a formal or natural look? Traditional, contemporary, farmhouse modern or rustic . . . Houzz.com is the perfect place to discover your style, but anything goes. Set up ideabooks, bookmark pages, take photos or even cut out magazine pictures you like. Even if the photo it isn't exactly what you want, let potential contractors know what about it appeals to you (i.e. the material, layout, a certain element, the style etc.). This will assist them in designing a space that best suits your style. Take into consideration your home style and other structures, paths and landscaping on your property, so that your new space looks like it belongs, rather than clashes, with the other elements.

6.      Materials: This is closely related to style, but deserves to stand on it's own due to the importance of getting them right. Material continuity is key to establishing that “just right” feel in your new space - so take a look around. What materials were used in the exterior/interior of your home and other outdoor structures/elements on your property. It is recommended to "tie-in" existing materials in some form or another. For example, if your home is brick, but you love stone, continuity could be accomplished through a matching brick accent in a predominantly stone fireplace. Or choose a paver color that compliments the color of the stone, brick or paint on your home. Remember, more expensive material, doesn't necessarily make it better, it's more important to choose a materials that compliment the other materials on your property and  in your project. Design Tip: Limit the palette of material choices to prevent your yard from looking hodgepodge.

7.       Brainstorm: Keep an open mind as you explore options. Professional contractors make their living working with project designs and materials. Put that experience to work for you! Ask for their opinion and ideas after you’ve shared yours. They can give you valuable insight - often for free. Also, if the cost for your dream space is more than you want to spend, ask for suggestions to help cut costs or accomplish your project in stages. At times, it is necessary to take a step back and prioritize, or make tough decisions, like dropping the fireplace, and substituting it with a fire pit, so you still have a fire feature, but also have the budget to include outdoor lighting and landscaping to complete your space. Also consider a phased approach if you can’t have it all in one go; what do you need now and what can be added in the future as your budget allows.

8.       Hiring: Hiring a contractor doesn’t need to be daunting. Ask friends and coworkers for recommendations, but don’t hire your friends or family as this can cause a world of trouble. Only trust confirmed customer reviews! Unfortunately, companies can “hire” reviewers to generate positive reviews for them on some of the most "trusted" review sites. We recommend using Houzz and Angie’s List for REAL customer reviews since they have a confirmation process to help prevent companies from doing this. Also, ask for recent customer references, then call them. Visit projects in process, or check out completed project photos. This legwork will help you know if the contractor you are considering can deliver the experience and space that you want.

As design and build professionals, we know taking time to plan is essential to achieving the outdoor living space of your dreams. This step is too important to skip. Just do it! You'll see that the planning stage can be fun, inspiring and invaluable.

No matter who you choose to hire for your project, we sincerely hope these tips help you as you plan and construct your very own special outdoor space.       

The Outdoor Artisan Team