JUF Information | Concepts that can assist you spring into out of doors entertaining season


Last year, as COVID-19 drove outdoor gatherings, people saw their backyards, patios and garages with fresh eyes. In the fall, friends of ours even use their sukkah to work far beyond Sukkot and provide our children with an outdoor shelter where they can gather and hang out.

Diane Stern Smith, landscape architect and owner of The Perennial Professionals in Northbrook, described the impact of the recent surge in outdoor entertainment. “This has been the biggest year for the landscaping industry in a long time. Everyone is in their backyards,” she said. “They use their backyards as family rooms.”

As spring brings better weather, the time outdoors will only increase, and the design and comfort of outdoor spaces, large and small, will matter more than ever. So I asked some outdoor landscape and design experts for advice on how to make outdoor spaces an extension of your home.

“A lot of people don’t go on vacation, so they take that money and make their outdoor space more desirable to themselves,” said Heather Lough, landscape architect and design team coordinator at Greenwise in Evanston.

For inspiration, the experts say that they first think about the function of your room. “It starts with how you see yourself, how you use it,” said Smith.

Whether you are finally ready to add up the appeal of your roadside front yard or consider wasting it in a swimming pool, consider how you plan to use your outdoor space and create a wish list.

Lough outlined her clients’ top priorities these days. “Trees, shadow structures, privacy between your neighbors,” she said, are in the foreground. “We get a lot of requests for updated outdoor living spaces – somewhere to eat outside or in an outdoor living area with a sofa and chairs.”

Interest in outdoor recreational opportunities like backyard sports fields and swimming pools is also increasing as people try to bring the fun home. “With the pandemic and people stuck at home, they want to install swimming pools,” said Lynsey Ori, operations manager at Rosebrook Pools in Libertyville. “Pools can be used for entertainment, exercise or even as a place to zen out.”

Regardless of what elements your design plan includes, the experts don’t forget the landscape. “Once you have a place to sit or a place to sit, you want something pretty to look at,” said Smith. “Plants make the rest of the room inviting.”

Smith encourages customers to consider perennial plantings to enhance the beauty of outdoor spaces. “We’re trying to plant a symphony so that something always blooms,” said Smith. “Different things bloom from spring to autumn, so there is always color in your garden.”

When choosing the plant, the experts recommend keeping sustainability in mind to protect the outdoor environment that you enjoy so much. “There are several ways to be sustainable and improve your footprint,” said Lough. “Maybe you’re not using native plants, but you are using plants that don’t need a ton of fertilizer to be friendlier. Or, you’re not using yearbooks because they need a ton of water to be renewed every year and every year.”

While Lough points out that “improving your landscaping is usually right after kitchens and bathrooms in terms of return on investment when you sell your home,” some people may want to try making smaller, budget-friendly outdoor improvements themselves.

From portable fire pits to prefabricated pergolas, there are many options for homeowners who like a do-it-yourself project. “If you have a lot of street noise, get a little water feature,” suggested Lough. “Some basic lights, even the bistro lights, which are currently very trendy, create an evening ambience so that you can extend your day into the evening. A small portable fireplace provides warmth and a safe place to collect.”

Leslie Hill Hirschfeld is a freelance writer based in the northern suburbs of Chicago.


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