Everyone loves a backyard with a beautiful pool, but many of the best moments with family and friends don’t actually involve swimming in the pool itself.
Instead, those special times take place around the pool: sipping cocktails at the bar in the outdoor kitchen; roasting marshmallows around the fire pit; playing bocce or horseshoes on the lawn; dancing on the deck; or cuddling in a hammock while watching the stars.
That’s been especially true in recent years, as the pandemic challenged people to find new ways to spend time with loved ones and socialize outdoors. Whether dining alfresco or relaxing by a fire pit, entertaining-friendly hardscaped and decking designs create the ultimate outdoor spaces that are sure to bring friends and family together all year long.
Here are five trends we love.
The Trend: Modern Meets Traditional
In Action: For many years, sleek, ultramodern designs reigned, and although clean looks are still popular, homeowners are increasingly incorporating many more traditional elements as well, says Derek Pratt, co-owner and senior project manager at Pratt Guys in Jacksonville, Florida. He says clean lines and neutral colors are on trend, with natural stone materials like marble and travertine providing what he calls a “traditional modern” aesthetic.
Kevin Kurdziolek, PLA, ASLA, vice president and director of design at Pristine Acres in Great Falls, Virginia, refers to this style as “transitional modern.” His firm did a project that married a home’s modern farmhouse vibe with an outdoor living area that echoed that aesthetic. It used basalt for the pool coping, sandblasted marble for the pool deck, and composite decking material.
“We wanted to keep with using a lot of right angles, clean lines, clean materials, and lots of contrast,” he says, bringing a look that’s modern but not “ultra-modern” with lots of traditional elements.
The Trend: Everything Old is New Again
In Action: Design is cyclical and outdoor living experts are seeing a resurgence of large-format tiles, such as porcelain or ceramic tiles in monotone colors, says Scott Cummings, RLA, ASLA, CBP, partner and principal landscape architect at Design Ecology in Austin, Texas.
Brandi Sauers, marketing manager at Hanover Architectural Products in Hanover, Pennsylvania, is also seeing the porcelain trend, noting that people are realizing that porcelain can be used for more than interiors.
“In the past few years, it’s definitely jumped to outdoor applications,” she says. Plus, using it both inside and outside allows indoor and outdoor spaces to flow together, a look that an increasing number of homeowners are seeking.
“If you have a living room [or] dining area where you have sliding glass doors and it walks out onto your balcony, you can have the same flooring material
in and out to make it a seamless transition,” she says.
Porcelain also lends itself to that “hybrid” of rustic and modern design that we mentioned earlier, Sauers says, pointing to a popular combination of porcelain bluestone alongside more linear grays, whites, and neutral colors.
The Trend: Multiple Outdoor “Rooms”
In Action: While outdoor spaces often feature a pool as their centerpiece, the design and layout don’t need to physically center the pool itself. Instead, many designers and architects are planning outdoor spaces that mimic indoor ones with “rooms” that are designated for different purposes and visually divide a larger space into different sections, says Pratt.
“When we’re designing a backyard, we like to create not only one seating area, but we like to have several areas within the backyard or the outdoor area,” Pratt says. “That way if someone’s having a get together, [guests] aren’t all together in one spot. We like to create different areas in the backyard.”
“Definitely something that’s on [a client’s] mind is having a space where lot of people can be in their backyard and congregate in their own groups throughout the design,” he says.
The Trend: Pool Structures grow Up
In Action: While outdoor kitchens have long been a staple of backyards, designers are seeing the trend of homeowners wanting more complex and elaborate structures that add to the overall experience, like dedicated bathrooms for the outdoor living area, larger cabanas, and extensive pool houses.
In fact, Kurdziolek says “more often than not, we’re doing a structure, and a pool, and something else. There are usually three big things incorporated into the design…It’s for the family, but there’s also a larger entertainment factor to the project.”
For instance, “covered cabanas are getting really popular,” says Pratt. He points to one recent project that included an attached cabana addition of the home, along with a pool, spa, sunken fire pit, cantilever rain curtain over the pool, and a basketball court, along with the familiar outdoor kitchen and seating areas.
Another standout outdoor living project that Pratt Guys worked on included a cabana with exposed white cedar rafters and a wood-stained, tongue-and-groove ceiling inside that was so large that it housed a complete outdoor galley-style kitchen—perfect for entertaining guests while cooking, with plenty of bar space, Pratt says—along with an entire stretch of outdoor seating.
The Trend: Outdoor Spaces that aren’t an afterthought
In Action: Instead of adding the outdoor living area and pool as the phase-two of a home construction or renovation months or even years later, homeowners are increasingly designing their outdoor living and entertainment spaces in tandem with their overall home projects.
Benjamin Lasseter, ASLA, CBP, partner and president of operations at Design Ecology, notes this trend in their work. Whereas they used to get a set of plans on a home that was either ready to build or already under construction, nowadays, architects or builders are approaching them from the very start, asking what the outdoor living area should look like. In addition, the indoor and outdoor elements influence and complement each other from the project’s conceptual phase.
“We get to start throwing out pool ideas, landscape ideas, outdoor living ideas at the development stage of the home instead of at the end stage,” Lasseter says. “The pool is really being incorporated into the overall project much earlier.”
Pratt is seeing the same trend and encourages clients who can afford it to complete the entire indoor/outdoor project all at once. But even if they decide to do it in multiple phases, he still recommends creating a master plan for the entire project.
Whether you decide to tackle your indoor/outdoor spaces in a single project or in stages, it’s clear from trends like these that the pool itself is only the beginning of your vision for the space. Instead, homeowners can create an outdoor living area that truly reflects their lives, tastes, homes, and lifestyle. designecologyaustin.com, hanoverpavers.com, prattguys.com, pristineacres.com