Push the boundaries
Create an extra room in your backyard

In recent years, Nancy Wallace has watched as her clients push the boundaries of their home further and further. Literally.

"The backyard is becoming an extension of the home. It has become an added room," said Wallace, co-owner of Grassroots Girls, a retail garden accessories and landscape design shop in Duluth. "The big trend right now is to have an outdoor living room. It's an ideal space."

Not only does an outdoor living room create an extra arena for entertaining and relaxation, it also adds value to your home, Wallace said. For homeowners not planning to relocate for several years, the benefits of this outdoor space outweigh the cost - which can average from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $75,000.

"If you are planning to stay in your home five to seven years or more, this is a great investment," she said. "It adds an untold value to your home and is a great selling point. It's work that the next buyer won't have to do. It's absolutely worth the investment and effort."

Much like the rest of the house, exterior rooms need a solid foundation of brick or stone. Not only does this provide a sturdy surface, it also reduces yard work.

"That's another reason people are looking for these outdoor rooms, to cover some grass," Wallace said. "It's been so dry and the drought has been bad, and people are looking to get rid of some of that grass."

Less grass doesn't mean the backyard has to be lacking foliage, though. Hanging plants, vines and large container plants are all ways to add vibrancy to an outdoor space. And by large, Wallace means large - the bigger the better.

"You want big containers, the biggest you can find, because they are less work. They fill empty space, and make it so you can fit more color into one area," she said. "If you don't want to worry about the upkeep of plants from season to season, you can use different types of evergreens, like ferns. These are great year-round plants."

An exterior living room needs a focal point, and outdoor fireplaces are Wallace's top pick. As a centerpiece, they can be tailored to varying dimensions and budgets - fireplaces come in all shapes, sizes and materials.

"You can get a fireplace that is anywhere from 6 feet to 16 feet tall. It all just depends on your needs," Wallace said. "With an outdoor fireplace, it also makes the space much more versatile, as you can use it in the colder months."

To accommodate smaller budgets and tighter spaces, fire pits are a savvy alternative. The pits give off a similar visual and heating effect as the fireplace, Wallace said, but on a smaller scale.

Using the fireplace, or pit, as a center, the next step is to create a seating area. Wallace often points her clients to double rockers - large rocking chairs that can seat two to three people. Long, cushioned benches are also easy ways to squeeze several visitors into one common area.

Constructing an outdoor living room can take anywhere from three days to six weeks, depending on the size of the project, Wallace said. It isn't necessarily a difficult task, but building an outdoor living space does take planning.

It's important for homeowners to have a vision before beginning the project, and clipping ideas out of magazines or catalogs prior to starting construction can help to speed things along.

"Make sure you know what you want and have shared that with the designer," she said. "Give them your ideas and make sure they work with you. Know what you want, because this should be your space. It should reflect who you are."