Trends in Landscaping Walls

Landscaping walls add dimension and definition to your outdoor living spaces. Whether utilizing a retaining wall to control the slope of your yard, or simply to add dimensional embellishments to an outdoor living space, landscape wall products represent an important element of contemporary outdoor living design.

Terraced Design

Retaining walls present a way to convert a sloped yard into usable space through the creation of terraces. Terraced design can also be used to create a raised or sunken outdoor room.

Vertical Gardens

A rising trend in outdoor design, vertical gardens take landscaping to new heights and add a tremendous amount of visual interest and dimension to an outdoor living area.

Defining a Room

Landscaping and seating walls can help define an outdoor living area or create a transition from one outdoor room to the next.

Fire & Water Features

Walls can be used to incorporate the elements of fire or water into an outdoor design in a variety of creative ways. These types of features become a visual anchor point and add to the ambiance of a design.

Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor kitchens are one of the fastest growing segments of the outdoor living industry, and for good reason. An outdoor kitchen exponentially improves the functionality of an outdoor space, as well as the aesthetics.

Embellishments

Landscaping and retaining walls can be used to add any number of coordinating embellishments to an outdoor design — including columns, planters, mailboxes and more — which can help tie an outdoor design together.

Built-In Seating

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, built-in seating has been one of the top 10 trends for the last few years. In addition to providing permanent seating, a seat wall can also help to define an outdoor living space.

Next week:  Come back to the Outdoor Living by Belgard blog for more seat wall design and placement ideas.

Holiday Outdoor Entertaining

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Baby, it’s cold outside..but don’t let that stop you from enjoying your outdoor living spaces with family and friends this holiday season. Here are some tips for entertaining outdoors in colder weather that embrace the holiday spirit.

The Fire is So Delightful

There’s a reason that outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are one of the fastest growing trends in outdoor living: there’s just something universal about sitting around a fire. The dancing flames, the smokey aroma, the gentle crackle…fire’s are mesmerizing! This holiday season, it’s time to invest in that fire feature you’ve been wanting. And, be sure and stock up on wood and marshmallows.

All is Calm, All is Bright

Festive lighting is essential to any holiday gathering. String lights and candles will not only create a holiday atmosphere, they provide lighting that’s softer and more intimate than standard overhead lights. For creative ideas on outdoor lighting, check out our lighting ideas blog.

Jingle Bells. Jingle Bells.

What’s a party without music? A boring party, that’s what. If you don’t have a sound system in your outdoor space, don’t fret. There are a number of inexpensive bluetooth speakers on the market that will allow you and your friends to take turns showcasing your holiday playlists. Or set your iPad on a Pandora or Spotify station, link it to the speaker, and you’re good to go. When you’re ready to install something more permanent, look into the Sonos wi-fi system, which will allow you to link together your indoor sound system, desktop computer, any number of devices, and an outdoor speaker system that can all be operated together or in separate zones, all from a smart phone or other device.

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Sometimes it helps to warm your guests from the inside out. Be sure and have warm drinks available, like traditional English wassail, hot buttered rum, or peppermint cocoa. But to make sure they’re warm on the outside, too, it’s probably a good idea to keep lots of throws handy. You may want to consider investing in some tabletop and full-size butane heaters, which are available in a number of attractive styles, shapes and sizes from just about every hardware store. Just remember to keep extra fuel tanks on hand.

Oh, Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

No holiday entertaining blog would be complete without a mention of food. You might want to skip the figgy pudding, though. It’s not that great. Stick to small bites like cocktail meatballs and goat cheese crostinis. The primary issue with outdoor holiday entertaining is keeping food warm in the cold. You may want to keep the food station indoors or use covered warming trays outdoors.

Designing with Fire

A gas fire table can make a unique gathering spot.
A gas fire table can make a unique gathering spot.

Research continues to name fire features as one of the top “must haves” in modern outdoor living, making designing with fire a hot topic. In the early days of the trend, the fire feature was typically an add-on freestanding element, like a ceramic chiminea or metal fire bowl, which could be easily moved to other positions as needed. However, the trend has evolved over time to include more built-in permanent fixtures — such as a custom outdoor fireplace, fire pit, or gas fire table — which require more planning in terms of the overall design scheme of the outdoor living area.

Safety First

When planning a permanent fire feature, there are a number of safety issues to consider. Before beginning, check with local municipalities regarding safety codes to avoid costly design mistakes. Never underestimate the value of a professional plumber when running and installing gas lines. Also, be sure the contractor uses only non-combustible materials, and remember to include a fire-resistant liner when building a fire pit over existing hardscapes. This is especially important if the fire pit is on top of granite or limestone, which can retain water and explode when overheated.

Location Location Location

This outdoor living room incorporates several units from the Bristol Belgard Elements collection of prefabricated outdoor living features.
The design of this outdoor living room centers on the Bristol fireplace and incorporates several other pieces from the Belgard Elements Collection.

A fire feature will be the visual anchor of the design. When determining the best placement, it’s best to check for building code restrictions. Although it varies by municipality, gas-burning fire features can typically be placed just about anywhere, but most building codes require a wood-burning feature to be placed at least ten feet from any vertical structure. When using a wood-burning fire feature, it’s also a good idea to test wind patterns in the yard with a portable grill to check smoke flow direction and avoid choking out seating areas. Making the fire feature the furthest design element from the home will create a dramatic view and take into account both safety and functionality.

Integrated Design

Once placement of the fire feature has been determined, additional hardscapes can be integrated into the design to complement the feature and create a cohesive outdoor living space. Paver patterns and retaining wall designs can mimic the lines of the fire feature, delineate separate gathering areas, or direct traffic flow. One option is to create a paver pattern in front of a fireplace that mimics the look of a rug. Seat walls can also be incorporated into the design but should be placed at least four feet from the fire feature to maintain a comfortable distance from the heat source. It’s important to consider how the space will be used and remember to leave room for furniture and walking space.

A faux "area rug" of Mega-Arbel pavers break of the design of this Urbana patio to enhance the "living room" concept of this design.
A faux “area rug” of Mega-Arbel pavers in front of the hearth break up the design of this Urbana Stone patio to enhance the “living room” concept.

Finishing Touches

A number of elements can be added to the design that will make the space more functional, as well as add ambiance. Low voltage lighting can be installed directly onto the fire feature, as well as nearby walls, pillars, and around landscaping to increase both visibility and mood. Outdoor rated music speakers can be installed at various locations around the space to allow for a consistent sound level without bothering the neighbors. And, custom cushions added to seat walls will add both color and comfort.

How to Create a Cozy Outdoor Room

In order to create a cozy outdoor room, you first have to answer the question, “What makes a room cozy?” The answer will invariably include two basic components: comfort and intimacy.

Fire features reinforce the "room" concept and set a warm and inviting tone.
Fire features reinforce the “room” concept and set a warm and inviting tone.

Comfortable Outdoor Living

The elements needed for outdoor comfort will vary depending on the season. During hotter months, finding a way to keep cool is often a priority. During this time of year, keeping warm becomes more of an issue. In order to enjoy your outdoor rooms further into the fall and winter seasons, it’s imperative to have heat sources, such as butane heaters, comfy blankets, and fire features like a fire table, outdoor fireplace, or fire pit. Lining the perimeter of an overhang or porch with retractable ceiling-to-floor solar screens can also provide a dual purpose, by blocking the sun during the summer and providing a wind screen during the winter.

Face furniture towards each other to create "conversation areas".
Face furniture pieces towards each other to create intimate “conversation areas”.

Furniture selection can also be a big part of the equation. Many people tend to choose form over function in order to create the look they desire. When selecting outdoor furniture, choose pieces that are both comfortable and can be grouped together to create intimate conversation areas. Also keep comfort in mind when selecting accessories like throw pillows, which can sometimes be attractive but stiff. Stools and ottomans can also add to the comfort level by offering an opportunity to prop feet up into a more relaxed position.

Seat walls help define the space and provide additional seating.
Seat walls help define the space and provide additional seating.

Creating Intimacy

Creating intimacy can be a challenge in an open space. One way to do so is to group furniture into smaller conversation areas. Another option is to partition outdoor areas into specific rooms with walls. This can be done with virtual walls, such as with a folded screen or a shelved container garden, or actual walls can be built by using retaining wall block to create freestanding divider walls or seat walls.

Seat walls actually serve a dual purpose by defining or dividing rooms while simultaneously providing extra seating. In fact, according to a recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects, built-in seating is actually one of the hottest emerging trends in outdoor design today.

Decorative items add character and charm to an outdoor room.
Decorative items add character and charm to an outdoor room.

Finishing Touches

In order to create a truly comfortable outdoor room, decorate it as though it is an indoor room. Choose elements that reflect your personality. Ideas include container gardens, weatherproof clocks and vases, lanterns, bird houses, and baskets. If your outdoor room includes walls, you can also decorate the walls with various items that will reinforce the concept of bringing the indoors out. Lighting can also enhance the mood of the room.

For lighting ideas, read our previous blog on lighting your hardscapes.

Decorate outdoor walls similarly to how you might decorate an indoor wall.
Decorate outdoor walls similarly to how you might decorate an indoor wall.