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5 Patio Essentials When Designing Your Backyard

patio design with pool ted lare design & build

Designing your backyard patio is a pretty fun project, but there is a lot to consider when you get into the details. There are a few essentials to consider in your design that will make your Des Moines backyard patio into an outdoor escape you’ll never want to leave. 

 

Outdoor Kitchen & Food Prep Space 

One of the most common requests for landscape designs is to incorporate a dedicated area for grilling. Our design pros have a lot of experience, and tons of ideas for how to incorporate an outdoor kitchen space into your yard, even in small spaces. 

Ideally, your outdoor cooking area should be easily accessible from the indoor kitchen, so you can quickly pop in and out for whatever you need. A whole outdoor kitchen might be more than you want or have space for, but you’d be surprised what sort of innovative ideas our designers can come up with to create a super functional and beautiful food prep space near the grill.

 

Living & Seating Spaces

People love to congregate together! Whether it’s just family or the whole neighborhood, you’ll want to make sure you have enough space for everyone. A designer can create a layout for your landscape design that will maximize your seating options while maintaining beautiful design and highlighting the features of your yard. 

Even if you’re working with a smaller yard, a designer can help you create multiple defined outdoor spaces. A dining space with a table and chairs near the grill is a top priority, and a living room or family room space with comfortable seating is ideal for relaxing. It’s always nice to have a lounging space where you can soak up some vitamin D and watch the kids play, or even a private and secluded space where you can sit and meditate or enjoy a quiet cup of tea. 

 

Shelter From the Elements 

We usually get outside to enjoy the natural environment, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little shelter from the elements as well. A landscape designer will work with your yard and consider our climate, prevailing winds, and sun positioning to give you protection from the elements. 

Whether it’s with umbrellas, strategically planted trees for shade, a patio with a full roof, or an elegant gazebo, a designer can create shade and wind protection that blends seamlessly into the overall design of your landscape. With a little something between you and the sky, you can still enjoy your outdoor space when the weather is less than ideal. Watching the rain from a covered gazebo can be a cozy way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

 

Fire

Having a fire feature in the backyard extends the day, making your yard inviting and comfortable, even after the sun goes down. Firepits and outdoor fireplaces are available in endless styles and variations now. 

A landscape designer can show you a variety of ideas and designs that could fit in with your design style. Whether you prefer sleek and ultra-modern gas-powered firepits, a more traditional style wood-burning fire ring, or even an outdoor oven, our designers can work a fire feature into your space. 

Not into a firepit or a fireplace? Torches can give you a similar ambiance and are available in many different styles.

 

Integrated Lighting

Integrating lighting into your landscape is a subtle way to make a huge impact. A landscape designer will work in lighting that matches your style and highlights the assets and focal points of your landscape and home. 

Twinkling string lights make seating areas feel cozy and warm. Decorative overhead fixtures add an element of art to covered patio spaces and are the perfect finishing touch to really anchor a covered space. Discreet path lighting and accent lighting invite you to explore your yard after dark and highlight the best features of your home and landscape. 

Seeing the different elements of your space lit up after dark gives you a whole new perspective on your space, and a new reason to fall in love with your home! 

 

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Keeping these ideas in mind will help you design the patio space of your dreams for your family to enjoy for years to come. If you’re not quite sure how to put your design onto paper, get in touch with one of our professional landscape designers! We can help you nail down a design, and come up with a plan to make it happen.

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Go Play Outside: Fun and Easy DIY Backyard Games

family playing outside Ted lare design and build

If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard or even a patio or deck in Iowa, there are plenty of fun lawn games that you can DIY for some old-fashioned family fun! Stepping out into the yard for some fresh air and a game is a great way to entertain everyone for a little while, and getting outdoors is good for our mental health

Here are a few DIY backyard games you can create from things you may have around the house. Even if you don’t have the exact supplies, get creative. You can probably cobble together some fun games from old crafting supplies or your recycling bin.

DIY Giant Tic Tac Toe

  • Ten large rocks
  • One 12×12″ square board (or cardboard, or lawn paint)
  • Craft paint, or permanent markers 

Draw or paint X’s on 5 of the rocks, and O’s on the other 5. Then draw or paint your tic-tac-toe grid on your board, and play! Tic-tac-toe is easy to scale up in size. If you’ve got some wood cookies, you could use those for pieces and make a larger grid on your lawn. 

Giant Jenga

  • Six 8-foot long 2×4’s
  • Wood glue
  • ½ – ¾ inch plywood for the base
  • Sander & Sandpaper
  • Wood screws
  • Wood stain (optional)
  • Linseed oil (optional)

Jenga has 54 pieces, laid perpendicular to the layer below sets of 3. Since 2×4’s are actually 3 ½ inches wide, you’ll want to cut your 2×4’s into 10 ½ inch lengths.

You’ll want to sand your pieces well; the less friction you have, the better they’ll slide out of the stack. It can also be helpful to slightly round the corners and edges of each block, so they’re less likely to catch. 

If you’d like some visual variation, you can stain some of the blocks in different colors. Wiping each block down with a coat of linseed oil will also help them be a little smoother and help prevent slivers.

Jenga is most stable on a flat surface. If you don’t have a level patio, there are a variety of ways to make a base to play on. You can simply cut a 12×12″ piece of plywood to lay on the ground. Or, you could construct a large box or crate out of plywood that can double as a storage container for the Jenga pieces. 

Bottle Ring Toss

  • Nine or twelve bottles (wine bottles are perfect)
  • Rings (we’ll list a few ways to make some)
  • Twine, yarn, rope
  • Box
  • Spray paint (Optional)

If you’ve got a collection of wine bottles sitting around, turn them into a game! Find a box that they’ll fit nicely inside. A small crate, or a case from wine, or any other medium box will do. If the box has high sides, cut it down so that the edges are level with the top of the bottle labels. 

If you’ve got some spray paint around, you can also paint the bottles for some extra fun! 

How to Make Rings: There are a few different ways to DIY rings. One way is to wrap old embroidery hoops with twine or rope. You can also craft your rings from deconstructed wire coat hangers. Alternatively, you can carefully cut some rings out of stiff cardboard with a craft knife.

Lawn Bowling

  • Five or ten soda bottles
  • Ball (Soccer ball, basketball, or any ball that will roll well and knock the pins down)
  • Paint (optional)

If you’re feeling artsy, remove the labels from your bottles, wash and dry them, then add a layer of gravel, sand, or dirt to weigh them down. You want them to be heavy enough that the wind won’t blow them over, but light enough that they’ll fall pretty easy when a ball hits them. Screw the lids back on tight, and if desired, give them a coat of spray paint or paint fun designs on them with craft paint. 

If you’re going to play on the grass in your backyard, you may want to mow a strip of lawn extra short so that the ball will roll well. You can also play this game in the garage or the driveway!


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While those of us who need to stay home as much as possible, it’s still good to get some fresh air. If you’re stuck at home, spend a little extra time out on your patio or in your yard—now is the perfect chance to focus on some quality time with your family.

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Landscape Design Trends: Man-Made Stone? Pros and Cons

Man made stone natural stone rock design backyard landscape designer Iowa Des Moines style exterior patio

Landscaping with the purpose of changing the aesthetic and function of your backyard space is likely to involve stone at some point in the process. Stone is a material that continues to remain at the center of modern landscaping and outdoor lifestyle design, and for good reason.

When it comes to crafting new ideas for your backyard living space, natural stone is an attractive choice: it makes for an elegant statement piece and is completely durable. However, some logistical obstacles like weight, cost, and style have inspired innovation in manufactured alternatives that duplicate the benefits of natural stone, without some of the difficulties.

Man-made stone has grown out of its early development stages and is now a realistic option for homeowners looking to upgrade their outdoor spaces with less hassle and difficulty. Here’s an overview of how things stack up between natural and manufactured options.

“Write your sad times in sand, write your great times in stone.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Manufactured and Natural Stone Overview: 

There are many natural and man-made stone products to choose from.  The growth of landscaping across the country has increased the quality of stone products across the board, so there are a ton to choose from.  

Manufactured stone is usually a mix of concrete blended with aggregates and iron oxide pigments, and cast in models that are shaped from real stone. From most sides it has similar shape, color and texture of real stone, while the backside reveals its cast shape. There are many sizes, textures, and colors to choose from. Typically the ‘natural’ quality of the manufactured stone is proportional to the price.  The newly introduced premium looking products cost a little more than the ‘concrete’ blocks of the past.  

Natural stone is also found in a variety of colors and textures, but the availability can often vary depending on what part of the country you live in.  Located in the Mid-West, we can usually source about any size and color of natural stone. Our most common natural stone installations are patios, stairways, and retaining walls.

Choice and Customization: 

Natural stone is uncustomizable. While undeniably gorgeous, the actual selection of color and style is limited to what is currently available.

Cast stone allows your landscaping dreams to be limitless. There are new styles and colors on the market all the time, not to mention fewer logistical issues, such as availability and transport. Working with a landscape designer will help you to take full advantage of all of the newest and trendiest options available to realize any number of modern styles in your own backyard.

Case Study: See photographs of one of our landscape design projects, that uses manufactured stone in a dramatic and sweeping home entryway.

Weight:

Manufactured stone is usually easier to work with and comes in a large variety of thicknesses to accommodate many installation requirements. If needed, we can use a lighter weight manufactured stone that won’t stress the foundation of your landscaping project like some natural stones might. This is most useful when installing patio stone on top of existing concrete. Depending on the situation, we may be able to install a thin stone right on top of your existing, ‘outdated’ concrete. This is a big time saver, and a big upgrade to the look of your patio or covered porch area.

The weight of natural stone is typically much heavier than manufactured stone and usually requires heavier machinery to install. Depending on the access to your project site, manufactured stone may be the easier route.

Installation:

The installation methods can be very similar for both natural and man-made stone. Real and manufactured stone should both be installed by professionals. While each has their own unique challenges in weight and maneuvering, utilizing the skills of a professional is worth the investment.  By hiring a professional, you will make sure your outdoor living space is everything you want it to be, and that it stays perfect for many years.

Cost:

The price of manufactured stone installed is usually less than the cost of natural stone installed. This is not a clear cut rule however, as there are many options available. When looking at patio options, for example, many premium man-made stones cost just as much as natural stone. When working with a designer, ask for information on a few different types of material, so you know the different options and price points.

Durability:

While natural stone tends to be more durable, manufactured stone is closing the gap quickly. With improved production methods and materials, questions about the lifespan of cast stone are becoming an afterthought. You may still get what you pay for, with cheaper cast stone being less durable or fading in color, but well-manufactured stone from a reliable source has the potential to be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

Examples of Man-Made Stone used in Ted Lare, Landscape Designs 

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Which one should you choose?:

There are a lot of stone options to choose from when looking at a new project. Often it just depends on the look and feel you want for your space, while considering the overall price of the project. Typically, natural stone is going to give you a more timeless look, using materials that will never go out of style. Limestone pathways for example have been installed for hundreds of years, and continue to look great. Man-made stone gives you the option to replicate the timeless look of natural limestone or bluestone. However, it also gives you the option to break away from the mold, and do something different and new.

If you need help, get in touch with our design office and we can pair you up with one of our talented designers. We offer a great selection of both natural and man-made stone and have some personal favorites we can show you as well.

Case Study: See photographs of natural stone, used in one of our landscape design projects to create organically shaped pathways

Examples of Natural Stone used in Ted Lare, Landscape Designs 

Case Study: Wondering how they look in combination with each other? See one of our design projects that harmoniously uses a mix of both natural, and manufactured stone

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Landscape Design Trends: Seat Walls & Columns

columns patio stone design rock retaining wall seating campfire backyard pool

Seating is about inviting people to feel at home and relaxed, and this trend is all about making it easier to relax outdoors.

While extra chairs can eat up space and distract from the aesthetic of your outdoor space, a seating wall incorporates comfort and entertainment into your backyard. Often seating walls provide overflow seating for larger backyard gatherings, in addition to furniture.

“Smart people that like good health spend several hours outdoors daily in the shade of trees.“
– Steven Magee

Retaining Walls, Upgraded:

Retaining walls are an important structural “cornerstone” to landscape design. In the process of landscaping your space, a change of grade or natural slope can be elegantly contained with a visually pleasing barrier. Retaining walls are elegant solutions to practical layout problems in your yard.

A seating wall upgrades the utilitarian retaining wall to do even more. Not only functional and beautiful, people can sit on it comfortably as well. Suddenly, late nights spent with family and friends outdoors gets an intuitive upgrade. Hosting a larger gathering becomes easier, and nobody has to worry about finding a place to sit with this subtle design solution. Your retaining wall now has a stylish and practical purpose, and you’ll find your backyard will quickly become the go-to place for gatherings.

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How-To:

When you’re looking to build a seating wall, the first thing to focus on is comfort. You’ll want the wall to be easily accessible, so your wall should be a comfortable height and have a wide capstone. With a wall that is about 18” high and a cap at least 12” wide and stable, the rest of the wall is flexible to whatever you imagine!

Construction methods vary depending on the material chosen. Some seating walls may require a concrete footing to frost depth, while others may only require a compacted gravel base of nine inches.

Freestanding and Functional:

Seating walls aren’t restricted to retaining walls, and can have so many practical functions paired with stunning aesthetic. Circular seating walls can invite people inside to enjoy a roaring fire, or invite people to picnic on flat capstones.

Dressing Up the Design:

The beauty of these seating walls is that they don’t need to be purely functional and can be dressed up with containers of flowers, or dressed down with timber or stonework. Whatever your choice of design, elegant stone wall features are a classic way to add depth and shape to the landscape of your yard, introducing practical ways to enjoy your outdoor space more.

Peruse our portfolio of landscape design projects, organized by category and design material, and start envisioning your new backyard escape

Stone Columns:

Stone columns can be both beautiful and structural, depending on how they are incorporated into the design. Often, stone columns are used to add one more level of detail in a pergola, or covered patio design, by wrapping the timber pos in stone. The use of stone upgrades the overall ‘look and feel’ of the space, and compliments the other stone elements of the design such as a patio or fireplace.Stone columns can also be used as stand-alone elements in the landscape, used to frame a view or just add an interesting vertical element in the design. Whether you’re thinking about installing a seating wall for your home, or looking into adding columns into your yard for visual interest, our landscape designers can advise you on the best practical and creative solutions for your yard. Get in touch with our design office, and start talking through design ideas and options for your backyard escape.