Splendor in the Grass: Four Outdoor-Space Trends

California landscape designer Pamela Berstler shares four trends for innovative outdoor spaces.


Private bathing areas are the next trend in outdoor spas.

1. The Spa Retreat

One of the fastest growing design trends is integrating a private bathing experience into the garden, whether it’s a beautiful cedar Japanese soaking tub or a small outdoor shower. One easy way to create a more intimate feeling is to situate a spa within a garden setting instead of placing it in the more traditional public space adjacent to the swimming pool. For those on a modest budget, place a freestanding claw-foot bathtub in a private area near a bedroom and run hot/cold water to the faucet for a unique and romantic bathing experience.

Two technological advances have contributed to the wider acceptance of these private outdoor bathing areas. First, above-ground spas have come a very long way, both aesthetically and functionally. Second, radiant floor heating—once used only indoors or to thaw driveways in freeze zones—has contributed to the growth of this trend. In radiant floor heating, hot water runs through tubes embedded in the concrete of the floor, making walking on the floor substantially more enjoyable, even on a chilly evening.

Wooden Outdoor Kitchen

Wooden Outdoor Kitchen

A wooden structure frames this outdoor kitchen with stainless steel appliances, white sink, tile floor, and table and chairs. Hanging lanterns provide additional light.

2. The Outdoor Kitchen

Just as the kitchen inside the home provides the central gathering place for families and friends, the outdoor kitchen has become the heart of the garden. Appliances and finishes that used to be available only for interior applications have been perfected to stand up to the elements, so people are building significantly more elaborate and useful outdoor kitchen areas. Cooking outside actually becomes part of the entertainment, with rotisserie grills, outdoor taps and pizza ovens taking center stage.

Outdoor Living Area

Outdoor Living Area

This outdoor patio living room is a great place to entertain, with a chair, two sofas, and tables in front of an outdoor fireplace.

3. The Well-Lit, Cushy Outdoor RoomThe concept of outdoor rooms has expanded far beyond the backyard picnic table under an oak tree thanks to two big technological changes: the development of low-voltage lighting systems and weather-resistant fabrics.

Outdoor fabrics also have changed dramatically beyond the stiff canvas available only a few short years ago. Advances in solution-dyed acrylics have resulted in fabrics that are soft, durable and weather- and fade-resistant. Thus, the plushness of interior living comes outside with the possibility of draperies, floor coverings, cushy furniture and luxurious throw pillows.

Poolside Outdoor Room

Poolside Outdoor Room

The swimming pool reflects the beautiful blue sky and the recessed lighting of the outdoor room with cream colored furniture and walls which complement the patio stones.

Low-voltage lighting systems enable the use of the outdoor space during the times most people have available for the outdoors--weeknights when they come home from work and during weekend evenings with friends and family. Low-voltage systems can light an entire garden space with as little energy as that required to illuminate a kitchen with a few can lights. Now there are even table lamps and chandeliers available for outdoor use.



The amount of water and maintenance required by native lawns is low, but the benefits in color, texture and fauna are high.

4. The Native Yard

Possibly the most profound design trend we’ve encountered across the country is a movement toward a more relaxed style of gardening that requires less water. As this trend has taken hold, promoted in large part by home improvement centers that offer more diverse plant materials, grass lawns are starting to go out of style. Whether it’s a recapturing of the front yard, in which a perennial bed takes over some space previously devoted to lawn, or the introduction of hardscape in the backyard for a dining room where grass used to struggle under a huge ash tree, the thirsty, resource-dependent turf lawn is being replaced.

Ten years ago when designers talked about using native plant material in gardens, the image that appeared in everyone’s head was a mangy, ugly garden. Now many natives have been tamed just enough to thrive in cultivated spaces, and using those plants in our garden benefits the entire neighborhood by using fewer resources to remain beautiful.

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