No longer are backyards the place for an occasional cookout.
No longer are backyards the place for an occasional cookout. People are turning their outdoor spaces into year-round living rooms, complete with comfortable furnishings, fireplaces, speaker systems and even televisions. And with outdoor kitchens, you no longer have to resign yourself to the indoors while your guests sit out under the stars around a custom-built pool complete with a waterfall. Americans want their homes to be their paradise, and a well-landscaped and outfitted backyard is now a major part of that retreat. Backyard renovations aren't cheap, though. For the works, expect to pay six figures. Even a small landscaping project can cost tens of thousands of dollars. So we talked to the pros to find out what features are worth the money and to get their tips on what you should -- and shouldn't -- do when renovating your yard. And we searched the country for incredible yard makeovers in a range of prices. Check out these before and after shots to see how landscape architects and designers turned ordinary properties across the nation into paradises.
By Cameron Huddleston
Cost of Renovation: $350,000Landscape Company: HighGrove Partners, Austell, Ga.Before: There was a steep incline in the backyard of this new home, so the plot had to be raised by hauling in 250 cubic yards of soil. The landscapers basically had a blank slate with which to work, and the task was to create three terraces with a pool, outdoor living room and play area for the homeowners' children.
Cost of Renovation: $350,000Landscape Company: HighGrove Partners, Austell, Ga.After: This landscape design project won the Residential Design/Build GRAND Award from the Professional Landcare Network in 2005. A two-tier waterfall cascades into a custom-made pool, which is surrounded by a variety of plants, trees, boulders and a stone wall. The pool also features underwater speakers. At one end of the pool near the waterfall is a built-in stone fireplace and built-in grill. At the other end of the pool is a cabana with an outdoor kitchen and dining area, complete with a Subzero refrigerator, icemaker and microwave. HighGrove Partners also installed an irrigation system, lighting, turf and landscaping throughout the yard.
Overland Park, Kansas
Cost of Renovation: $35,000Landscape Company: Highland Outdoor, Olathe, Kan.Before: The challenge here was to incorporate a patio, water feature, landscaping, lighting and turf, while keeping privacy in mind. The landscapers also had to work in a small space and within a tight budget.
Overland Park, Kansas
Cost of Renovation: $35,000Landscape Company: Highland Outdoor, Olathe, Kan.After: Highland Outdoor created a cozy, comforting outdoor space with a water feature, seating area and lush landscaping in the backyard. Also, in the frontyard, the entire approach to the house was changed from a brick, gothic courtyard to a strolling pathway that makes the house, front stoop (which was changed from square to a half moon) more inviting. This home appreciated approximately $80,000 since it was bought five years ago, mostly due to curb appeal. In fact, the neighbors have all started taking better care of their lawns and landscape as a result of the work done on this property.
Cost of Renovation: $35,000Landscape Company: Root Design Company, Austin, Tex.Before: This backyard presented several challenges, includling heavy moisture, difficulty growing grass and drainage mitigation issues. Preserving a 100-year-old, moss-covered oak tree was a central focus. The landscapers created an Asian-inspired design for the property to reflect the homeowner's travels and interests.
Cost of Renovation: $35,000Landscape Company: Root Design Company, Austin, Tex.After: To alleviate the soil and drainage problems, Root Design Company replaced 6 inches of soil with sand then laid Korean grass sod, which allows the water to percolate quickly through the sand. This naturally mounding grass also thrives in shade, requires minimal water and little mowing (four times a year). The designers created a sub-tropical, Asian-inspired garden with rare specimen Japanese Maples, a variety of bamboo and palms. Design elements include a water basin with a rain chain, a recycled wood beam bench, a stylish split-wood stack, fossil stone pathways, a Frank Lloyd Wright sprite statue and a celadon urn as a feature focal point.
Los Angeles, California
Cost of Renovation: Not availableLandscape Company: Orange Street Studio, Los Angeles, Cal.Before: Located in The Westwood-Century City area of Los Angeles, this newly built house required a landscape design that matched its modern and minimalist style. The challenge for the designer was to create an outdoor space that reinforced and enhanced the sculptural qualities of the house.
Los Angeles, California
Cost of Renovation: Not availableLandscape Company: Orange Street Studio, Los Angeles, Cal.After: There is no lawn in this project -- only garden spaces, walkways and a 78-foot-long lap pool. The designer created built-in seating and Zen-like courtyards and used ornamental grasses extensivley. The entry garden steps up from the sidewalk into outdoor rooms defined by a natural green wall and a reflecting pool. Simple materials such as pebbles, stone paving, teak, water and planting are combined to create fluid connections between garden rooms and interior spaces. Adornment and ornament are minimal. A majority of the plants selected are drought tolerant and all portray their natural form.
Cost of Renovation: More than $100,000Landscape Company: Lambert Landscape Company, Dallas, Tex.Before: The homeowners asked landscape architect Paul Fields to design and construct a garden to reflect the contemporary Texas hill country architecture of this home by architect Frank Welch. The homeowners also wanted a true lap pool (20 yards), views of the golf course beyond, entertainment space for 50 to 100 people and parking for up to seven vehicles -- all within a small space. The home has no window coverings, and all rooms have views into the garden. They wanted the garden to look lush and inviting from every vantage point while screening the neighbors' homes, which are only 25 feet from either side of the residence.
Cost of Renovation: More than $100,000Landscape Company: Lambert Landscape Company, Dallas, Tex.After: The home has clean lines with subtle changes in materials, patterns and textures. Fields strived to reflect this in the garden by using native Texas cut limestone and brick salvaged from a warehouse in Austin, Tex., along with soft native plants. The native materials were complemented by a collection of sedum and architectural plantings of bamboo, equisetum and red yucca to help emphasize the lines of the home. The pool stretches the length of the patio and is complemented by a custom-made spa. The project won the Environmental Improvement GRAND Award from the Professional Landcare Network.
Cost of Renovation: $1.5 millionLandscape Company: Arentz Landscape Architects, Washington, D.C.Before: The renovation of this overgrown 2-acre garden began in 1995 as a clean-up project. The greatest challenge was to restore an existing swimming pool and connect it to a new screen porch and main body of the house. Phase one also involved removal of vegetation and recontouring of the lawn. A limited number of trees were removed to create a variety of open spaces and to allow enough light into the garden to sustain a reasonable lawn. A second phase began in 1999 with the addition of a garden conservatory and outdoor spa.
Cost of Renovation: $1.5 millionLandscape Company: Arentz Landscape Architects, Washington, D.C.After: The home, built in the California bungalow style, inspired a design of natural stone and large wooden timbers and informal, naturalized landscape plantings. To connect the pool with the new screen porch and house, the landscape architect built a seat wall and pergola, which helps create outdoor rooms and mimics the architecture of the house. The landscape architect also designed a fountain that acts as a focal point for the screen porch and entrance hall. For phase two, the designers created a conservatory, which completes the series of indoor and outdoor rooms linked by the pergola and extends the seasonal use of the garden. A spa garden was added just outside of the conservatory. The project won an American Society of Landscape Architecture award in 2000.