Thursday, July 1, 2010

Creating an Outdoor Oasis

On budgets of $500, $5,000 or $30,000, you can make an outdoor space that becomes your own summer refuge or year-round retreat.

By Stephanie Boyle Mays

This project, done by Artisan Outdoor Living, brought together a pool, a rocked fire pit, a cabana and an outdoor kitchen.
This project, done by Artisan Outdoor Living, brought together a pool, a rocked fire pit, a cabana and an outdoor kitchen.
A waterfall highlights a backyard renovation.
A waterfall highlights a backyard renovation.
A garden reading room is a great spot to get out of the sun and relax with a good book.
A garden reading room is a great spot to get out of the sun and relax with a good book.
Old second-hand chairs re-painted make interesting stands in a backyard.
Old second-hand chairs re-painted make interesting stands in a backyard.
The before of an Artisan Outdoor Living project.
The before of an Artisan Outdoor Living project.
The after of an Artisan Outdoor Living project, with lighting creating a perfect space for entertaining.
The after of an Artisan Outdoor Living project, with lighting creating a perfect space for entertaining.

As the days lengthen and the temperatures warm, there’s nothing nicer than getting home and kicking back in your outdoor room. Whether you have $500, $5,000 or $30,000, you can create a summertime oasis in your backyard.

“Soil preparation is a must and plants can run $15 for each perennial and $40 to $50 for a tree,” says Laura Crockett, of Garden Diva based in Hillsboro. With a budget of $500, Crockett would focus on a new piece of garden art and a complementary plant composition to set it off . Drew Snodgrass, a residential landscape designer with Portland-based Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping Garden Centers offers an alternative with the company’s Planscaper program. Clients fill out the Planscaper kit, draw a schematic showing major dimensions and features of the existing yard and take a few photographs. Armed with the resulting information, designers at 7 Dees will create a custom garden plan with a list of suggested plants. Rather than charging a design fee, the clients’ money is put toward the purchase of materials. “It works for us because clients bring us all the information,” explains Snodgrass, “and it works for them because they get one hundred percent value for their money in plants or planting materials.”

Beyond this direct route you can take a budget-expanding approach based on creativity and the materials at hand. This tactic was embraced by Toni Lay Low in Redmond, who repurposes found items with imagination. A classic example is a vine-covered pergola in the center of her garden beneath which sits an iron bed. Covered with a quilt and decorated with pillows, the bed provides a respite from the summer heat and a perfect spot in which to read a book or take a nap. The structure was made from 8-foot-long peeled poles and is covered with an extraordinarily lush silver lace vine and a clematis. Low spent about $20 on the double-size bed at a garage sale and maybe a couple of hundred bucks more on plants and lumber. Built on a whim, she had no idea how successful her idea would be. Now her chief regret is that she and her husband did not build the structure out of more substantial lumber. “We’ve had to reinforce with a lot of poles,” she explains. The idea is suited to any backyard. In a smaller area, for example, a similar structure could be built to accommodate a garden bench.

Taking a step up in the budget to $5,000 allows you to also add a small gravel patio, a set of furniture and a barbecue grill. You might also get a portable firepit. Snodgrass observes that many clients may spend this budget on a combination of new plants and renovation work. Whether the yard is established or is a bare plot with new construction, he advises clients to get a firm handle on their budget. Kevin Schaffer of Artisan Outdoor Living, an Oregon firm that specializes in outdoor spaces, agrees with Snodgrass. Two wildcards are materials and labor, and both can quickly escalate a project’s costs. “You can get a great outdoor space and then have no money for furniture,” says Schaffer, who has clients across the West. Hiring masons and electrical and mechanical contractors will drive costs up as will a lack of accessibility. “If you can’t access an area with equipment, and you have to use hand labor, it chews up a lot of money,” he explains.

Increasing your budget to $30,000, however, lets you make some major improvements. Steve and Vicki Tagmyer of Tualatin had ambitions for their backyard that are common among many home owners: easy accessibility from the house, privacy and usable space.

Before the project, their home had a back deck that was difficult to access and was also on the same level as the neighbor’s outdoor space. It had all the appeal of an inconvenient fish bowl according to Vicki. The Tagmyers consulted with Crockett who helped them come up with a plan and find a contractor. Crockett also designed an outdoor water feature and helped with the selection of landscape and plant materials. Steve knocked out the dining room’s picture window overlooking the backyard and replaced it with a sliding glass door and new deck.

Off the deck, the Tagmyers added a blue stone patio with plantings and a water feature. The new space also has a barbecue area. The Tagmyers marvel how the project has expanded their usable outdoor space and the frequency with which they now dine and relax al fresco. While Steve kept costs down by doing some of the work himself, a project of this magnitude will cost $30,000. Yet as Steve notes, “Paying for someone else’s expertise can save a lot of money and gets you access to knowledge and materials.”

Beyond the $30,000 range, outdoor design and landscaping professionals create a wish list of the features that clients most want to see and then let them choose based on need, underlying structure and budget. “Many of my clients have very high standards,” says Schaffer. “It's not enough to promise the moon and the stars, we have to deliver them on time and beyond their expectations.”

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