(ARA) - Backyards have always been places where families can get away without actually going away. Outdoor areas connect people with their favorite natural treasures while providing a place to relax. Whether it's adding an outdoor kitchen and replacing your old picnic table with a truly impressive dining set, or outfitting your patio with a desk space so you can bring your work outside, you can expand your living area by focusing on what's outside the home.
Realizing the value of spending time outside in a comfortable and attractive setting - and that money spent on an outdoor space can go even further as opposed to a new addition to your home - many homeowners are choosing to focus on improving their outdoor spaces.
According to a recent survey by HGTV and Casual Living magazine, 87 percent of the roughly 5,000 Americans interviewed said an outdoor room in their homes was "important or very important," and more than half had one. Derek Stearns, a craftsman with Derek & Dean, Inc. and co-host of DIY Network's "Indoors Out," believes this interest is as much sentimental as it is value-driven.
"An outdoor space is really all about relationships - it's about creating memories with your family and nature," Stearns says.
Stearns and Kerry Burt, a Dallas-based landscape architect and winner of HGTV's Landscapers' Challenge, offer a little inspiration to create your perfect outdoor retreat:
*Plan with a purpose
Before you determine the layout, consider how you will use the space to create memories. Do you like to cook and entertain friends? Are you seeking a private escape to spend more time with family? Or do you desire a backyard office space? Stearns recommends focusing on your wish list without budget constraints.
"Stress comes from thinking you have to edit your plans, so start with the top item on your wish list," Stearns says. "You can edit later within the budget."
Use this focus to establish a focal point - an organic garden or gorgeous view - and create a plan to design around it. To maintain the flow from indoors out, use natural materials for deck or patio space that complement the outdoors. Try durable woods, like Western Red Cedar, that instantly brings an exceptional aroma and beauty to outdoor living spaces.
*Add backyard flavor
Heat up your backyard retreat by adding a kitchen to create tasty family dinners outside, a popular request for Burt. Depending on the size of your space, a kitchen may include a variety of appliances and offer seating options ranging from vintage tables to sofas.
"With the economy people want to spend money on something they can use over and over, a purchase aside from a vacation," says Burt.
*Create privacy and shade
To create the most comfortable space on hot summer days, Burt recommends pergolas and arbors to provide shade. The structures will also create privacy for quiet conversations and can easily offer pops of color when decorated with bright flowers. As more homeowners are looking for low-maintenance products, build with natural materials that are easy to use and can stand the test of time. Materials like Western red cedar contain natural preservatives that resist moisture, decay and insect damage, and can save you money over time. You can instantly warm up the space with these materials by adding a stain for rich tones.
*Bring indoors out
Add the finishing touches to your outdoor retreat by truly bringing the indoors outside. Stearns recommends bringing indoor rugs outside and adding a clock in the kitchen to give the space a more intimate feel. For a simple touch, buy three different size pots in the same style and plant a mix of flowers in each.
"What's really hot right now is outdoor lighting - not just wrapping lights around trees - but hanging a chandelier over a dining table," suggests Stearns.
Social media sites like the Real Cedar Facebook page can be a great place to find ideas - and offer a chance to win prizes to stretch your resources. Finally, remember time spent in your outdoor space can leave a lasting impression.
"Having a well-maintained outdoor living space and garden shows confidence to potential buyers," explains Burt. "It shows the homeowners care."