A full outdoor kitchen with built-in sink and grill and a dining table against a brick wall.
An outdoor kitchen makes entertaining easy outside. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

Creating a backyard oasis that’s a desirable staycation destination is a growing priority for homeowners. With a focus on health and wellness, along with design to rival indoor living, what outdoor space features top the list? 

Outdoor kitchens 

One of the most sought-after backyard features is an outdoor kitchen. If space and budget allow, a fully functional, built-in kitchen adds undeniable wow factor to backyard bay. 

What do homeowners need to consider when planning an outdoor kitchen? 

Start by choosing “the type of grill or smoker you’ll be using. A gas grill will require a hook up to the gas line onsite. Often it is easy for contractors to provide a connection on the outside patio, which will determine the location of the cook center,” says Cate Singleton, director of design with landscape company Tilly.   

Next, make a wish list to help with space planning. 

“There are many features that can be included and will help to determine the size, such as grills, side burners, drop-in ice coolers for beverages, under-counter refrigerators, smokers and sinks,” says Singleton. 

Another popular addition in an outdoor kitchen is a bar, which provides additional seating or a ledge “for guests to place a cocktail while spending time with the chef,” says Singleton. 

If homeowners are short on space, or don’t want to commit to a full outdoor kitchen installation, portable kitchens are popular. Look for a cart on wheels with built-in prep space to transport ingredients from the indoor kitchen. 

Cocktail pools 

a small pool with a wooden deck and pergola are trending outdoor features
Both pergolas and small cocktail pools are trending. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

While a larger inground pool is often the anchor in an outdoor space, not every homeowner has the space or the desire to dedicate that much backyard real estate to a pool.  

Riffing off a pandemic favorite- lounging in the backyard in an inflatable pool, just deep enough for wading and relaxing, cocktail pools have seen a surge in interest recently. 

Cocktail pools are “just the right size,” says Rich Masterson, co-founder of Southwest Florida-based Cocktail Pools. 

Cocktail pools are essentially a smaller, shallower version of a larger inground pool. They take up less space in a backyard and have a flat bottom, which typically makes installation easier. 

Cocktail pools are particularly popular with new construction homeowners, given shrinking lot sizes. Choosing a smaller pool also leaves room for other outdoor features, such as a patio or a firepit. 

 According to Masterson, the most popular cocktail pool sizes are 7.5-feet-by-15-feet and 10-feet-by-20-feet, significantly smaller than the 16-feet-by-32-feet pool that had been a typical fixture in backyard design.  

“It’s all you need to splash around,” he says. 

In addition to being practical in a smaller yard, the cocktail pool design fulfills the trending aesthetic: simple luxury. 

Cocktail pools are typically a sleek rectangle with built-in stairs. This design style embraces the greater trend toward “clean lines, elegant and simple shapes,” says Masterson. 

Entertainment walls 

Outdoor living spaces are being designed to replicate those found indoors. 

Outdoor entertainment walls are trending, serving as both a focal point in the design, and as a one-stop entertainment hub that elevates the outdoor experience. The entertainment wall is typically a built-in feature on a deck or patio and often houses a T.V., a sound system and a fireplace, to add warmth on cooler evenings. 

When designing the wall, practical considerations should play a significant role, especially with electrical access to the wall, as well as protecting TV and audio equipment against the elements.  

There are outdoor-specific TVs that address light and glare exposure and offer water-resistant benefits. There are also enclosures to help protect against the elements you can use if mounting a regular TV. 

Popular finishes and decor for entertainment walls include stone, brick, wooden trim and vertical gardens.  

Covered porches and pergolas 

Structures that offer shade, as well as define space are trending, such as covered porches and pergolas.  

These features contribute to the overall outdoor aesthetic, and enhance curb appeal, in the case of covered porches.  

Singleton advises homeowners to look at a covered porch as an element of fusing an indoor/outdoor connection

“A covered patio is a great location for outdoor dining and lounging,” she says. 

In terms of design, Singleton says that homeowners should “first look at the current roofline to see if there is a way to tie a covered porch into the existing structure and allow for an extension of the indoor space.” 

Pergolas are also sleek, offer shade and serve as a striking focal point in the yard. 

“If a free-standing pergola in the landscape works better with the outdoor space, then taking setbacks into consideration is important  Many local municipalities will have a minimum distance from the property line for structures,” says Singleton.  

She also reminds homeowners to remember utility access and drainage easements when deciding on pergola placement.  

A focus on flooring 

Gone are the days of scattering patio stones or building a simple deck to create space to spend time outdoors. 

Decor choices are more intentional and work to support the visual continuity of the indoor/outdoor connection.  

A popular choice is to install the same flooring in indoor and outdoor living spaces, with durable, indoor /outdoor tile, wood-look flooring or even concrete. This, along with keeping furnishings and color palette similar helps to extend sightlines, blurring boundaries between inside and out. 

Natural materials are trending as biophilic design remains popular. 

Or, for a more dramatic style statement, use brightly patterned tiles instead of patio stones or decking, embracing the trend towards bold color throughout the home.  

Saunas and hydrotherapy 

a sauna with wooden bucket and window to outside.
A backyard sauna is a must for health and wellness. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

The backyard is the perfect place to create a spa-like experience to increase opportunity for health and wellness at home.  

Outdoor saunas are popular, relatively inexpensive and easy to install for the DIY-inclined. There are several DIY sauna kits available on the market, or you can even integrate a sauna as part of the overall backyard design, integrated with a pool area, or decking. 

Remember a sauna needs electrical, so tucking it into a remote corner of the yard may not be ideal.  

Another popular spa-like feature is a hydrotherapy cycle, where a hot tub (or spa) and a cold plunge pool are incorporated into the outdoor design. The health and wellness benefits of cold plunging are being promoted currently, including reducing inflammation, circulatory benefits, muscle recovery and more.  

The cold pool might be an inground, small plunge pool, suitable for one or two people, or for a more compact, less permanent option, choose a barrel or tank cold plunge pool, placed near the hot tub. 

Communities featured in this article

More articles like this