Bring these two elements together to create your dream escape.
A soft summer breeze. A crackling open fire. A trickling fountain alongside an inviting pool. Your family, friends and maybe some cool drinks. Sound perfect?
Though fire and water might not appear to be the perfect pair at first blush, they make for a complementary combo in our backyards. Whether you want to warm up or cool off, fire and water features are popular for a reason.
Not sure which is right for you? Read on …
Gathering together around an open fire is undeniably magical. That age-old comfort might even be part of human DNA. One thing is for sure—most people want to recreate that effect over and over again, no matter the season. Enter: the fire pit.
“Firepits are our most popular fire feature,” notes Randell Spackman of Thornbury Services. “They’re small scale, low cost compared to fireplaces and ovens, and they have all the perks most people want.”
Some of the perks? Warmth, glowing light and a moving focal point. “Anytime you add motion, it keeps the viewer engaged,” says Spackman. Added bonus: you can even make ‘smores!
Many prefer fire pits of the permanent variety, built into the ground in an ideal location. You can go elaborate with beautiful stone finishes and protective screens overtop or opt for a simpler, campfire-style pit. It all comes down to personal preference and budget.
As Spackman cautions, different types have different requirements for fuel—wood, propane, natural gas, gel fuel—and maintenance, more factors for your decision-making process. See sidebar.
And don’t discount portable fire pits as a first step. You’ll have the freedom of taking your gathering wherever you want—backyard, beach, shore house. Plus you can choose from a wide variety of finishes—cooper, stainless steel and cast iron—to add interesting color and texture.
As the fire pit’s bigger, more substantial cousin, a fireplace is an impressive backdrop for a backyard gathering space. Much like your indoor fireplace, the outdoor version becomes a key communal point of warmth and interest, attracting everyone to the glow of the fire. And it makes the outdoors feel that much cozier and homey.
One of the great things about a bigger, more contained open fire is its versatility. Not only can you gather round in both warmer and cooler months—but fireplaces can also be designed for cooking! Dutchies Stone Works specializes in building outdoor ovens, perfect for brick oven style pizza or fresh baked bread.
Convinced? Now it’s time to customize the project to fit your needs. With fireplaces, the scope of the project is larger and harder to redo than a fire pit if your needs change, so you’ll want to think carefully about size, placement and style. Local builders like Dutchies will work with you, offering their experience to help you determine what works best for materials, location and fuel options.
Sometimes the summer weather is just too steamy to make hanging out around a fire seem enticing. On those days it makes more sense to dive into a cool body of water while soaking in the sun. Consider a pool as the center of your backyard oasis.
And there are so many design options. Dominic DiCesare of Blue Haven Pools specializes in custom pool creations—from small pools he calls “spools” to larger projects that incorporate extras like hot tubs, grottos, waterfalls and more. “Your vision combined with your budget will determine the best fit for you,” says DiCesare.
He advises clients to think about the many features available and choose ones they know they will actually use—and then do it right.
“Many times we renovate an existing design that didn’t get made properly or wasn’t being used to the fullest,” he says. “Your best bet is to spend your money wisely, go to a reputable business that specializes in what you’re looking for, and be honest with yourself.” That includes knowing what’s important and how much effort you’re willing to put into maintenance.
As for the style of pool, the choice is yours—from free-from to geometric and everything in between. According to DiCesare, most yards are a blank canvas and can accommodate whichever design you prefer, so long as the design is compatible with your neighborhood’s codes and regulations.
Anything else you may want to add—fire features, fountains, lighting, mosaics and more—are just finishing touches!
Ponds, Streams, Water Gardens
In contrast to a structured pool, more nature-inspired options like ponds, streams, water gardens and waterfalls add a touch of serenity to an outdoor living space. If you want to feel like you’re stepping into an enchanted escape without having to leave home, water features are one way to do that.
But not everything about having a water garden or stream is pure enchantment. Balancing the ecosystems in these natural features can be tricky. If you do it wrong, you can end up with an over supply of mosquitos and a shortage of tranquility.
The key is to avoid algae buildup. Rooted plants will help absorb nutrients that algae would otherwise feed on, while fish will help with bug control. Floating leaf plants are also great for keeping the sun’s rays out, the temperature down, and the algae at bay.
Local water feature experts like Flowing Spring Landscape Design take these factors into consideration in their design process, assessing the size of the project, specific species of plants and fish introduced, location on the property and more.
Luckily a well-designed and balanced ecosystem tends to sustain itself with minimal help from you. Then you can spend that extra time meditating or practicing yoga poses instead!
Whether you choose fire, water or both for your escape, the addition of these elements will give you even more reason to enjoy the outdoors—this summer and many more to come.
What Fuel to Feed Your Fire?
Wood or gas? Propane or gel? There’s no universal right answer. But there may be an answer that’s right for you.
Wood. You’ll get that traditional feel of authenticity and rustic style, complete with crackling sounds and the unmistakable aroma we associate with an open fire—something other types can’t provide. And the cost of wood is generally inexpensive. Where you will pay is in maintenance—cleaning ashes and removing buildup regularly. Worth it?
Gas. These types burn much cleaner, give off little to no smoke, are much easier to light, and require nearly no maintenance. And you get all the beauty and warmth of wood without the hassle. But natural gas can be expensive, including installing the pipeline, which may not be possible in all backyards.
Propane. Convenient and easy to use, propane can be aesthetically designed with faux wood, rock pebbles or glass. However, you’ll have to purchase the propane regularly, and it can run out quickly when entertaining.
Gel. This type might not be as well known—mainly due to the gel logs and fuel being difficult to find in stores—but it burns nice and clean without scent or smoke and is very versatile. Just be prepared to buy your fuel online.
Build a room outdoors for the perfect getaway
Think about the current state of your backyard. Does it make you want to take the day off and relax in your own personal getaway? Or does it leave you feeling like something is missing? Kind of meh?
An outdoor space that functions as an inviting extension of your home rather than a separate, unused part of your property is what many local landscape designers seek to create. Imagine a space tailored to your needs—small and private or big and open, you decide—one that you’ll want to use year round. Interested? Keep reading …
What’s the Purpose?
Like designing any room in your home, for an outdoor room, you’ll need to think about its intended purpose. This is the first question Randall Spackman at Thornbury Services asks his clients. “Many people think about what looks good versus what will be most useful to them, but it really should be the other way around,” says Spackman,
Start with the key questions—the size of your space and budget, whether you have kids or pets, if you’re more interested in entertaining than relaxing, and if you’ll be using the space year-round.
“We can customize everything based on our clients’ lifestyle and needs,” says Spackman. “From small touches like using stone for kids to draw on with chalk, to creating a grown-up dining area complete with a kitchen and your very own pizza oven, if that’s what you want—and will use!”
When in doubt, he recommends leaving room to expand in the future. “Your needs and tastes may change,” he says, “And it’s much easier to add on than take away.”
Comforts of Inside
Once you decide your room’s purpose, it’s time to start designing! Making the outdoors feel roomier can be accomplished several ways. At Gordon Eadie Landscape and Design, some of the most popular features include outdoor fireplaces and kitchens that can be enjoyed any time.
Fireplaces and pits are great because they provide heat in the colder months and a gathering place in the warmer ones—plus the perfect place for roasting marshmallows safely year-round. With an outdoor kitchen, you not only take the heat out of the house, but also the cook! If you know you love cooking, this is one feature you won’t want to skimp on.
The only limit is your budget—with options for your outdoor kitchen including a stove, grill, mini fridge, wood-burning oven, sink, bar, storage and more.
Build A Wall
You wouldn’t have a room without some type of walls. Having a boundary defining the space between your outdoor room and your lawn creates a comfortable feeling. And walls can be a great help for keeping track of kids and pets outdoors.
Stone walls, like the ones P.S. Davis Stone Masonry specialize in, are a very practical option for enclosing the patio area, plus they double as built-in seating. P.S. Davis also combines stairs, pillars and paved walkways to function as entries and hallways from space to outdoor space.
You can go the traditional route and build a deck with railings and a canopy (ask about low-maintenance materials that prevent mold), allowing for a nice breeze to keep things cool while still defining the space.
Or opt for something a bit more open, like a popular pergola. Typically made of wood, these crosshatched structures both close the space off while leaving parts open to the sunlight and surrounding landscape views.
Then There Was Light
Lighting might not be the first thing you think about, but if you’d like to enjoy your outdoor spaces at night, it’s essential. Luckily, landscape designers don’t forget about this necessity and many come up with interesting ways to incorporate outdoor lighting into their plans.
Jeremy Martin at Willow Gates Landscaping has plenty of ideas about how to get creative with lighting. “In addition to being a necessity, we use lighting mainly to create atmosphere and ambiance,” he says.
Some fun ways to do that? Build lighting into seating walls, highlight unusual architectural details, make a lantern pathway connecting parts of the design, or even create shadow effects with uniquely shaped flowers, bushes and trees.
To save on energy, everything is LED now, and according to Martin, all their bulbs are warm-toned, eliminating that harsh blue light. “If you put the new LED bulbs next to an incandescent bulb, you can’t tell the difference,” he promises. You will, though, notice the difference on your electric bill!
Bring Nature to You
Your backyard oasis wouldn’t be complete without what makes the outdoors the outdoors—nature. Trees, shrubs, flowers, gardens, ponds, streams and more … Use these features to add color, contrast and beauty to your space.
At Shackleford Landscape Group, Kevin Shackleford uses a variety of greenery to enclose his clients’ outdoor rooms in a lush setting. “We like to add flower beds around a patio’s edges for extra color and a sense of seclusion,” he says. He recommends flowers like day lilies for summer through to fall, and shrubs like holly and other evergreens for interest throughout the year.
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance option, perennials and flowering bulbs are your best bet. “Perennials come up every year,” Shackleford explains, “and you only have to plant bulbs once a year.” He warns to stay away from things like ornamental grass as it needs trimming every year. “But it gives great privacy and really creates that beach effect,” he notes. “So if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s worth it.”
Another way to include a bit of nature in your space is through water features. Pezzotti Brothers Landscaping & Tree Service builds all types of tranquility-inspiring designs from waterfalls and fountains, to ponds and water gardens. Typically a pond or water garden with its own mini ecosystem—with fish and water plants rather than chemicals like chlorine—is less maintenance because nature regulates and cares for itself. Plus they’re much more eye-catching and interesting!
Now that you’re armed with ideas to create your escape, it’s time to start making that dream a reality this summer!
610-793-2933 • ThornburyServices.com
Gordon Eadie Landscape and Design
610-933-4410 • GordonEadie.com
P. S. Davis Stone Masonry
610-827-2225 • StoneWork.org
Willow Gates Landscaping
717-341-0540 • WillowGatesLandscaping.com
Shackleford Landscape Group
484-447-9127 • SLGLandscaping.com
Pezzotti Brothers Landscaping
610-647-1028 • PezzottiBros.com
The weather couldn’t be better. It’s the perfect time to enjoy a summer day—or night—outside with family and friends.
So, is your outdoor living space ready for making the most of the season? We turned to local landscaping and hardscaping experts for advice on what makes a functional, comfortable and beautiful outdoor oasis. From small additions—like quality furniture and pest-repelling plants—to larger undertakings—think pools, kitchens, fire pits—the possibilities are amazing!
Comfort is Key
First things first—your guests need a place to relax. Luckily there’s no shortage of creative options, from outdoor sofas and benches to rocking chairs and swings. The question is, what’s right for you?
Most likely, you want low-maintenance and durability with comfort and style—meaning you want everything. Do you go with classic wood, sturdy metal, cozy wicker or weatherproof plastic? Alegacy Furniture of Pottstown may have a solution with Amish-made recycled poly furniture that combines the look of wood with the stability of metal and comfort of wicker, all with zero-maintenance.
Another option is to design your patio with built-in seating. A low stone wall creates a rustic barrier and doubles as extra seats. Or design your wooden deck with built-in benches, which can provide storage, too.
For the sunniest days, don’t fiddle with moody umbrellas when you need shade. Standing structures like pavilions and gazeboes are the way to go. If you still want some sun, Thornbury Services in West Chester has you covered—partially—with shade pergolas that allow sunlight to shine through while still offering protection.
The goal with decks, patios and pergolas is to create a vacation setting without packing a suitcase. We like the sound of that!
Eat, Drink and ... Watch TV?
Everyone loves grilling outside, but what if you had even more cooking options? Outdoor kitchens are wildly popular, especially when they come complete with all the works—grill, fridge, sink and storage. Dutchie’s Stone Works, located in Paradise, even builds cooking spaces with wood-burning ovens for homemade pizza fans. And the features don’t stop there. Add heating racks, rotisseries, prep stations and whatever is needed to satisfy the chef’s dream.
Another way to make summer parties easier for the hosts and more fun for guests is to add an outdoor bar to your patio, deck or pool. Mix and serve cocktails, beer and wine without having to take the party—or cleanup—inside. Win-win!
For those who enjoy nature but can’t cut the cord, consider outdoor electronics—yes, you read right. Able to withstand water, humidity and high-heat, these miracle speakers and TVs are designed to operate safely in the great outdoors. Perfect for enjoying your favorite tunes and the big game alfresco.
Fire & Water
Love the warmth and magic of a roaring fire? Don’t we all? Building fire pits and fireplaces of all shapes and sizes, keeps CKC Landscaping of West Chester busy. Whether you go with gas-powered or wood burning, a fire feature makes the perfect focal point for communal meals, drinks and chats. And you can enjoy it year-round! Fire and snow work, too.
Your backyard getaway wouldn’t be complete without a refreshing pool to dive into. But you don’t want what looks like a giant bucket of water in your yard. If you dream of an aquatic playground that blends into the landscape, KS Greenday of Langhorne has designs that do just that, plus they’re energy-efficient. What’s not to love?
If you want something even more naturalistic, there are plenty of enchanting water options. Specializing in ponds, waterfalls, streams and water gardens, Malvern’s Flowing Springs Landscape Design’s decorative structures add charm and visual interest to your property. Just be sure to place still water features far from lounge areas to keep the bugs at bay.
Plants, Pests and Privacy
Speaking of pesky bugs … Some plants have the added benefit of repelling unwanted six-legged visitors. Planting citronella grass has the same effect as lighting the candles, and pots of lavender placed around seating provide both bug protection and a calming, fragrant atmosphere.
Taking care of flower gardens can be backbreaking work, but we promise it’s so worth it. The captivating colors and sensational scents delight guests and as a bonus, attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Luckily our area is home to many family-run nurseries—Mostardi Nursery, R-P Nurseries and Wolff’s Apple House Garden Center—with quality plants and expert advice. You’ll also find unique flowerpots and garden accessories to satisfy any exterior decorating urges.
If you want a bit of privacy, use bushes and shrubs to create a living fence by staggering plantings and mixing multiple heights. Try these evergreen privacy plants—Arborvitae, Leyland Cypress, Cryptomeria, White Pines and Concolor Firs—best used as the foundation of your plant barrier. This creates more intimate parties and less annoyed neighbors—although you’ll still want to turn down the music when it gets late!
Many landscapers are fans of night illumination to create a garden glow and light a path for guests to follow. Use LED lights for soft shadows while attracting far fewer mosquitoes than incandescent lighting.
Once you’re done designing, it’s time to sit back, invite people over and enjoy the summer months!