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Home Improvement Guide 2007
Start improving
Ideas and suggestions for your next project, from simple plans to designing extensive renovations.
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Creating a 21st century patio
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Kitchen design
Today, homeowners are deciding to create an "exterior kitchen" for their homes. Built-in grills, refrigerators and beverage tappers are growing in popularity. The 30-inch high, specially-built outdoor refrigerators are small units that are completely stainless steel. They fit under the 30- to 36-inch countertops and are unplugged in the winter. Beverage tappers are used to cool beer, wine and even iced tea.

Homeowners don't want to stand alone over a stove inside, when they can cook with friends and family together outside on a nice summer day. According to Gorski, an outdoor kitchen can be created in as small a space as a 10-foot by 10-foot patio. This allows the homeowner to also place a 48-inch table with four chairs on the patio. Homeowners considering installing an outdoor kitchen should know that it can cost $10,000 to $15,000.

Some homeowners want a roof over the patio such as an arbor pergola. This free-standing roof has four posts or columns and a roof that is open to the sky. People installing a pergola may have vines climbing over it. 

Fire and water features
"Fire and water are two elements that attract our senses," Gorski says. "Sharing a warm, toasty fire with friends on a crisp evening or reading a favorite book while listening to the trickle of water from a serenity pool are elements frequently wanted in outdoor space." A fireplace or fire pit allows families to use their outdoor living area much earlier or later in the season. A small pond or bubbler has a soothing effect and can even attract wildlife. Beautiful songbirds will simply stop and take a drink.

There are multiple ways to put in a small pond. Most homeowners want it built right into the patio -- cutting out the area before placing down the actual patio floor. Some submerged ponds have an upper basin with water that trickles down to the lower basin.

Many manufacturers offer stone products that look like urns spilling water. They can be placed on the patio and bubble over or trickle down onto a gravel basin, which has a pump assembly underneath. Urns can be as small as 30-inches by 30-inches.

The bubbler, providing small visual and sound effects, just trickles over the stone and runs down. It requires less maintenance than a pond, which needs chemicals to stay clear. For people on a budget, a bubbler is priced from $150 to $300, while a small pond purchased and installed could cost $5,000.

Landscape plantings
Plants are chosen to provide screening from neighboring areas, add shade to escape from afternoon sun, bring color and fragrance to the living area and, in general, create a "living room" feel. Evergreens provide privacy and a continuum of green. Shade trees can help create a canopy to make the homeowner feel secure and sheltered. Selecting multiple flowering plants and perennials can contribute to a full season of color and fragrance, and even add winter interest.

One of the most effective ways to personalize your outdoor room is to add planters or urns. In Europe, planters add personal touches of color and fragrance to balconies, window boxes, terraces and entry ways. A planter placed in a highly visible location on your patio can be planted with bulbs for the spring, annuals in the summer, filled with mums in the fall and holly branches in the winter.

Landscape lighting
An extremely effective way to extend the use of any outdoor area is by landscape lighting. By providing soft, indirect lighting, the outdoor space can become more inviting, less intimidating and safer in the evening hours. Low-voltage systems can be installed at focal points like walks, steps or trees to bathe an area with soft light.

It seems that in the 21st Century, the options available for making your patio to make an enjoyable "extra room" are almost endless. 

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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