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Remodeling your patio

Improving Costs: Additions and improvements to porches or decks average $2,985, according to the latest figures from the Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Homeowners who did the job themselves spent an average of $1,714, while those who hired professionals spent $4,635.

Popularity as a remodel target: On average, 6 percent of homeowners annually add a patio or deck, while 5.5 percent improve existing ones, according to most recent figures from the National Association of Home Builders.

New trends: Homeowners are using the patio or deck "as an outside room," says Joanne C. Kostecky, board member with the American Nursery & Landscape Association.

Look for: High-end patio furniture; container planting, stone and concrete pavers; outdoor kitchens; fire pits; fireplaces, (both built-in and portable versions); outdoor heaters; water gardens; water features; large decorative foliage; ornamental grasses; tropical plants; native plants; perennials; bird feeders and baths, and natural materials -- like marble, stone and metals with an aged patina.

Popular: flowers in hot colors, especially red and citrus shades, and garden elements such as frogs or fairies, says Rebecca Kolls, master gardener and host of the nationally syndicated television series "Rebecca's Garden."

Also: pulling the patio away from the house and surrounding it with a garden, says Samuel L. Salsbury, APLD, board member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.


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Features to consider: How do you plan to use the patio? As a tranquil meditation area, a lively entertainment spot or both? How many people do you want to accommodate at once? What's the weather like? Would outdoor heating extend the use of the patio? What time of day will you use it, and do you need shade?

If the entryway to the house is off the ground, think about a multilevel patio, says Kostecky.

And don't be afraid to buck the trends. While pastel flowers may be deemed passé one season, they're stylish if you like them, says Kolls.

Remodeling suggestions and helpful hints: With an architectural feature, like a gazebo or fence, coordinate materials with the house, says Salsbury. Consider an irregular patio shape with jagged edges, and blur the borders with cascading plants.

Create gardens in pots with large containers or hanging baskets. "The bigger the better," says Kostecky. "And fill them really full in the spring, so they look good." Try a combination of perennials, annuals, ground cover or vines and something tall to add some structure.

Want a taste of the tropics in frigid climes? Put lemon or banana trees in large planters and move them to a sunny room for the colder months, says Kolls.

New products: Where the outdoors are more accessible year-round, like California and the Sun Belt, look for sophisticated outside kitchen systems, including grills, brick ovens, refrigeration units, wine storage coolers and even compact dishwashers. For decks, check out the new composite decking material as an alternative to pressure-treated lumber. It's advertised as long-lasting, easy to use, comes in colors, and it's not treated.

Special problems: The greater outdoors requires a larger sense of scale. "People tend to do things too small. They're thinking on the same scale as inside their house," says Kostecky. Instead, go much bigger.

Biggest mistake: Not making the patio itself large enough, says Linda Engstrom, APLD, president of the APLD.

People spend a lot of time and money investing in a fence, a deck or a pergola, and don't put the time and money to care for it afterward, experts say.

Professional or DIY: "It depends on whether you are looking for a designed space or just a place to sit outdoors," says Kostecky. "A designed space just gives you so much more ... It's more than just the materials."

Want to get your hands dirty and enjoy a more professional look? Invest in a plan by a design pro, then do most or all of the work yourself.

-- Updated: July 2, 2004


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