It’s all about creating a peaceful area, a place to relax after a hard day’s work, says Mark Nagy from Knepp Sand & Stone Inc. in New Paris, while describing modern hardscape designs. These designs are increasing in popularity as homeowners decide to preserve their savings accounts and have “staycations,” enjoying the benefits of their own personal, park-like setting at home instead of spending money traveling.
“As you consider developing your hardscape area,” adds Nagy, “design, separate and control the flow of activity within your hardscape by the water features, seating, entertaining and eating areas and landscape options you choose.”
Many varieties of natural stone products are available on the market today to add color variety and dimension to hardscape designs. “The irregular shapes of stackable stone can create an earthy, natural looking way to separate areas of a hardscape,” says Nagy. “To continue the natural stone look throughout your hardscape, consider using natural stone pavers. An increasingly popular choice among our customers is the blue stone paver. We import the stone from the East Coast.”
This unusual paver can come tumbled looking with smooth tumbled edges or in a natural cleft look that offers a smoother, glossier surface. The blue stone pavers come in variations of true blue color or variegated with streaks of grays and browns. It is commonly used around pool areas.
According to Bobby Harwood, hardscape manager for Rose Brick in South Bend, larger scale pavers are the common flooring choice for outdoor living areas. “More streamlined, simple designs are common. For example, the larger 12-by-12 foot or even up to 24-by-24 foot pavers offer a less busy look than the smaller 4-by-8 brick pavers,” he says.
Cordell Woodiwiss, products manager for Kuert Outdoor Living in Goshen, says his company is capitalizing on the growing outdoor living trend among homeowners. “Outdoor kitchens are the biggest trend,” he says. “And, our grill sales have skyrocketed.”
However, Woodiwiss says it’s not only the beautifully designed outdoor kitchens, with integrated cooking and grilling systems, that have captured the interest of homeowners, but also elaborate fire features, which enhance contemporary outdoor living design.
“It’s not just a fireplace or a fire pit, but actually a fire feature, specifically created for décor value,” he adds. Woodiwiss describes a recent hardscape that featured a 6-foot-long wall solely designed as a fire feature, complete with a glass top and perpetual flame from built-in gas lines.
Concrete is often the material of choice for outdoor living areas from flooring to countertops. With so many choices in applications, including a broad color palette and a variety of styles and textures, concrete can be a versatile option for blending an outdoor living area with your home’s exterior and landscaping.
“It is easy to coordinate because of the range of colors we can offer,” says Kevin Bontrager, co-owner of Bontrager Concrete Specialties in Nappanee. “There are two ways to color concrete. Color can be integrated within the concrete or a color hardener can be used, which by far offers the broadest color choices, and can be applied to the surface. With this technique, we can virtually match any customer’s color request.”
Decorative concrete provides a unique look to hardscapes, adds Bontrager. And with different effects — from distressed, handscraped looks for a rustic flair to a more polished marble finish for a contemporary style — you can match almost any home’s exterior.
Hardscapes should not only be an extension of the home but a complement to your landscaping as well. “Vertical elements are critical within your hardscape for aesthetic appeal. Add height and variety with pergolas and walls. Think of stylish ways to blend greenery with your hardscape,” suggests Harwood. Planter boxes can be built into a seating wall. You can have comfortable seating and an herb or flower garden cascading behind you as you sit enjoying your outdoor fire pit area.
As you consider designing your outdoor area, take into account space and neighborhood association requirements for building an extensive hardscape application. The biggest factor when planning outdoor living space, advises Harwood, is the location of key components such as grills, fire pit areas and water features. Drainage is an important issue as well. Make sure water is not flowing toward your home and know where your septic, electrical and gas lines are.
Besides considering your lot plan and locations of critical electric and gas lines, soil type can also influence the building of your hardscape. “Soil conditions determine the type of fill or compaction material to use when laying the hardscape, and you should also verify the space you have in your lot and whether you will need to maneuver the sprinkling system or reroute lines. These issues impact the costs of your hardscape project. You should have all of this information ready when you are meeting with your contactor,” states Woodiwiss.
Mark Walker, director of business development for Kuert Supply Center in South Bend, recommends choosing your contractor carefully by reviewing past projects and references from previous customers. “Not all designers are the same. Some contractors are good builders but lack the vision for good design. It is crucial to share your ideas with trained professionals. You will spend many years enjoying your outdoor room. Design is everything. You want it done right the first time,” he says.
Bontrager Concrete Specialties
Knepp Sand & Stone Inc.
Kuert Outdoor Living
Kuert Supply Center