We’ve all seen them: glorious outside spaces that are both inspiring and utilitarian, with plenty of options for cooking, gathering, and entertaining. They’re the spaces we dream about, that we see in magazines, and that we wish—and sometimes manage—to have in our own backyards. And whether your version includes a hardscape with waterfall features or a full-scale outdoor kitchen with built-in pizza oven, the only way to get there successfully is with help from the pros. Pros like DiPalantino Contractors.
DiPalantino Contractors has been installing hardscape design in Cape May County since 1997, so they know a thing or two about balancing design against the local landscape. They specialize in walkways, driveways, pool decks, retaining walls, planters, and outdoor kitchens and fireplaces—all the things that can take a yard from an adequate space to a backyard oasis. And while you may have a yard with plenty of potential, not everyone is versed in hardscapes, making it a tough DIY project. Here, we’ll review the tips, trends, and design elements that can help you achieve your own backyard (or side-yard, or front-yard) paradise.
The Furor Over Fire pits (and Other Outdoor Trends)
Back in the 80s, it seemed like everyone wanted a pool. Whether it was the proliferation of them in pop culture or the sudden accessibility, pools were the must-have item on the block. And while pools are still a hot commodity these days, the focus has shifted elements—from water to fire.
“The trends we are currently seeing are medium to large patios or pool decks with some sort of outdoor kitchen or fire feature, such as a fire table or fire pit,” says John Hickman, Sales Representative at DiPalantino Contractors.
Fire pits are so universally beloved that you can buy versions of them everywhere from Home Depot to Target. And while those impermanent structures can certainly do the job—whether it’s roasting marshmallows or cozying up with a glass of wine—incorporating fire pits, or any element, into a hardscape is a different process entirely.
“All of our designs involve hardscaping. It’s our bread and butter and creates the foundation for an outdoor living space. The hardscaping always comes first, and we build around that,” says Hickman. “Configuring a kitchen or a fire table to accommodate the seating area and making them blend in is a fun part of the process that takes more than one person to solve. You want it to be beautiful, but practical.”
So, while gathering a bunch of patio chairs around a fire pit can be plenty of fun, it’s hardly the epitome of a stunning and user-friendly yard—the process for that takes quite a bit of planning.
Planning Your Oasis
When it comes to an exterior design, planning is the name of the game. Because when you’re dealing with something as heavy and costly as hardscape materials, you really want to get it right the first time. And in addition to creating a design that makes you never want to leave your home, there are some logistical hardscaping details that can’t be overlooked, including the permitting required from different townships.
“There are many rules and regulations involved when it comes to hardscaping,” says Hickman. “Impervious-to-pervious lot coverage is a very big deal on the islands, so fitting all of a customer’s wants and needs into a limited space is usually our biggest hurdle.”
Plans should also accommodate any multi-use spaces required for your yard. If you just need a simple pool deck, that’s one thing, but if you’re pairing the pool with an exterior multi-seat bar or an outside living room, transitions need to be accounted for.
“We start with the biggest space we can and incorporate all the client’s wants and needs,” says Hickman. “Figuring out what works where is a fun part of the process because it’s almost like making a map.”
Furthermore, a home’s exterior doesn’t exist in a silo. Just like interior design, the flow, style, and aesthetic are important to exterior design, and needs to complement a home. While a stately Victorian can handle an English garden, a beachy bungalow lends itself more to a naturalistic design. There’s nothing more disorienting than a portion of your home—or your yard—being completely different than the rest.
“Always take the colors of your surroundings into account,” says Hickman. “This includes the siding of the house, the trim on the windows, and the view beyond the backyard. The key is making everything flow and complement each other. [You] don’t want the backyard to end up looking generic and without life.”
More Than Just a Pretty Space
When we think of paradise, it’s not just beautiful—it’s easy. Things are designed in such a way that they fit your lifestyle. Music lovers have great speakers. Nature lovers are surrounded by plants. Sports fans have a huge television. So, making your backyard fit the function of your lifestyle is as important as making it pretty.
“[Balancing aesthetics with function] can be a tough one,” says Hickman. “Sometimes an idea on paper looks really cool and different but in terms of practicality, doesn’t serve much of a purpose. There is always a middle ground between aesthetically pleasing and practicality. Everything installed should have a purpose. Finding the middle ground takes deliberation with the sales associate, project manager, crew leaders, and homeowners.”
And though an outdoor oasis is the end goal, be sure to consider your maintenance lifestyle. The tendency may be to think that materials like concrete, pavers, porcelain, travertine, and marble—all hardscaping options—are user-friendly, but everything requires care and upkeep.
“There really is no such thing as low maintenance,” says Hickman. “Everything requires some form of attention.”
One simple example is downspouts that run onto hardscapes. Even though we’re just talking about water, it can be corrosive over time. Hickman recommends running those downspouts underground to some sort of French drain. Additional preventative measures include properly pitching hardscaping to prevent sitting water—drainage is of utmost importance. And of course, covering outdoor appliances when they’re not in use goes a long way towards maintenance.
Keeping your backyard running smoothly may take a little bit of work, but it’s well worth it for an exterior space that’s both beautiful and full of personality. And while must-have elements are different for everyone, be sure to include the ones that best fit your lifestyle.
“Key factors to evolve a backyard would be fire features such as fire tables, fire pits, and tiki torches.” Says Hickman. “Other items would be outdoor lighting and audio. Outdoor lighting adds a nice finishing touch to landscaping and audio gives the client the keys to the party.”