Spring has sprung and while snow still lingers on lawns, patios and backyards, thoughts are turning to the great outdoors -- around the home.
However, those thoughts of leaving in-house hibernation behind are edged with economic concerns as homeowners take a less lavish look at how to move indoor living outside.
Buzzwords are "low" and "less" as low-maintenance landscaping, low-frill entertaining, even less technology are common in outside home improvement plans homeowners will undertake this year, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
"Homeowners want to create a sense of place for their family, friends, and neighbors to enjoy outside, but an uncertain economy means many will dial back some of the extra features we've seen in past years," said Nancy Somerville, executive vice percent and CEO of ASLA.
From Jan. 25 to Feb. 12, when the ASLA surveyed 182 residential landscape architects about the popularity of various design elements for 2010 they found homeowners were avoiding more expensive, elaborate items in favor of more essential ones.
Given most outdoor living spaces are an extension of the kitchen, ASLA, not surprisingly, found the most popular kitchen features was an outdoor grill (94.4 percent) and counter space (73.5 percent).
More elaborate outdoor refrigerators (52.8 percent) and sinks (50 percent) were much less popular.
For entertainment purposes, instead of stereo systems (57.2 percent), wireless/Internet connectivity (44.1 percent), outdoor heaters (43.9 percent) and TVs (35.5 percent), there was much greater interest in more utilitarian seating/dining areas (95.6 percent), installed seating like benches and seat walls (90.6 percent) or weatherized outdoor furniture (77.1 percent). However, the fire pit/fireplace (94 percent) remained popular.
This year homeowners are also looking to go 'green' outside to save time and money on upkeep.
Popular landscaping elements include low-maintenance landscapes (94 percent); drip/water-efficient irrigation (85.2 percent); native/adapted drought tolerant plants (85.2 percent); and less sprawling lawn (73.9 percent).
Other popular features include fountains/water features (87.8 percent) and, taking a cue from the First Lady, Michelle Obama, food/vegetable gardens (78.5 percent).
Among the more expensive outdoor architectural features that remain popular were spas (hot tub, Jacuzzi, whirlpool, indoor/outdoor sauna; 79.1 percent); decks (83 percent), porches (76.4 percent) and swimming pools (72.4 percent).
Among the least popular items were sleeping spaces (5.6 percent); geothermal-heated pools (28.2 percent); outdoor cooling systems (36.5 percent); outdoor heaters (43.8 percent); solar-powered lights (49.4 percent); and sports/recreational spaces (tennis courts, bocce ball, etc.; 47 percent).