Outdoor Oasis

With the latest evolution of outdoor entertaining areas, your next favorite room could be the backyard

A cozy nook for a fireside glass of wine. A poolside cabana bar to watch the game. A scenic getaway where the kids can play while their parents relax.

The above may sound like a vacation resort, but increasingly, retreats like these are cropping up in Omaha backyards. Driven by a desire to get outside, affluent homeowners are creating outdoor entertainment oases where families can cook, eat, drink and relax.

“People like being outside and entertaining outside, because everyone is cooped up in an office all day long,” said Jason Decker of Elite Landscaping. “People enjoy doing a bit of yard work, getting fresh air or sitting around a fire pit with friends.”

The most upscale designs feature extensive landscapes with pools, natural-stone patios, fire features, waterfalls, a pool house and a self-sufficient kitchen as a centerpiece. In these kitchens, grilling is hardly a lonely activity with a hard-worn grill. “You have the outdoor kitchen with the grill, smoker, refrigerator, blender, a warming drawer,” said Darrin Loftus of Table Rock Company. “The accessories are unbelievable.”

Regardless of the amount of bells and whistles, these outdoor spaces seek to create a peaceful escape from the day-to-day grind. Outdoor living aficionados “want a place to go to, without having to get on a plane, to take their mind away from their current setting,” said Clayton Adams of landscaping company Carson Enterprises.

Homeowners across the nation are fueling the outdoor living boom. The landscaping and outdoor living sector has grown to a $60 billion a year industry, according to a Garden Media Group report. Fueled by social trends like barbecuing, camping and hosting lawn parties, North Americans now spend more on their backyards than they do on weddings or pets.

Omaha landscapers say the trend is growing in the Midwest. While fire pits and fireplaces have been fixtures in Omaha backyards for several years, the evolution of the outdoor entertainment area has taken such landscaping to a new level. Instead of adding on to an existing home, homeowners are looking to their backyards to create an alternative living space. “People are saying, ‘Why aren’t we living outdoors as long as we can?’” Loftus said.

Accordingly, local landscapers are taking outdoor living trends from Florida and Arizona and modifying them to suit Nebraska weather and tastes. New designs feature artful hardscaping, the use of hard materials to create surfaces like patios, sidewalks or retaining walls in a landscape. Poolscaping, the landscaping specific to a pool’s surrounds, is also an emphasis. Projects can vary from an outdoor hearth area to a fantasy-like garden refuge. “Your imagination and creativity are the cap,” Decker said.

When designing an outdoor living area, landscapers take into consideration the style of the existing home and the needs of the homeowners. By taking a peek at the home’s interior, Clayton Adams of Carson Enterprises gets a better feel for the homeowners’ tastes and style. His designs seek to take the flavor of the home and extend it outdoors. “We take your setting and build something completely custom,” he said.

Given Nebraska’s seasonal weather, homeowners are often drawn to fireplaces. “We do a lot of work for couples that want to go outside after work, have a glass of wine, sit by the fire and enjoy the sound of a waterfall in a peaceful, relaxing area,” Adams said.

Once expensive, natural stone has come down in price thanks to more cost-effective fabrication techniques, said Loftus of Table Rock Company. The rock offers textures and colors not found in manufactured stone. “Each piece of stone is uniquely different than the next,” Loftus said. “Each job is uniquely different. That’s what makes it really cool and beautiful.”

Natural stone also has the advantage of holding up to wear and tear. Stone that has survived in the ground for hundreds of years isn’t going to crack or erode, Adams said.

Moreover, natural stone plays well with Omahans’ affinity for more rustic, natural styles versus modern designs, Adams said. Using stone, landscapers can create outdoor kitchens, bars, cabanas, pool houses, hearth areas, spas, water features and more.

Adams uses natural stone sourced from Turkey to create seemingly native retaining walls and water features. “We want it to look like you built your house around what we did,” he said.

While the use of sustainable materials in outdoor living areas is not widespread in Omaha, their popularity is growing following trends on the coasts.

“We’re starting in Nebraska to see a movement toward permeable paving that allows rainwater and runoff and go back to the ground,” said Kevin Sellmeyer, landscape materials sales manager at Lumbermen’s. The company’s showroom and idea center can help homeowners navigate their options.

As homeowners are putting more dollars into landscaping, they are also investing in higher-quality grills and outdoor furniture. Outdoor Kitchen & Patio offer six lines of Canadian and American-made grills and 12 higher-end furniture brands. The products are backed by longer warranties than those typical of big box stores, said owner Dan Gould. Outdoor Kitchen & Patio staff can service and maintain existing grills, extending their lifespan.

In patio furniture, consumers are moving toward deep-seated cushions that mimic the look, comfort and feel of indoor furniture with outdoor durability. “It’s basically taking your living room outdoors,” Gould said.

Omaha landscapers say at the core, the movement toward outdoor living reflects families who want to spend quality time together. An outdoor space keeps the kids — or grandkids — close to home. Kids love hanging out with friends in a great backyard, and teens like chilling around a fire pit. It’s a place for families to bond.

“Instead of taking the kids to the movies on the weekend, they sit around the fire pit or cook dinner outside while the kids play in the pool,” Decker said.

Anecdotally, landscapers report that homes with outdoor living areas tend to offer resale advantages. “If you have an outdoor kitchen or outdoor entertainment area and you’re selling your home, compare it to the competition that doesn’t have it,” Loftus said. “If you’re a buyer, which one would you chose?”

But homeowners seeking to invest in an outdoor living area should think about themselves first. “Build it for you,” Loftus said. “Put your own touches on it. Enjoy your home; you’re not building it for someone else. Build it they way you cook, the way you live your life.”

Chances are, there are a lot more people out there who are itching to live the same way, he said. 

Jason Decker

Elite Landscaping

Clayton Adams

Carson Enterprises

Kevin Sellmyer


Darrin Loftus

Table Rock Company

Outdoor Kitchen & Patio


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