Many homeowners face a similar question: How to transform an outdoor space into an extension of their home, where they can enjoy the great outdoors in style and comfort, and also add to the home's resale value?
Luckily, outdoor designs have become more sophisticated in terms of products and plantings.
While porches, patios and decks are still the main "hardscape" elements of a backyard, "we have gone beyond azaleas," notes Nancy Somerville, chief executive of the American Society of Landscape Architects. "People want a beautifully landscaped space that doubles as an entertainment space," she adds.
Working with landscape architect Marc Funderburk, who helped them create the look they wanted, the Garahan family chose a large open patio area for entertaining, with a covered area fitted with a fireplace and a gas grill. Then they added a plasma screen TV, speakers and special lights. A separate patio space off the master bedroom suite includes an in-ground spa.
But outdoor spaces don't have to be that elaborate. What should you look for when designing the backyard?
Porch, patio or deck?
It depends on the site and grading, and whether you want to be elevated (on a deck) or at ground level (porch and patio), which would provide easier access from the house and perhaps more privacy if shaded by thick trees.
Consider native plants, recycled materials like granite and wood for the deck, and different types of "permeable pavement" that allow water to flow through, saving water and lowering your utility bill. This also enhances the home's green image when reselling. (Learn more about landscaping with low-maintenance lawns.)
Living big outdoors
Kitchens are popular items, complete with grills, counters and fridges, as well as fire pits and fireplaces, stereos, TVs and heaters. You can throw in a water element - a saltwater pool, fountain, waterfall or grotto - but remember that some buyers regard anything with water to be high maintenance.
Experts agree that a well-designed outdoor space can add to a home's curb appeal and enhance its value. That goes for porches, patios and decks: About 21 percent of prospective buyers want a deck in their new home, and more than one third want a patio or terrace, according to the National Association of Realtors. Overall, good landscaping can "raise the value of your home by 13 percent," says Somerville.
And in the meantime, you can enjoy the outdoor space in any season.
"It's beautiful," Barbara Garahan says of their updated yard. "It's a comfortable place to sit and eat and talk." And if the family ever decides to sell, "I'm sure people will look at it and say, this is great."