By Joe Raboine

 

If you’re curious about 2018’s trends for outdoor living spaces, you probably need to look no farther than Waco, Texas.

The once sleepy town is now the country’s de facto design capital, thanks to a little TV show called “Fixer Upper.” (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?) Chip and Joanna Gaines, the show’s stars, have transformed wood beams and white shiplap into the new American dream.

That dream extends easily beyond interior walls, and outside to hardscaping. With its emphasis on clean lines with rustic finishes, the “Fixer Upper” aesthetic can translate to elements such as driveways, fire pits and outdoor kitchens.

Although the show’s stars announced that the fifth season would be their last, the “Fixer Upper” style juggernaut shows no signs of slowing. As you consider products and design ideas for 2018, consider homeowners’ preferences for modern looks accented by traditional touches. In the commercial world, meanwhile, clean lines are even more dominant.

No matter what budgets or timelines await you this year, there are plenty of ways to incorporate modern tastes into hardscaping designs. Whether you’re planning a full outdoor revamp, or just installing a new element or two, selecting the right product can make all the difference for both residential and commercial projects. (No need to call in Chip and Joanna for backup.)

 

The versatility of retaining walls

A retaining wall is a great place to start. The feature is endlessly versatile, can create a renewed sense of privacy, and seamlessly ties in to a home’s own look. As more people try to bring the modern-yet-classic look of their homes’ interiors into yards and driveways, the wall can be a powerful tool. Sometimes, owners think that these are just functional walls that can be used for columns, but it’s easy for a good contractor to get creative. A homeowner might elect to face decks and stoops, for example, or face foundation walls. The right product can offer the chance to create a cohesive look for an entire outdoor space; and with so many face styles and textures available, it’s easy to get that rustic aesthetic owners seek. For example, a more traditionally styled wall can offer balance for an otherwise streamlined, minimalist environment.

 

A true “open-concept” kitchen

Another way to bring the indoors outside is through an outdoor kitchen. Once a feature that was typically added to outdoor spaces after initial buildouts, these kitchens are now commonly considered early in the design process. Interest shows no sign of waning in 2018. The “open-concept” interior layouts glorified on HGTV are more popular than ever, and perhaps there is no truer incarnation of an open-concept kitchen than one that is literally outside.

These kitchens again offer the chance to meld classic with modern – sleek and stainless steel appliances might offset a stone-faced wall, for example, while the hardy look of a grill could be softened by porcelain pavers. For owners who already have outdoor kitchens, there’s growing interest in adding upscale items such as name-brand grills and smokers. Whether you’re designing for an all-new space or working through a renovation, it’s important to broach these topics early with owners in order to plan for ideal layout and function.

 

Always a hot trend

That guideline is especially important when it comes to fire pits. Fire-based elements evoke everyone’s dreams of rustic domesticity (not to mention cozy ideas for entertaining), but they require plenty of planning. Like outdoor kitchens, they too are on the rise for 2018 – three quarters of the projects Belgard sees now involve a fire pit in some manner or another. In the past, they were primarily round, wood-burning fire pits, but lately there’s been a trend toward more linear versions.

Meanwhile, gas units are emerging as the pits du jour, which makes life easier for both homeowners and contractors. With a gas pit, there are no worries about smoke and sparks, so more municipalities allow them. And, while a wood-burning unit must typically stand at least 25 feet away from other structures, a gas unit can be placed almost anywhere. There’s extra appeal in places like California, where laws about fire elements are stringent. Still, sellers should educate themselves about all available options. Because wood generates a lot more heat, a liner usually has to be used so that heat doesn’t deteriorate the block.

 

Pavers to fit the customer’s interests and needs

While cleaner lines and contemporary looks dominate the indoor space, some homeowners are still more comfortable with traditional, stone-based looks outside. If they’re open to exploring fresh options (but just one step at a time), porcelain pavers can be a good transitional product. And for owners interested in being environmentally conscious, permeable pavement offers some important advantages. In areas where droughts are pervasive, for example, there is growing interest in how these pavers can capture storm water. And even if customers aren’t as invested in being eco-friendly, permeable pavers are terrific options for anyone’s pool because of how they make water easier to drain.

 

Sleek, streamlined commercial spaces

Commercially, there’s still a tendency to keep spaces as sleek and streamlined as possible. Perhaps the result of workplace cultures where fast, trendy and digital are core values, the modular aesthetic looks to continue its dominance in 2018. Unlike homeowners, who often seek stone-like textures around outdoor spaces, commercial customers select more contemporary faces. But they too are showing signs of change in some areas. For example, some are starting to mix colors in order to create more geometric patterns, adding touches of personality to otherwise uniform spaces.

 

Contractor-influenced trends

But what are contractors themselves interested in for 2018? Because of the labor crunch, there’s much more interest in efficiency and value. For example, contractors working with Belgard have shown huge enthusiasm for dry mudset and thin overlay pavers, which allow contractors to go into a space with just concrete and overlay that. There are some instances where concrete can’t be gone over due to factors such as height and condition, but if you can go over the existing concrete, it can be done in less time and with less money. Belgard is expanding its selection of thin overlay veneers to meet demand. In some areas, meanwhile, it’s incredibly expensive to rip out and dispose of existing concrete. By overlaying, contractors can save homeowners money and get the whole job done in just a couple days (with minimal mess involved). So, it’s no surprise that homeowners are taking to this renovation method as well. Additionally, many owners are seeking hardscape providers that offer 3D rendering or virtual reality services, which allow contractors to more clearly communicate their visions before work begins.

 

Best practices

No matter what kind of customer you’re working with, the best practice for 2018 (or any other year) is to tap into your own knowledge and experience to suggest what might be best for an individual space. Plenty of homeowners and commercial clients have grand ideas for what they want, but they still rely on contractor expertise to ensure a space will end up looking as they envision (not to mention remain in compliance with local laws).

Additionally, there are sometimes significant gaps in knowledge about cost. Renovating an entire outdoor area may prove too far outside a tight budget, but with the right education about products and installations, you can help make dreams a reality by gently guiding customers toward more appropriate features. Owners are typically receptive to the advice from contractors they feel they can trust, and you have the power to illustrate what’s best for a home, business or other space. Stay educated in current trends, but if you can help customers see the bigger picture, they’ll return to you through 2018 and beyond.

 

Joe Raboine is national design and training specialist with Belgard. In his current role, Raboine conceptualizes and implements backyard designs, concepts and renderings for homeowners throughout the country through the Belgard Design Studio, a resource to create customizable, 3D designs for Belgard Authorized Contractors and design professionals. He also oversees the design process behind trade show buildouts, conducts field training, and performs hands-on product demonstrations. Joe strives to promote the idea that outdoor living is not only a good investment for homeowners, but can also fundamentally change lives for the better by bringing people together.