Ah, the backyard. Home to patios, gardens, and pools. Home to intimate nights with close friends, family barbecues, and coffee at daybreak. Sounds like heaven, right? Too often, though, the backyard becomes a dreaded beast—full of troublesome spots that only cultivate weeds, shabby patios that simply serve their purpose, or so little privacy that you’re better off inside. Unlike a front garden, the backyard is meant to be a sanctuary, a deliberately relaxing extension of your home. Fortunately, it’s simple to turn an abysmal backyard into a garden fit for kings with a bit of inspiration, a touch of professional design, and a whole lot of fun.
Imagine slipping out the back door and into your own private oasis. There’s no need to fight the crowds at the lake or community pool when you can dip your feet into your own crystal-clear pool. Owning a pool is an easily attainable luxury, and the enjoyment it brings is worth every penny. Even the construction process can be hassle-free, especially with the help of Prestige Pools.
Since 1981, Pat Henry and his dedicated staff at Prestige have been creating unforgettable pools for homeowners across the Metro. Prestige is willing to help with every step of the process from the initial design to the construction and maintenance of pools and deck areas. Henry notes that his staff “will do as much or as little of the entire job as you like…When it comes to the actual construction of the pool, we even have our own crew that does the building!”
Prestige Pools makes the design process simple and fun. Henry and his staff will visit the potential backyard and evaluate the possibilities. Henry encourages clients to imagine their dream pool and find pictures of similar ideas. He adds, “Do some diligent research. It’s worth it.” Henry incorporates the custom ideas of the client into a design that is both functional and unique, adding, “They’re the ones writing the check. I want them to like what they’re looking at.”
Pool maintenance does not have to be the daunting task that everyone makes it out to be. Henry notes, “They really aren’t that much work. A bit of time on a consistent basis goes a long way.” If your lifestyle is too busy to do the maintenance yourself—or if you would rather leave the maintenance up to the professionals—Prestige Pools even has a weekly maintenance service to keep pools in pristine condition. Henry adds, “People who use that service are pretty pleased. They can just open up their pool and use it right away.”
Pools can also be a great investment for a home, contrary to popular belief. Henry says, “If your home is valued at a couple hundred thousand dollars, you’ll get beat up. If you’re in the million-dollar range, it’s absolutely an asset. If you’re in between the two, and have some disposable income, it’s a form of entertainment.” Henry suggests that people with a higher disposable income consider pools to be the same investment as a snowmobile, a boat, or a camper. Though you may only be able to use the pool for five months, the experience and entertainment a pool provides makes a custom pool a worthy investment.
If you dream of relaxing in water all year round, consider the addition of an outdoor spa (commonly known as a hot tub). Premier Pool and Spa carries a line of spas specifically designed to function flawlessly through the Minnesota winters. Arctic Spas are above-ground spas made in Canada, and they can withstand even the coldest of temperatures. Pam Dionne, Marketer at Premier Pool and Spa, adds that efficiency in winter is key. “All our spas have ‘forever’ floors, meaning you don’t have to lay down a cement pad. Additionally, the spa covers are designed to not fill with water over time, making the spas very efficient.”
Dionne suggests that homeowners consider several factors when planning to add a spa. “The first thing we ask is why people want a spa. How many people will use it? Where do you want it? Are there any privacy concerns?” From there, the Premier Pool and Spa team will help clients decide if a therapeutic spa or swim spa is the best option and where it should be placed in the existing yard. These spa units are freestanding and self-contained, so they are easy to install within an existing yard design. Dionne adds that custom decking is also available in order to complete the space.
The cost of operating a spa year-round is surprisingly low. Dionne states, “In 20 degree weather, electricity costs about $20 a month to run. When it comes to chemicals, as long as you keep your tub balanced, you’ll be looking at an additional $100 per six months.” Premier Pool and Spa even offers classes for potential and current pool and spa owners in order to learn how to best maintain a clean, balanced pool.
An outdoor spa can be both therapeutic and a great place to entertain guests. Dionne says, “We are doing some great research with our spas and water therapy…just the heat itself makes your joints feel better. You’re able to move better than when you’re cold. That therapy is wonderful for athletes or people recovering from injuries, even people who are aging. For people who entertain, it’s a great way to sit down and relax with friends. It’s inexpensive, fun, and intimate. It’s a much nicer way to really get to know your friends.”
When considering the addition of a pool or spa, it’s important to remember that the same amount of time—if not more—will be spent around the water. Recent design trends include outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, and pergolas on the deck area. These elements make the outdoor area seem like an extension of the house instead of simply being what Pat Henry calls “a hole full of water.” Additional kitchen areas or fireplaces also allow homeowners to use the outdoor area during the fall and early spring, making the pool or spa area a habitable space for more than just the summer. Ben Kidd, owner of Stoneman Masonry, says, “We’re getting a lot more requests for outdoor living spaces. When we have a nice Minnesota summer, people really want to get out and enjoy it.”
Ben Kidd, owner of Stoneman Masonry, along with his business partner Dan Carriere, strive to create unique outdoor spaces that reflect their clients’ needs and styles. Inspired by an education in art and art history, Kidd turned his college landscaping job into a full-time career when he purchased Stoneman Masonry in 2006. Since then, Kidd and Carriere have been transforming ordinary backyards into relaxing and functional spaces, allowing homeowners to get the most out of their outdoor spaces.
One particularly popular concept for outdoor areas is the addition of an outdoor kitchen. New outdoor kitchens contain much more than a simple grill and some patio chairs, and they make pool-side suppers fun and fabulous. Kidd encourages people to be creative when planning an outdoor kitchen. Built-in grills, drawer warmers, outdoor sinks, refrigerators, extra storage, bar counters, and even granite counter tops make grilling out even more enjoyable. In addition to food preparation areas, outdoor fireplaces make areas cozy and warm during cool nights. The spaces are functional and unique, two things that Stoneman Masonry are known for. Kidd adds, “If someone wants something really creative and outside the box, that’s where we specialize…Anything that’s challenging or needs some problem-solving is what we specialize in.”
If the luxury of an outdoor kitchen or fireplace isn’t in your budget, there are other ways to make pool-side areas more comfortable and useful. A simple solution is to add a pergola. Kidd states, “A pergola, especially if it’s attached to the house, really makes the outdoor space feel like an extension of the house. It will give you a bit of shade while making you feel like you’re still in a structure.” Sitting walls also extend and frame the space while adding comfortable seating. Kidd notes, “The more features you have, the closer you get to having an area that’s for four seasons. We have a lot of creative ways to make it at least a three-season area. You can use the spaces in the early spring and late fall, extending the Minnesota summer a bit.”
Stoneman Masonry takes particular pride in a recent project where a client wanted them to create an Italian-inspired backyard. A raised stone patio, sitting walls, and a pergola offer areas for entertaining guests. Arches and water features give the area a Tuscan feel, and an outdoor fireplace makes the space warm and welcoming. Kidd says the cobblestones they used on the patio were replicated from a Holland street, evoking an “Old-World” feel. The client proudly calls her backyard the “Taste of Tuscany.”
Though homeowners may be daunted by the task of making their outdoor dreams become reality, Kidd and Carriere make the design process simple and efficient. An initial meeting allows them to determine what the client has in mind and see any inspiration that a client brings to the table. The second meeting then focuses on presenting the design and suggesting materials and budget. Kidd notes that typical project budgets start around $8,000 for masonry and hardscaping. “Keep in mind that masonry and hardscaping are an investment in a property, and it should cost a bit more.” Once the details are finalized and the timeline is established, Stoneman Masonry is ready to begin the project. Though the actual construction time varies according to the size and style of the project, clients find the process easy and enjoyable.
When it comes to choosing materials a patio area, Kidd stresses the importance of continuity. “We want to use materials that complement the house. Color choice is the most important thing when planning a patio.” Kidd also notes the importance of choosing the correct materials for immediately around a pool. “You want to choose something lighter in color because it will be easier on bare feet.” Also, pay particular attention to drainage, and use permeable materials like EcoGrout between stone joints. Paying attention to small details like these greatly improves the quality of the work and allows clients to enjoy their spaces for years to come.
Even with all the luxurious amenities new patio designs have to offer, the most beautiful and harmonious elements sometimes come from nature. Natural stone and lush green plants bring a bit of the “Great Outdoors” to your doorstep. Inspired by countless trips to the Boundary Waters, Jim Hansen, owner of Natural Landscape Minnesota, Inc., works with natural stone and other natural elements to create unique sculptures and water features for gardens. Hansen says, “To me, a garden is not a garden without other elements in it.”
Natural elements can add both practical and aesthetic dimensions to outdoor designs, particularly around pools. Hansen notes, “One issue with pools is that people love sun, but the sun is hard on your body. Add trees for shade, beauty, and integration.” Though falling leaves may require more pool maintenance, proper placement of trees can minimize the amount of leaves shed into the pool. Hansen also suggests that homeowners plan for other focal points (such as gardens, custom stone benches, artwork, and water features) around the pool in order to keep the area interesting during seasons when the pool isn’t in use. He adds, “A water feature is a great focal point; it’s beautiful and pretty even in winter. A pool is a focal point with function, but it isn’t attractive all year round.” A water feature also adds relaxing water sounds which “soften a pool and make it more comfortable during the times of year when the pool isn’t in use.”
An increasingly popular style of water feature is the pond-free water feature. This feature utilizes running water for relaxing sound effects and eye-catching movement while minimizing the draw of mosquitoes to any standing water. The water recirculates through the feature using a pump system, allowing the feature to efficiently reuse as much water as possible. A water feature’s efficiency makes it a great addition to a garden or pool-side area. Hansen adds, “Since the water itself will recirculate, you’re only going to see a minimal change to your water bill. The amount of water that you’ll use will be based on the size of the water feature, but more importantly, the exposure of the feature to sun and wind.”
In addition to being beautiful, water features have practical benefits, such as providing privacy and blocking noise. Hansen recalls a recent project in Inver Grove Heights where the homeowner lived on a corner lot of two busy streets. The noise of traffic and the lack of privacy prevented the backyard from being the relaxing and intimate space the homeowner desired. Hansen’s solution to the problem was to create a running water feature out of a 6,000 pound boulder. The water flows over 35 feet of rocks and small drops, causing the water to gurgle and flow. Hansen then added a traditional patio and a yoga patio which he connected with a small bridge. Hansen notes, “Each time the water drops or goes over the rocks, it creates a natural sound of water. Whenever you’re around on those patios, the sound of the running water drowns out the noise from the street.”
Hansen suggests that people begin their design plans by visiting the incredible public gardens around Minnesota. The Como Zoo, the rock garden at Lake Harriet, and the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum are great sources of inspiration. He encourages people to take notes and pictures of natural elements that they enjoy. “That’s how you end up with a garden that feels like your garden. It needs to reflect the individual’s personality. You need to do something that’s unique and special to you because that’s when you have a passion for it. If you put a bit of research into the project, you’ll end up with a more custom project that reflects you instead of the designer.”
Once homeowners have done a bit of inspirational research, Hansen suggests doing some research on landscaping companies to determine the quality of work that will be done. He cautions, “The landscaping business is something that’s very easy to get into, so we end up with a lot of people who shouldn’t really be in the business. The work I did when I began 35 years ago doesn’t compare to the quality of work I do today. Our business has six men who raise families and make a living by doing landscaping work. We’re professional and passionate.” This passion fosters unique, custom projects and a quality of work that speaks for itself.
Finally, Hansen encourages homeowners to get excited about the maintenance of their gardens. He says, “People tend to not maintain things because they don’t know what to do. Well, attempting to maintain things is better than ignoring things. Try to learn a bit about maintenance. It’s all experiment.” Taking ownership and pride in your outdoor spaces will keep them looking fresh and welcoming, ensuring that your private oasis will be your favorite summer destination for years to come.
All photos by Hubert Bonnet.