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  • 6 Hardscape Trends to Watch

    These companies, and others, expect continued growth this year in the high end residential landscape market and entertaining.

    A year that could have been one of the worst for landscape and hardscape professionals turned into one of the best, as they were declared essential businesses and found their work maintaining functional landscapes helped people stay safe and sane during the pandemic.

    In spring of 2020, when business is usually at its peak, design/build pros were receiving maybe 25 percent of their daily leads. On spring’s 70-degree days in Littleton, Colorado, Designs By Sundown typically gets 13 to 16 new leads a day. This April, they were down to three to four good leads a day, says Owner Mike Hommel. And Jeff Rossen, owner of Rossen Landscape in Great Falls, Virginia, usually had more larger projects booked by mid-April.

    However, the one bright spot for hardscapes in 2020 was that people across the U.S. were at home. Attractions were closed. Events were cancelled. Travel was severely limited. With vacation refunds in their pockets and no Caribbean beach to spend it on, Americans were staring out their windows at their backyards and dreaming. What improvements could they make by the pool? There’s that patio that needs renovating. And what about that refresh they wanted to do to the outdoor living area?

    As a result, hardscapes were still being planned, scheduled, and installed, as staycations became pandemic refuges. So, people could “get away” from everyday stressors — just not very far away. In fact, what started as a slow year turned into one of the best years in business for many design/build businesses. Rossen Landscape expected $5.6 million in revenue, up from $5 million in 2019, and ended 2020 with $7 million. August and September were the new peak sales months, and the company sold four pools in December alone — three more than they sold in all of 2019.

    K&D Landscape Management in Plainville, Illinois, planned for 8 to 10 percent growth, and ended up growing15 percent, says Owner Kevin Manning. “After about 30 to 45 days of what seemed like silent phones in the spring, it went crazy and we could barely keep up,” he explains.

    These companies, and others, expect continued growth this year in the highend residential landscape market. After a year like no other, what are they planning? Here are the top six trends for 2021 and beyond.

    Bridged Living & Work Spaces

    Stress reached a high point in 2020. An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 70 percent of people were experiencing stress as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Most adults (nine out of 10) answering a National Endowment for Financial Education survey said they were anxious about money in April. Worries ranged from concerns about job security to their ability to pay bills.

    Enter nature. University of Washington researchers touted that one didn’t need to escape to a remote location to obtain the mental and physical benefits nature provides. A backyard makeover will do. No wonder outdoor living spaces spiked. People are extending their indoor spaces into the outdoors in areas that can “double as both a functional space for working, relaxing, or leisure activities,” explains Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. For instance, retaining walls can also provide seating, and covered areas with gazebos or pergolas can serve as both spaces for entertaining as well as meditation or work, he says. These spaces also made family members’ visits with each other more comfortable to discourage virus spread amid the pandemic.

    And because people were limiting their indoor dining experiences, they were embracing home cooking again. Those outdoor kitchen dreams became reality with people vying to install spaces equipped with grills or smokers and even small fridges and cabinets for drinks, condiments, and storage. “People are enjoying cooking again, and they are eating healthier,” Hommel explains. “There’s an amplified comfort in this extended home environment.” And for people who don’t have a lot of outdoor space, they are taking those al fresco living and dining areas to the roof, Hommel adds.

    As he says, space limitations aren’t at all squelching homeowners’ desires for “outdoor refuges or escapes.”

    Easy Enhancements

    Larger, six-figure design/build plans may have been a bit slow to start or put on hold in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, but enhancement work was on the rise. Americans who were hesitant to spend too much money while the economy suffered were still comfortable enough to invest in improving their outdoor spaces in smaller ways.

    “Our large design/build work was down 10 to 15 percent, but enhancement work was up 25 percent,” Rossen said. Some of these enhancement projects included fixing up stone work or planning small landscape areas or cleaning up around pool areas. “They realized they’d be sitting at their home pools all summer so they might as well enjoy them,” Rossen says. “Instead of vacations, they are making their homes the resorts.”

    Modern & Contemporary

    Old world or farmhouse styles are out, and more modern, contemporary looks are in when it comes to hardscape colors and textures. This means instead of stone cut in natural shapes, customers prefer cleaner lines. Porcelain pavers create these modern visuals. They are a dense, strong form of ceramic that are low-maintenance and long-lasting.

    “These porcelain outdoor tiles are gorgeous,” Rossen says. “They take a while to cut because they are so dense and heavier than stone, but they also last much longer.”

    Fire & Water

    The two opposing elements of fire and water are still hot additions to landscapes. Think fire pits, fire places, water features, water fountains, pools, and everything in between.

    “There’s no better way to enhance the comfort, aesthetics, functionality and relaxation of your backyard,” Hommel says. “The features can be created in a cascading way where they can create privacy, bring soothing sounds, and even block out noise.”

    Another way to add heat to a space is via infrared outdoor heaters installed in ceilings of covered spaces to extend time outside, Rossen adds.

    Smartphone-Controlled Spaces

    The smartphone controls everything today, and hardscapes are not immune. From irrigation systems to lighting to fire pits, many things can be controlled from smartphones.

    In Denver where drought can impact landscapes, having that additional control of the irrigation system is what attracts customers to these remote control options.

    Lighting has been enhancing outdoor spaces for years, but today’s lighting trends involve bistro or café lighting in outdoor kitchens, as well as color changing options so homeowners can create lighting themes, Rossen shares. Think red and green for the holidays or red, white, and blue for Independence Day. And the changes can all be made with a couple of smartphone swipes.

    Virtual Design Consults

    The COVID-19 pandemic replaced some in-person meetings with virtual landscape design discussions.

    Hommel says approximately 50 percent of his clients were comfortable meeting in person with masks, while the other 50 percent embraced virtual meeting apps like Zoom to discuss their backyard plans.

    And since so many people were working from home, meetings happened more during normal business hours vs. on evenings or weekends, Manning adds, expecting that to continue while people maintain this working arrangement.

    With the nature of Americans being busy, virtual meetings may continue even after COVID-19 outbreak challenges subside. But Hommel says it depends on the client’s comfort level with the technology. “Typically, clients like to envision ideas together and click with the designer or sales person and read the excitement on their faces over ideas,” he says. “But millennials, who are more used to the technology, seem more comfortable experiencing those same things virtually.”

    As people were stuck at home this past year, they initially may have felt trapped. But then they started to cherish their time at home. “They realized that the less busy family time together was so important,” Hommel says. “And they started looking forward to better environments outdoors where they could spend their time grilling, sitting in Adirondack chairs around the fire pit, being thankful for good health and enjoying time together.”

    Sarah Finazzo with Tilly Design agrees. “While we hope to be traveling, eating out, and returning to our normal lives,” she says, “one silver lining from 2020 may be the appreciation for home, family, and a less scheduled life."

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    6 Hardscape Trends to Watch -bebbdd7f-46f7-480c-8e24-d63bbe0fad0e
    6 Hardscape Trends to Watch -bebbdd7f-46f7-480c-8e24-d63bbe0fad0e
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