Given the state of the economy and our ever-increasing fascination with nature and fresh air, more and more Jersey Shore home owners are discovering the advantages of transforming their backyards or patios into outdoor living spaces. Entertaining at home is much less expensive and more relaxing than going out, and outside “rooms” increase useable living space, provide sensory stimulation, provide stress-free enjoyment, and serve as a multifunctional oasis for family and friends.

Before undertaking such a project, you should first decide on a location and then make a master plan, one that can be implemented in steps. Select a space that can be easily viewed from your home’s interior so that it will feel like an extension of your house. Easy access to the space from the house is also preferable.

The size and scope of an outdoor living space can vary greatly, ranging from a screened in porch to a large area featuring a spa or pool. Whatever the size, however, you will want to consider function, features, furniture, and flora.

FUNCTION: Most outdoor rooms begin as an extension of your kitchen and include some type of grill, space for food preparation, and often a small refrigerator or modular cabinetry.  Other defined areas may include a conversational grouping, a quiet secluded spot for reading or resting, or an area set aside for family activities such as badminton, croquet, or playing in the sandbox or on children’s equipment. Spas and pools generally define their own space.

FEATURES: The features you choose for the outside room of your Jersey Shore home will do much to enhance your enjoyment and use. Current favorites include pergolas, cabanas, gazebos, and arbors for shade; fire pits or fireplaces for warmth in chilly months; stationary benches or wall seats; and fish ponds, rain barrels, and fountains which reuse natural rainfall and provide soothing sounds to foster relaxation.

In terms of both practicality and appearance, lighting is another important feature. Not only will it allow use of your outdoor space at night, it will also increase the aesthetics of the area. Low-voltage up-lighting (lights in or on the ground) and down-lighting (lights mounted in trees) are each effective in highlighting areas of interest. The use of LED lights or spotlights is becoming quite popular, as is specialty lighting such as Chinese lanterns, strings of themed lights, and underwater lighting.

FURNITURE: Basic furniture pieces usually include a table and chairs for dining and extra chairs for seating. Chaises, umbrellas tables, and side tables are also of value, and separate spaces are sometimes defined by the addition of outdoor rugs and carpets, now available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors–all weather-resistant!  In addition, a new generation of outdoor fabrics has arrived, providing many style choices for outdoor decorating. The non-fade, weather resistant materials are quite durable and easy to clean with just soap and water.

FLORA: The use of low-maintenance and native vegetation will do much to add to the beauty to your outdoor space. In-ground or container plants can be used to define different spaces, bridge the space between your house and the outside room, invite birds and butterflies to your yard, and provide shade, color, and fragrance. Water plants are also becoming popular and are virtually maintenance-free.

As you create your outdoor paradise, keep in mind that not only are you investing in many years if enjoyment; you are also increasing the resale value of your Jersey Shore home.