Home outdoor space trends for 2020 have kids, pets and wildlife in mind

Home trends for 2020 include more open-air dining, bringing the kitchen outdoors with the dinner table (and kitchen) moved outside.|

This year, homeowners looking to redesign their outdoor spaces will be doing it with kids, pets and wildlife in mind. They also are interested in having functional front yards they can sit in and enjoy, plants that don’t guzzle water and quiet corners for chilling out.

Yardzen, a North Bay-based online landscape design platform, analyzed data from 12,000 design profiles completed on their website and cross-checked their findings with other sources such as the American Institute of Home Design Trends Survey and Architectural Digest, to determine the top trends for 2020.

Some of the findings? People want their own “Zen Dens” for quiet relaxation, “Playscapes” for the kids, “Petscapes” for pets, full-on furnishings for their outdoors to

rival anything inside and fire pits that give the feeling of camping in their own backyards.

They’re also favoring permeable hardscapes like decomposed granite and plantings that are both water efficient and provide habitat for birds and insects. They’re engaging in “conscious construction” that makes use of existing features to reduce waste.

The findings reflect a continuing shift toward landscapes that are more environmentally sustainable than the big sprinkler-fed lawns edged with showy border plants that were the norm for so many decades.


An “extraordinarily high number” of people who filled out online profiles on the Yardzen website are interested in having more natural landscapes, a trend Pinterest users are calling “re-wilding.”

“It’s a term that applies to taking the residential landscape and turning it back to a natural landscape with native plants and pollinator plants,” said Allison Messner, who co-founded the company with her husband, Adam. “There is this general sense that we all need to be doing something to get ourselves out of this predicament with climate change. This feels like something people can do.”

The Messners dreamed up the concept for an online landscape design service two years ago after the Tubb’s fire ripped through their weekend property in Knight’s Valley, torching their new landscape but fortunately bypassing the home.

The couple began researching design services to make a plan to replace what was lost. The cost of professional plans was daunting.

So they created a way to offer custom design services online, using professional landscape designers and architects around the country, 3D modeling software, satellite imagery, plant and data science and good old cellphones to bring down the cost to about $1,500 for a complete landscape plan.

They now have about 40 designers with degrees in landscape architecture who will draw up custom plans.

2020 trends

Now, at the dawn of a new decade, these are the top trends:

Conscious construction. Homeowners want to do their part to cut down on the 569 million tons of construction and demolition debris generated each year. Messner said 93% of respondents said they want to retain some existing elements in their yards, from decks and mature trees to fences, by working around them, moving them or re-purposing them. She pointed to a Marin couple who considered scrapping their old Jacuzzi for an in-ground hot tub but opted instead to enclose their old tub with a new wooden deck so it feels like an in-ground spa.

Re-wilding. Natural landscapes that incorporate plants and trees native or well-adapted to the climate are now going mainstream; 91% of survey takers said they want plants that draw bees and butterflies, and 76% want native or climate-adapted plants in their yards. These environmentally sensible landscapes tend to require less water and maintenance.

The new garden. Annual household spending on gardening increased from $400 to $503 in 2019, according to industry research analysts, a trend driven primarily by young adults aged 23-38, who comprise nearly a third of all gardening households.

“Gardening (today) looks a bit different than my own gardening when I was a kid,” Messner said. “A lot of people are asking for one or two raised beds. They want things like cocktail gardens, children’s gardens or herb gardens. They want gardens with a purpose. They want to be closer to their food and they want kids to be able to get their hands dirty in the backyard.”

Functional front yard. The new front yard is a place where homeowners can find a sense of community and connect with neighbors. No longer is the front space about curb appeal. It’s a place of utility. That means patios and spaces for pets and for kids to play. Messner said the new front patio harkens back to the front porch of the past, when people could relax and wave to or chat up their neighbors. People also want food gardens in front for neighborhood sharing, something that once was not only unheard of, but frowned upon as a blight on the street. Some folks are fencing their front yards to make them safe play spaces for kids and pets.

Water smart. Nearly 90% of people said they want yards that are water smart. That means plants that need little to no irrigation, plus good drainage and permeable surfaces.

Zen den. Homeowners want to carve out spaces that serve as a refuge from everyday pressures.

“They want to create a sanctuary in their backyards,” Messner said. “There is a growing body of research linking green spaces to health and wellness, and people fundamentally understand that being in nature makes the blood pressure come down and breathing deepen.” It could be something simple like a spot for a hammock or a quiet corner to relax in a chaise lounge with a book.

Prime real estate. People are seeing their outdoor spaces as an extension of the house, essentially adding square footage to the living area, but without walls or doors. That includes ever more elaborate outdoor kitchens and open-air dining (the most requested design element, according to Messner).

Inside out. The move toward softer color palettes that has overtaken interior design has moved outdoors as well. Earthier and more muted colors like slate lavender, tinted grays, greige (beige and gray), off white and muted greens are replacing the primary colors that were popular a few years ago. This is all in keeping with the back-to-nature trend. Other interior design trends are showing up outdoors, like statement pieces and accent walls, large plants, commanding light fixtures and built-in seating.

Playscapes. Close to half the people who filled out surveys wanted kid-friendly yards. But they didn’t want the traditional freestanding play structures. A lot of people don’t have the space or wind up giving them away when the kids outgrow them. Messner said for a family in Marin, Yardzen tucked a slide over a natural hill in the yard and created steps using stumps from a fallen tree. “It’s a creative use of space and also pleasing to the adult eye. Big play structures can be an eyesore.”

Backyard camping. People are still loving gathering around fire pits, contributing to the feeling of camping in their own backyards. More than half of the landscape designs created by Yardzen in 2019 included a fire pit.

Get your gravel on. Gravel and rock surfaces are back in a big way. It’s a natural material but requires no water - like plants do - and will allow rainwater to be absorbed back into the ground, replenishing water tables and preventing flooding. Decomposed granite is the top choice.

Petscapes. With 89% of millennials who bought a home last year owning pets, according to CNBC, many people want landscapes that are happy places for their fur babies. They are asking for nontoxic plants, dog runs, attractive and clever dog houses, fenced spaces and artificial turf.

Plant of the year. Not everyone is ready or willing to completely give up grass. But they’re discovering no-mow sod. This Delta Blue Grass looks lush, and you can lay a blanket on it like turf for a picnic or siesta. You also can groom it if you want. But left to its own devices, it looks like a wind swept coastal meadow.

Staff Writer Meg McConahey can be reached at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com.

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