Three features that make outdoor living more rewarding in all seasons.
Whether you’re fighting cabin fever in January, beating the heat in July or just trying to get the most out of an early spring or late fall day, we’ve found three upgrades that will improve outdoor living conditions in all seasons.
Pergolas provide the best of both worlds: They let in light while providing shade, and they delineate a space without walls. Becca Bastyr, a senior designer who has worked with Mom’s Design Build for 18 years, incorporated two pergolas into a recent Prior Lake home renovation, which was completed in the spring of 2022. “The pergolas give a sense of architecture and bring the sense
of the house down,” Bastyr says.
The homeowners had just completed a renovation of the home’s interior, when Bastyr was brought on to help the inside flow to the outside. The inside of the house was California Mediterranean with a little Norwegian style, and the goal was to replicate that in the exterior. “I was really inspired by the lighter colors and clean lines,” she says, adding that she used a mix of materials, including stucco, concrete and wood throughout the project.
She created four levels on the exterior of the house to extend the interior living space. A pergola on the lowest level delineates a yoga space and an outdoor living area; a pergola on the mid-level deck extends an interior room that’s used for entertaining.
A gas fireplace and a brick cubby designed for an electric fireplace insert, also on the lowest level, help to extend the season by adding warmth to both spaces. “The spaces are pretty usable through spring, summer and fall,” Bastyr says.
The pergolas also enhance the space in the winter. “With the winter in Minnesota, when you’re thinking about exterior design, you’re thinking about it functioning inside while looking out,” Bastyr says. “Adding Christmas garlands and
lights gives the feeling of home extending outside.”
An outdoor fireplace creates a natural gathering spot for all seasons, and the Outdoor GreatRoom Company in Lakeville offers everything from finished or ready-to-finish fire tables, fire pits and outdoor fireplaces in a variety of styles to custom fire and do-it-yourself components.
The company manufactures about 60 percent of its products in Minnesota and specializes in gas fireplaces and tables. “The nice thing about gas versus wood is you can run it for 15 minutes and turn it off,” says Joey Shimek, the vice president of sales for the Outdoor GreatRoom Company. This convenience makes it easy to enjoy a quick round of s’mores after dinner or to flick a switch and create instant ambiance for a late night cocktail.
The fire tables, fire pits and outdoor fireplaces can be hooked up to a pre-installed gas line, giving them a permanent location. Depending on the style and location, they can serve as a focal point for your outdoor living area or a great place to gather.
Shimek says he sees more and more people using the features year-round. “They can extend your outdoor living season at least two weeks longer in the fall and two weeks earlier in the spring,” he says.
Adding an athletic court to your yard might be more versatile than you’d think: Flood it in the winter to create an ice rink, or play a variety of sports in the spring, summer and fall. “If you’re going to do a court, it’s best to do it when kids are young,” says Katie Mills, owner and president of Millz House in Apple Valley. “As they grow older, they grow with it.”
Young children can use the court as a smooth surface for practicing to ride big wheels, tricycles and bicycles, and the courts can be designed to work for multiple sports, including basketball and pickleball.
Mills installed one for her own children and has fond memories of sending her two boys outside with shovels on warm March days, so they could shovel off the court for a basketball game.
Millz House installs custom outdoor athletic courts designed to fit each customer’s yard and lifestyle, offering free estimates. The price of an athletic court is closely tied to the price of concrete, as well as the logistics involved with installation, but Mills says in general, an outdoor court can cost between $15,000–$17,000 for a small court or $20,000–$30,000 for a large court.
Courts can be upgraded with basketball hoops, boards (for a hockey rink in the winter) or net attachments and customized with hand-painted lines or team logos.
In addition to outdoor athletic courts, Millz House offers indoor courts, playground equipment and garage floor coating, and its Apple Valley showroom doubles as an indoor play area for young children.