The 10 Most Popular Design Features and Elements for Yards

Survey Reveals Top Requests for Outdoor Spaces

fire pit near pool
Tranquil patio area with seating, fire pit and swimming pool. Trinette Reed/Getty Images

Outdoor design features and elements like fire pits and fireplaces, functional and decorative lighting, and wireless connectivity to enable you to do the stuff you need and like to do in your own outdoor space top the list of the most requested amenities received by landscape architects working on residential projects.

Every year, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) conducts surveys among its members to learn how design features, elements, and projects rate with their clients....MORE Landscape architects are asked to evaluate the expected popularity of a variety of residential outdoor design elements for the coming year. The survey is conducted in February, with approximately 800 professionals participating. 

Find out if your next project or desired element made the list. The features start with the most popular (No. 1) and descend from there. All of these projects are in demand, according to the most recent survey results from the ASLA.

  • 01 of 10

    Fire Pits and Fireplaces

    modern chairs by fire pit
    Chairs by fire pit in gravel. Jeremy Samuelson/Getty Images

    Besides being a source of light, a fire pit provides warmth on cool summer evenings, and gives you a reason to go outside and stay there during the colder months. Models range from portable types that can be moved around within a yard to a permanent pit made of brick, stone, or concrete. Landscape architects and designers can design pits that blend with existing or new hardscaping.

    Fireplaces are larger and more permanent sources of fire in an outdoor space. A fireplace's purpose is...MORE multifunctional, including:

    • It serves as a gathering spot in your yard, especially in the evening.
    • It can be a focal point or visual feature in a yard, serving as an anchor for an outdoor living room or kitchen.
    • It provides a larger source of heat than a fire pit. Some can be monumental in size.

    What to Look for When Buying a Fire Pit

  • 02 of 10


    patio lighting at night
    llluminated patio. Astronaut Images/Getty Images

    While novices can experiment with simple lighting, truly great design is an art form that is better left to an outdoor lighting designer. Landscape architects and lighting pros assess a residential project's needs based on:

    1. Functionality: What is needed for safety and practical purposes.
    2. Accent: Lights that are used to highlight focal points in the outdoor space.

    Most lighting designers use low-voltage systems (12 volts), to save energy and reduce costs. Lighting is often designed in layers,...MORE starting with the perimeter to call attention to the property's boundaries, followed by paths. Stairs and accent lighting come next, with an emphasis on safety and highlighting garden features.

    Hot Looks in Outdoor Lighting

  • 03 of 10

    Wireless/Internet Connectivity

    man on computer by pool
    Man on computer. poolside. Getty Images

    Living outdoors with all the comforts of indoors extends to working on your laptop or streaming a hit Netflix series while lounging on the deck. The trouble is, black spots still exist in the outer reaches of your yard, making connectivity unpredictable.

    Some experts recommend running an ethernet cable that is weatherproof and can be buried in your yard or setting up a hot spot in your garden. Unless you have the expertise for making this happen, consult a landscape architect, landscape designer,...MORE or electrician. If they can't handle it, they will probably know someone who can. Ask for references before signing the dotted line.

  • 04 of 10

    Outdoor Seating and Dining Areas

    tile patio
    Tile patio. George Gutenberg/Getty Images

    While it may seem like a fairly simple request—outdoor dining set or deep-seating set in your backyard—it isn't always as easy as plopping it down on the first bare patch of grass or concrete.

    A landscape architect or designer can help define each area of a yard, creating spaces for certain activities in subtle ways that tie together everything and facilitates foot traffic. Most often this is achieved by using hardscaping features, like setting a dining area apart with low stone walls, yet...MORE allowing quick access to a grill or outdoor kitchen area.

    Even with small spaces, designers know all kinds of tricks to make areas appear larger, utilize every square foot of a tiny plot, and establish seating areas, rooms, and boundaries. Unless you have a flair for design and planning, consult a professional to help you get the most out of your outdoor space.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Outdoor Furniture

    telescope casual lake shore furniture
    Lake Shore collection. Telescope Casual

    Consulting a landscape designer about patio furniture is a smart idea for an overall cohesive design. They can help determine placement, size and scale, materials, color, style, and help you choose actual pieces. If you are seeking an eclectic look, a designer can pull it together effectively without making it look like a tragic hodgepodge.

    Keep in mind that outdoor furniture tends to be oversized--it's built to relax and lounge on. Arrange all the pieces in your designated space, making sure...MORE there is room to move about and it doesn't collide with other elements, like structures and plants.

    Furniture should also relate to the style of the landscape materials and certainly the home's architectural style.

  • 06 of 10


    gas grill on deck
    Stainless-steel gas grill. Eirasophie/Getty Images

    A grill or charcoal barbecue is one of the most popular amenities of a yard. It may not be higher up on this list because many already own one. If you cook outside just a few times a month or less, a smaller stand-alone model should suffice. If you are more serious about grilling, choose a model that has built-in cabinets and extensions for extra cooking and prep space. 

    If the grill will be part of an outdoor kitchen with counters (see above), buy a built-in grill that can be set on a...MORE custom-built substructure or counter. 

    Another consideration: gas or charcoal. Many prefer the convenience of gas or propane, while some can't do without that smoky flavor of a charcoal barbecue.

    Cooking Appliance Essentials for Outdoor Kitchens

  • 07 of 10

    Planters, Sculptures, and Garden Accessories

    pavers with pebbles
    Beautiful aqua glazed pots. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    This is where your real taste and personality can shine through, although sometimes it needs to be controlled, or you might end up with too many gnomes, fairy gardens, or outdoor chandeliers in your yard.

    A designer can make suggestions for placement, height, texture, materials, colors, theme, and continuity with the addition of planters and accessories in your yard. 

    Garden art and ceramics should be influenced by your home's architectural style or the landscaping theme. The sleek horizontal...MORE lines of a modern home would look in synch with the addition of Gainey Ceramics pottery, while a cottage-style home and garden would look in character with vintage or antique garden statues or accessories.

    Adding outdoor art into a garden setting can present an element of fun and surprise when it is placed in unexpected areas, usually surrounded by plants or around a corner or path. This is where a designer's touch could be especially helpful.

  • 08 of 10

    Counter Space

    outdoor kitchen
    Kitchen with counter space. Getty Images

    Essential to a grill and outdoor kitchen is enough room for prep and a place to put your grilling tools, along with a spot to quickly lay a just-cooked plate of chicken while dealing with other food on the cooktop. Counters may seem like a luxury but have become a necessity for anyone who uses their outdoor kitchen more than twice a week. The more necessities you have outdoors, the more often you'll likely use them. 

    Whether you or your designer plans the counters, take into consideration the...MORE size of the grill so that the counter can be built around it. Standard counters are 36 inches high and about 30 inches deep (the space between where you will stand to how far back it will end or touch the wall).

    Materials may differ from those you used indoors: the base (substructure) is usually made of concrete blocks or wood covered with cement backer board. Consult with a landscape architect or designer for materials that will cover the substructure--preferably something that coordinates with hardscaping in the yard or other materials on the home's exterior. 

    Countertop materials suitable for outdoor kitchens include:

    • Tile
    • Stone
    • Decorative concrete
    • Flagstone
    • Brick
    • Recycled or composites, like post-consumer recycled glass or quartz
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Outdoor Heaters

    house with outdoor lamp
    Outdoor heat lamp. Jim Kruger/Getty Images

    If you dine outside, it's not always practical or effective to use a fire pit or fireplace as your heat source. This is where outdoor heaters come in handy, and are essential if you often dine outside and have several tables set up. It can mean the difference between a pleasurable experience and one that is shortened by a drop in temperatures.

    Tall, portable heaters are a space-saving option that can be safer than a fire pit for homes with young children. The major types are:

    • Propane or...MORE natural gas: Heat is directed down and can warm up to 25 square feet. Natural gas is a reliable heat source.
    • Infrared: Permanent models are wired to a patio roof directly over a seating or activity space. Portable models are plugged into an electrical outlet and placed near patio dining tables or outdoor living rooms.

    Ways to Warm Up Your Patio

  • 10 of 10

    Stereo Systems

    bose inground speakers
    Bose in-ground speakers.

    Apparently, sound and music are still more important to consumers than complete entertainment systems for outdoor spaces. Bulky equipment of the past has been replaced by smaller, portable, inexpensive Bluetooth systems. For great sounds, invest in high-quality speakers, from ceiling models that are good for pergolas and covered patios to in-ground and rock-shaped speakers. 

    View the yard as rooms or zones, and decide where you might want to add audio in these areas. Possibilities include pool...MORE areas, kitchen and dining areas, and outdoor living rooms. Work with a designer or consultant who specializes in outdoor safety, speaker arrangement, and can work within your budget.