Top Outdoor Living Trends 2012


Easy living at home in backyards for entertaining with kitchens and dining options, comfortable seating, and water features

Washington, D.C. – The American love affair with the back yard shows no signs of slowing, according to the 2012 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects. The results show a preference for an undemanding outdoor space for lots of entertaining.

Landscape architects with a specialization in residential design across the country were asked to rate the expected popularity of a variety of residential outdoor design elements. The category of gardens and landscape spaces, with 94.9 percent rating somewhat or very popular, was followed closely by outdoor livings spaces at 91.5 percent, which were defined as kitchen and entertainment spaces.

Across all categories, 97.4 percent of respondents rated grills as somewhat or very in-demand for 2012, followed by low-maintenance landscapes (96.6 percent), fireplaces/fire pits (95.8 percent), and dining areas (95.7 percent). Lighting features remained a popular choice from 2011 at 93.1 percent, as Americans plan to take more of their lives outside once the sun sets – to an extent.

“The economic recovery continues to struggle, but residential design has remained stronger than other categories throughout the recession,” said ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA.

Americans also love their pools (79.2 percent), but not quite as much as their spas (80.4 percent) and other decorative water elements (89.9 percent), such as waterfalls or bubblers.

Seating and dining areas remain high on people’s lists (95.7 percent), as do installed seating at 86.9 percent and weatherized outdoor furniture at 81.2 percent.

When thinking of gardening, Americans tend toward the practical and sustainable with native plants (86.3 percent) and food/vegetable gardens (81.2 percent), with over half of them preferred to be organic (61.2 percent).

Besides planting locally and organically, other sustainable elements continue their popularity with homeowners. Native or drought-tolerant plants (85.4 percent), drip irrigation (81.7 percent), and permeable paving (71.6 percent) are making their way into outdoor living spaces across the country.

Additional information on residential landscape architecture can be found at

Outdoor Design Elements (Overall rating for 2012)

Percent Rating Popular or Somewhat Popular:

Outdoor living spaces (kitchens, entertainment spaces) – 91.5%
Gardens/landscaped spaces – 94.9%
Outdoor recreation amenities (pools, spas, tennis courts) – 78.4%
Sustainable design practices – 70.1%
Turf lawns 50.9%
ADA/Accessible design – 20.7%

Outdoor Living Features (Overall rating for 2012)

Percent Rating Popular or Somewhat Popular:

Grills – 97.4%
Fire pits/fireplace – 95.8%
Seating/dining areas – 95.7%
Lighting – 93.1%
Installed seating (benches, seat walls, ledges, steps, boulders) – 86.9%
Weatherized outdoor furniture – 81.2%
Counter space – 76.0%
Utility storage – 59.5%
Stereo systems – 57.8%
Refrigerators – 55.5%
Sinks – 53.9%
Televisions/projection screens – 48.7%
Showers/baths – 45.2%
Wireless/Internet connectivity – 42.7%
Outdoor heaters – 39.9%
Outdoor cooling systems (including fans) – 33.1%
Hammocks 27.4%
Bedrooms/sleeping spaces – 9.5%

Outdoor Recreation Amenities (Overall rating for 2012)

Percent Rating Popular or Somewhat Popular:

Decorative water elements such as ornamental pools, splash pools, waterfalls, grottos, water runnels or bubblers – 89.9%
Spa features (hot tub, Jacuzzi, whirlpool, indoor/outdoor sauna) – 80.4%
Swimming Pools – 79.2%
Sports/recreational spaces (tennis courts, bocce ball, etc.) – 56.9%
Movie/video/TV theatres – 30.8%

Landscape/Garden Elements (Overall rating for 2012)

Percent Rating Popular or Somewhat Popular:

Low maintenance landscapes – 96.6%
Fountains/ornamental water features – 87.2%
Native plants – 86.3%
Food/Vegetable gardens (including orchards/vineyards etc.) – 81.2%
Xeriscaping or dry gardens – 64.3%
Organic gardens – 61.2%
Rain gardens – 55.6%
Ponds/streams – 52.2%
Rooftop gardens – 38.3%

Sustainable Design Elements (Overall rating for 2012)

Percent Rating Popular or Somewhat Popular:

Native/adapted drought-tolerant plants – 85.4%
Drip/water-efficient irrigation – 81.7%
Permeable paving – 71.6%
Reduced lawn – 70.9%
Recycled materials – 58.6%
Rainwater/graywater harvesting – 55.2%
Compost bins – 51.4%
Solar-powered lights – 32.8%
Geothermal-heated pools – 21.7%

Outdoor Structures (Overall rating for 2012)

Percent Rating Popular or Somewhat Popular:

Terraces/patios/decks – 95.7%
Fencing (includes gates) – 90.6%
Arbors – 88.7%
Ornamental water features such as fountains or splash pools – 88.1%
Pergolas – 85.2%
Steps – 81.1%
Decks – 74.5%
Porches – 72.4%
Kitchens/ovens – 70.3%
Art (sculptures, murals etc.) – 60.2%
Utility shed (tool shed, garden shed etc.) – 56.5%
Play structures (tree house, swing set, etc.) – 54.7%
Awnings, including retractable – 52.6%
Pavilions – 52.3%
Columns – 49.6%
Gazebos – 49.1%
ADA-accessible structures (ramps, bars, accessible shelving etc.) – 14.6%

About the Survey
The survey asked residential landscape architecture professionals about the estimated popularity of various design elements for 2012. The survey was fielded April 9 through April 18, 2012, with 118 responding.











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