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Commentary by Melissa Birdsong

RISMEDIA, April 8, 2008-A homeowner’s experience doesn’t stop at the back door. With leisure time and entertaining moving seamlessly from indoors to out, creating an outdoor “room” remains high on the list of must-haves.

birdsong_melissa.jpgAs the passion for outdoor living continues to grow and evolve, many homeowners have upped the ante on their desire for al fresco design and style. This very lifestyle-driven trend, borne from a marriage between the love of all things natural and a natural affinity for creature comforts, has blurred the line between inside and out-in every market and every climate zone-as the craving for creating a “whole home” experience and harmonized outdoor spaces ramps up. Just as for the inside of the home, an outdoor space plan should be driven by the family’s needs and activities-typically cooking, dining and relaxing-and of course, the budget and expected ROI-both financial as well as emotional.

An outdoor retreat can be created regardless of yard size or income, but common denominators include hardscaping and landscaping to shape the space, just as walls, floors and ceilings do inside. Homeowners, particularly those in new-home developments, may not want to wait years for their landscapes to mature and may seek more instant gratification. Remedies for lack of patience, or time if the expected tenure in the house is short, include adding elements that give form and structure. Arbors, pergolas, furnishings and container gardens lend a finished look to an undeveloped space until more permanent landscaping fills in.

Additionally, the market today is ripe with a wide variety of quality outdoor-worthy furnishings, from stainless steel grills and outdoor kitchens to durable furniture and accessories with the comfort and style of those once found only indoors. Add a few elements for sensory stimulation-outdoor heating, fire pits and fireplaces for warmth, fountains and spas for relaxation, and specialty lighting for just the right ambience, and you’ve created a place that really feels like home.

The goal of all this? From a real estate perspective, a leverage play for increasing living space and heightened charm factor. From a human perspective, a private sanctuary for rest, relaxation and entertaining-an experience that’s translatable to a huge segment of potential homeowners.

Melissa Birdsong is vice president for Trend, Design & Brand, Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

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