Patios, Porches & Decks: Enhancing your outdoor living areas

Minnesota summers are fleeting and before you know it, we’ll descend back into the deep-freeze of the arctic tundra. However, during that ever-so brief span of sun-soaked, balmy weather, we hardy northerners like to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, knowing we’ll be banished indoors again soon enough. Make memories—of glorious evenings dining al fresco, enjoying cocktails and laughter with friends or simply snuggling quietly, hand-in-hand with that special someone, watching the glowing embers of a crackling fire as the evening draws to a close.

If you’ve been thinking about refreshing your backyard, adding a deck or patio or giving your yard and landscaping a do-over, now is the perfect time to make your dreams a reality. Investing in your backyard space is really an investment in you and your family. A functional and comfortable backyard living area can become the backdrop for numerous social gatherings, quality family time and a place of solitude and tranquility—because it’s your very own one-of-a-kind outdoor living area.  


To get started, you will need a design so you know how to realistically proceed. Jeff Feece, a landscape architect with Jeff Feece Designs, works with clients to make their outdoor design dreams a reality. He likes to “focus on the broader picture to find out needs and wants—to see the size of space they (clients) want.” 


A lot of his clients want deck redesigns, which often lead to patio redesigns as well. Jeff says he has seen a trend toward adding a full outdoor kitchen experience and adds that “most people want some type of fire feature.” 

Landscaping around the new deck or porch, patio, outdoor kitchen and fire feature involves planning. The plans consider location for optimum shade control, creatively framing the space, adding colors, choosing specific plants and planting beds to create drama and a functional outdoor living space that is ideal for entertaining, enjoying family time or spending a quiet evening in front of a fire.   


Depending on how your home is oriented to the sun, being able to enjoy your deck, patio or porch on a hot summer afternoon might be nearly impossible. However, if you employ some handy tricks to control lighting and heat by planting trees or installing awnings you can create a pleasant outdoor environment to truly enjoy. 

Jon Zimmerman, owner of Rochester Outdoor Living, a Zimprovements company, has been helping people with their outdoor living solutions for 13 years. He says, “If the deck or porch faces south or west, you can’t enjoy it without managing the sun.” He recommends a retractable, lateral-arm awning with touch-button control. During the spring and fall, you may not need the awning extended, and in the winter, it doesn’t obstruct the view. However, on warm days, a retractable awning can suddenly transform a hot, sunny deck into a shady outdoor living area, with a breeze moving under the awning lowering the temperature 10 to 15 degrees nearly immediately. “The retractable awning shades the deck and creates a totally different experience,” adds Zimmerman.  

A retractable awning can also be installed with a wind sensor which will automatically retract the awning if the wind suddenly picks up. The awnings are available in 200 different fabrics, so there is most likely one that would be perfect for your outdoor living theme.   


Derek Patrick, operations manager at Creative Curb Appeal, says, “I like to treat every project like it’s my own house.” He begins by meeting with clients to figure out the project goals and then he likes to be on-site from start to finish, so the client’s vision gets implemented. Derek says Creative Curb Appeal prides itself on offering a variety of decorative patio finishes. They offer several different types of patios: broomed cement, stamped concrete, exposed aggregate, paver, natural stone and real brick.   

Emily Hamann hired Creative Curb Appeal about a year ago to add poured concrete edging around the front of her house in northeast Rochester. She says it “created endless planter beds in the yard and around the house.” At the same time, she had Creative Curb Appeal create a stamped concrete patio. She adds, “Having our new patio has allowed us to take our indoor living room outdoors. We have two girls, ages 5 and 2, and they enjoy playing on the patio and having tea parties with their dolls.”


Brady Hodge from Kruse Lumber works closely with clients who are planning to add a deck. He says, “Typically, a customer has an idea and we can help them figure out the framing, etc.” Brady explains that most decking materials now have hidden fastener systems which are more aesthetically appealing than older systems. He also says that a new popular trend is aluminum deck railings which are solid and powder-coated to withstand extreme heat and cold weather conditions. 

Brady encourages homeowners who are considering some changes to their outdoor living spaces to stop in and visit Kruse Lumber’s showroom, which is dedicated to decks and deck railings, to get ideas and see the wide range of deck colors available. In addition to composite decking, Kruse Lumber also sells cedar and green-treated lumber for traditional decking projects. 


“Homeowners are investing in their backyard spaces,” shares Lori Reiland, manager of Custom Retaining Walls. Lori says a big part of her job is “helping homeowners plan outdoor living and outdoor spaces.” She adds that trends like pizza ovens, countertop spaces designed for outdoors and seat walls with a fire pit area are very popular right now. 

Custom Retaining Walls has a brand-new showroom featuring a wide variety of fire pits, water features, pillars, sliced bubbling boulders and numerous colored pavers in keeping with the new home colors. Lori also explains that they also offer several DIY kits for those folks who want the fulfillment of completing a project themselves. Lori says, “Homeowners have endless backyard living ideas and options,” and reiterates that the staff at Custom Retaining Walls can assist with design ideas to turn your dreams into reality. 


As Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This sentiment is clearly true for outdoor living spaces. Start with a vision, have clear expectations about how you will use the space, do your research, find the right contractors and suppliers and you truly can make your dream for your very own outdoor living paradise a reality.  



Cindy Mennenga is a freelance writer, health coach and along with her husband John, owns Conspectus Home Inspection Services, LLC based in Rochester. Visit for more information.