Design Your Perfect Backyard Space: Your Outdoor Home Guide

Outdoor Guide

As summer approaches, it’s time to think about how to make the most of every square foot of sunny space. Here are some great ideas on how to do it, plus resources and inspiration.

5 Ways to Transform Your Outdoor Living Space Into a Place You’ll Enjoy (Almost) All Year Long

Even in a place like Chicagoland where nearly half of the year is inclement, owners of upscale homes are investing in exterior living spaces that rival those indoors, with distinct and decked-out areas for living, dining, cooking, and leisure. “People are inundated with digital everything, so they want their homes to be very restful and an oasis away from their busy lives,” explains landscape architect Robert Milani of Chalet Landscape & Garden in Wilmette.

The shift began about 10 years ago when people began demanding outdoor kitchens and dining areas, says Carrie Woleben-Meade, the director of design at Mariani Landscape. Now those amenities have become “assumed,” she says, with people incorporating pizza ovens, pergolas with deluxe sound systems, and games galore (think foosball, ping-pong, and air hockey). “Parents want their teenagers there, so they can keep an ear open and know what’s going on,” Woleben-Meade says. “The backyard is not just green and pretty anymore.” Read more.

8 Products to Turn Your Backyard into an Outdoor Oasis


With the polar vortex still fresh in our memories, we’re creating beautiful outdoor spaces that will help us hang on to the fleeting days of summer.

Rest assured, builders and landscapers have taken notice and are well equipped to make your outdoor dreams a reality with decks, pergolas, gazebos, fire and water elements, and outdoor kitchens that would make even the most seasoned chef swoon.

“As outdoor living space is at the top of homeowners’ agendas, the majority of our designs now include either fireplaces or fire pits,” says John-Paul Popiolek, owner of Ruffolo Landscaping Inc. in Indian Creek.

Retailers are also betting on the market with plenty of merchandise designed to help us cozy up to the fire and stay warm outdoors through Thanksgiving. Colorful outdoor area rugs, lanterns, dishware, portable fireplaces and furniture worthy of a luxury resort are just some of the items to help us dress up our outdoor space.

Interior designers suggest that the outdoors presents a perfect space to explore one’s more whimsical design aesthetic.

“You can do a fun vibe on the outside with pops of color that you might shy away from on the inside of the house,” says Kate Marker, Principal of Kate Marker Interiors in Barrington. Read more.

Mike’s Landscape Lighting

Mike's Lighting

A beautiful home deserves to be admired! At Mike’s Landscape Lighting, our philosophy is that outdoor lighting should enhance the natural beauty of your home by accentuating its unique architectural features with an elegant design that is customized to your tastes. Our lighting is subtle, but the results are remarkable. 

Installing or updating landscape lighting can:

  • Increase property value
  • Improve safety
  • Showcase the beauty and improve the atmosphere of your home with the latest design.

Why choose Mike’s Landscape Lighting?

  • Been serving Northeast Illinois and Southeastern Wisconsin since 2013
  • Founder is a Certified Outdoor Lighting Designer and has been in the lighting industry for over 20 years 
  • Small, highly trained technicians dedicated to creating your perfect lighting system and executing it in a way that does not interfere with your life.

Check out some of the designs we have to offer at

Contact info: 5910 77th Street, Kenosha, 262-358-9100;; 

See How a Winnetka Couple Transformed Their Yard Into a Stunning Outdoor Living Space

Winnetka Couple Transforms Garden Into Stunning Outdoor Living Space

When summers are as short as they are in the Midwest, it’s important to make the most of them. It was in that spirit that Winnetka residents Jared and Christy Vegosen hired Chalet Landscape, Nursery & Garden Center (Make It Better’s Best of 2018 Best Landscaper winner) to create a luxurious spot for alfresco dining, hosting parties, and spending time with their two young daughters. “Jared grew up in a city co-op without even a balcony, so he really wanted to have a nice outdoor space,” Christy explains.

Working with designer Sara Marcucci, landscape designer Robert Milani replaced the original jumbo horseshoe-shaped driveway in front with a discrete motor court that better fit the home’s Tudor character. A new brick garden wall with bullnose limestone detailing screens the view of the vehicles from the front door. “Extending the walls into the landscape creates a seamless connection between the architecture and the landscaping,” Milani says. Read more.

5 Easy Steps for Sustainable Landscaping

5 Steps for Sustainable Landscaping

It’s Monday morning and the neighbor’s landscaping crew is at it. Again. The imposing whir of mowers and blowers penetrate the air until finally, it stops. Bird song returns but clouds roll in. Just as the downpour begins, another neighbor’s sprinkler system announces its morning cycle with a sputtering shush. Water runoff gushes toward the street sewer that’s clogged with debris. Cars creep through the flood and your front yard looks like a wading pool as ripples caress what was once your grass.

This all-too-common scenario plays out in every neighborhood and it’s a far cry from sustainable.

“Environmentally sustainable” is a tag slapped on just about anything these days in an effort to make it more appealing to a growing demographic of eco-conscious consumers. However, to be truly sustainable implies that certain practices can be continued indefinitely without damaging the environment. The American Society of Landscape Architects defines a sustainable landscape as one that “…sequesters carbon, cleans the air and water and restores habitats.”

So what can you do to make your outdoor spaces more environmentally friendly? A lot. Follow these five simple practices and pass them on to neighbors. A cumulative effort makes an even bigger impact. Read more.

Garden Landscaping: Great Plants for Pollinators

Garden landscaping: Salvia “Indigo Spires”

Imagine an all-you-can-eat buffet that offers only meat. No veggies. No fruit. Not even water. Would you go? Probably not. This is how pollinators see your landscape, particularly if it appeals to only one type of pollinator. Whether your yard is a work in progress or you have an established landscape, a few simple plant additions will have you laying out the welcome mat to a plethora of beneficial backyard creatures. You’ll also be giving Mother Earth a great big hug.

Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, recommends homeowners consider what creatures they want to attract. Butterflies and bees aren’t the only pollinators. Birds, including bats and hummingbirds, and all sorts of insects play a role in the backyard ecosystem. Once you’ve identified what it is that you want, pick plants that will satisfy that creature’s palate.

Well-chosen plants create a food chain that draws butterflies that will feed and lay their eggs, insects that will attract birds and bats, and bees that will produce gallons of honey. Read more.

5 Steps to the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen

Welcome to the most popular summer gathering space: the outdoor kitchen.

After all, why settle for a stand-alone grill and paper plates when you could have an entire kitchen in your backyard — refrigerator, oven, sink, countertop and cabinets included? We asked area experts for their top tips on creating the perfect outdoor kitchen. Here’s how to make yours happen in five easy steps. Read more.