Teenage friends sit round a fire pit toasting marshmallows
By Sarah Cottrell

As spring and summer inch closer during this pandemic, many Mainers are planning yet another set of warm months at home. But after a long winter, who wants to stay inside? The good news is that now is a great time to make some outdoor home improvements to help turn your backyard into a sanctuary of relaxation and fun. We’ve rounded up some of the hottest trends to help you live your best backyard life this year, despite a global pandemic. Whether you’ve got unlimited funds or a frugal budget in mind, we’ve got you covered so that you can plan and create a private space where you can escape and enjoy the beauty of being outside. 

The home renovation experts over at Houzz Magazine recently surveyed 128,000 American homeowners and found that one of the most popular spaces to invest money in was outdoor spaces. In 2018 and 2019, the average homeowner spent around $4,000 on everything from lighting and outdoor furniture to gardens and pools. Turning your backyard into an oasis doesn’t have to cost a fortune or take up all your spare time. But by investing a little of your hard-earned money (and elbow grease!), you can turn your backyard into a relaxing Shangri La. 

Fire It Up

Summer nights in Maine are already special, but when you add a lovely fire pit to the mix, it can feel downright enchanting. There is something so primal about fire, which makes fire pits such a fun element to add to your backyard. You can easily choose a fire pit that will allow for cooking s’mores and sharing drinks or simply as a warm glow of comfort to sit around and swap ghost stories. Here are three options to add a splash of magic to your summer nights. 

Simple Option: Small Portable Fire Pit ($50 and up)

If space is an issue, a small portable fire pit might be just the ticket. With an eye-catching price range that can get as low as $50, you can find a gas or wood fire pit that can fit even the smallest yards. Grab a few chairs, a cool beverage and relax by the fire while gazing at the stars.

Moderate Upgrade: Stone Fire Pit ($300 to $1500)

If you’re looking for a great weekend project, a stone fire pit might be perfect. With just a few materials: cement, fire bricks, stone caps and some old-fashioned work, you can get your DIY vibes on and build an incredible fire pit. 

Big Budget: Gas Fire Pit ($500 and up)

There are fire pits, and then there are fire pits. If you’re looking to upgrade and make a statement, consider investing in a gas fire pit. They can run as high as $5,000 and come with matching patio furniture or as low as $500 on their own. 

Backyard Lighting

Light can directly affect mood, which is why investing in lighting can be key to transforming your backyard into a personal home getaway. With just a little bit of planning, you can turn your backyard into your favorite nighttime hang-out with beautifully lit pathways that offer a poetic glow around you as you look up at the magnificent Maine night sky. The best part? Adding lighting to your backyard is one of the least expensive ways to upgrade your outside space. 

Simple: String Lights ($10 and up)

String lights have come a long way in the last few years. Edison bulbs are popular, and for as little as $10, you can get a string of lights. Create a loop of lights around a table and chairs, and you have romantic outdoor dining. 

Moderate: Solar Lights ($10 and up)

If string lights aren’t your taste, consider trying solar lights. They are inexpensive and come in a wide variety of styles. With some planning, you can create well-lit pathways in your backyard, creating lovely mood lighting during the evening. 

Big Budget: Rope Lights ($100 – $200 per rope)

Rope lights are not expensive individually, and you can get them as low as $100 for 150 feet of length. But if you want to line the perimeter of a large space like pathways and gardens, the price can add up. The result is a sophisticated and beautifully lit area with clean, glowing lines. 

Water Oasis

If swimming is definitely on your agenda, but visiting a crowded beach is not, then investing in a pool might be an excellent idea. Not all swimming pools need to be expensive, and some are downright creatively chic, fun and cheap. We’ve found three trending ways to add some splish and splash to your backyard and make you the envy of the neighborhood. 

Simple: Galvanized Stock Tank – Galvanized ($300 – $600)

This pool idea might be one of the most fun trends in the last few years; a large galvanized stock tank like what you might see on a farm. They are shiny, silver and perfectly round. Place some potted plants around the sides, a couple of lawn chairs, and a table for poolside drinks, and you’ve got a fabulous summer pool. 

Moderate: Above Ground Pool ($5,000 on average)

An above-ground pool can be a substantial investment to make, so it’s essential to research styles and maintenance before committing to purchase and installation. For families with kids, an above-ground pool can make summer feel like an endless tropical vacation. 

Big Budget: In-Ground Pool ($28,000 – $55,000)

If you’ve got the space and the budget, an in-ground pool can turn your backyard into everyone’s favorite place to hang out. With so many styles, sizes and options available, you can custom design a pool that can fit your decor and personality. 

Chill in the Shade, Pergola Style

Pergolas are a classic way to create a shady space in a sunny yard. Some pergolas have a full roof, giving you a respite from drizzling rain and bright sun. Others have an open roof style that you can use to grow flowering vines providing natural and aromatic shade. These structures can give your backyard an immediate upgrade and are so fun and easy to design with; play with gardening elements, outdoor lighting and even a small fire pit, and you’ve just created a fabulous place to escape to this summer. 

Simple: DIY Pergola ($500 to $3,000)

If you have some essential tools and knowledge about building, you can use a free online design to build a pergola. You can also purchase building kits, which might set you back about $2,000 depending on where you get it. 

Moderate: Prebuilt Pergolas ($1,000 and up)

There are so many options for purchasing a prebuilt pergola from metal and wood to open or closed roofs that you don’t have to sacrifice style because of cost. 

Big Budget: Custom Built ($2,000 – $6,000)

If you want your pergola to match your home, or if you have specific design elements in mind that are not available in prebuilt styles, then a custom pergola is perfect for you.

See this Section as it appeared in print here