Outdoor Living Trends for 2021

Open-air rooms, year-round use and high-tech connectivity: This year's top landscape design trends reflect a shift towards daily living outdoors.

Home is where the heart is, but over the past year it has also become where the office, classroom, restaurant and cinema are, too. Many Americans are spending more time than ever at home, which has made us take a new look at our private outdoor spaces.

“We’re definitely seeing outdoor living areas shift from entertainment-focused spaces to true living spaces,” says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard, a landscape design firm. “The increased time spent at home in 2020 has given many homeowners pause to reevaluate how they utilize their spaces and the need to make them more functional.”

This move toward considering outdoor spaces an essential extension of the home is the common thread that runs through many of the top landscape design trends for the upcoming year.

“Homeowners need space for home offices, as well as areas for schooling for children in virtual learning environments,” Raboine says. “Outdoor living areas provide additional space and, perhaps more importantly, provide an ‘escape’ for rest and relaxation. Even as we potentially return to some form of normalcy in 2021, we predict homeowners will continue looking to improve and utilize outdoor spaces as part of their daily lives and routines.”

Here are the top five trends that will influence outdoor living spaces in the year to come:

Making Room(s)

Landscape design experts see growing interest in expansive outdoor spaces that fan out into multiple open-air “rooms,” each with a different function.

“Renovations like decks and outdoor living rooms extend the home, providing homeowners with relaxing areas to set up an extra workspace or feel like they are ‘getting out’ after a year spent with limited flexibility to dine out or travel,” says Raboine.

Outdoor kitchens also maximize functionality and extend the space available for both cooking and dining for families or large groups (when we can safely gather again).”

Taking the Indoors Out

The style of outdoor living spaces is moving away from rustic recreational and toward a curated décor that recreates the inviting feel of an indoor room.

“We are seeing outdoor furniture that is styled as though it could also be used as inside furniture becoming very popular,” says Matt Daly of Water and Earth Landscape Design. “And designers and outdoor furniture manufacturers using weatherproof materials so that they don’t need to be covered.”

Pillows, poufs, planted centerpieces, throw blankets, outdoor rugs and other cozy details are also popular, says Tina Huffman from Greenhouse Studio. She says they “help to create an outdoor living room atmosphere by defining a space and adding texture and softness.”

All Day, All Year

If outdoor spaces are becoming an important part of daily living, it only follows that they need to be comfortable for more hours of the day and more seasons of the year. Outdoor heating — including fire pits and fire tables — as well as cooling and misting systems are increasingly popular, as is outdoor lighting that is more than just decorative.

“Lighting is crucial for spending time outdoors during the shorter daylight hours in winter,” says Raboine. “Homeowners are increasingly looking to add light fixtures to their outdoor spaces that are both stylish and practical.”

Staying Connected

With the explosion of remote working and schooling, the ability to be online while using an open-air office or study space is crucial. High-tech outdoor internet or WiFi systems are trending, as are necessities like USB ports and electrical outlets. Entertainment has also moved outdoors, so all-weather Bluetooth speakers and outdoor TVs and projectors are an increasingly requested feature.

Plants with a Purpose

Time at home also has had an impact on what homeowners expect from their greenery, with a move toward edible gardens featuring vegetable patches, herb planters and fruit trees. “With lessons learned from impromptu COVID-gardens last year, this year these spaces will be better thought out and gardeners will be more prepared,” says Blythe Yost, co-founder and head designer at Tilly Design.

Even decorative landscaping will serve a purpose: video call backdrops! “We are home more so having a beautiful focal point and a strong mix of evergreens, perennials and ornamental grasses that provide seasonal interest and green all year is a must,” says Yost. “No one wants to look at only leafless trees on their conference calls.”

Rebecca Winke
Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter took a deep dive into country living by renovating a sprawling medieval stone farmhouse and running it as a B&B for 20 years. Today, she spends her time writing about travel, culture, and food (it's Italy, after all!) for publications like The Telegraph and Italy Magazine, as well as pondering the strange winds that blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.