For many homebuyers, the quest for the perfect outdoor space is becoming every bit as important as finding the right interior space.
Chalk it up to the increasing popularity of "staycations" in a struggling economy. While a pricey vacation may be out of the question, spending time close to home is one of life's simpler pleasures. Outdoor living areas are viewed as the perfect environment for entertaining, enjoying family time or unwinding at the end of the day.
Homebuilders are responding to the trend by extending the comforts of home to the front and backyards — and up on the roof.
Whether buyers are looking for a taste of Tuscany or their own putting green, West Point Gardens in Elgin can tailor landscaping to fit the budget and lifestyle.
The development of 470 single-family homes and town houses is built around a 13-acre park. All homes have front porches and many have gardens.
"Buyers can sit down with our landscape designer and choose elements from their favorite garden, while eliminating those they don't want or are not within their budget," said Patrick Curran, president of Hinsdale-based West Point Builders.
"For example, the Fireside Garden in the Camelot single-family home is highlighted by a large outdoor fireplace with furniture arranged in a conversation grouping. Also included are a hot tub, large deck, covered walkway and deck between the home and garage plus an open landscaped lawn. A buyer may want to eliminate the fireplace but may want the hot tub and other elements of the garden. The garden is designed to the buyer's preferences, and the price adjusted accordingly."
The enclosed gardens are ideal for kids' play areas and warm-weather entertaining, Curran said.
Homebuyers also can upgrade to a porch on the second floor.
"Homeowners (with second-story porches) enjoy their lifestyle from a more private setting," he said. "They can see what's happening in the neighborhood and at the park, but from a more private, elevated vantage point."
Rooftop decks are another way to get a bird's-eye view of a neighborhood. Where yards are small, they offer much-needed outdoor space too.
Rooftop terraces are available at Airhart Construction's new-home developments in Wheaton: College Station and Courthouse Square.
"A lot of times in tighter developments, people are looking for a place not to kick a soccer ball but to sit out and have a cup of coffee, entertain friends; to simply have an outdoor space," said company President Court Airhart. "Their focus may no longer be on the backyard, but they still want to be outdoors."
A big factor in the success of the Lexington Square row homes in Chicago was Lexington Homes' decision to create rooftop decks, said company co-principal Jeff Benach.
"We knew this would be a single-family substitute, and because the homes were likely to interest families, we knew we had to create outdoor space," Benach said.
"If you want plants, you can have a pretty extensive garden up there," he said. "You can have some nice patio furniture, can grill up there and have a great time."
In addition to a rooftop deck, each Lexington Square row home has a rear balcony off the kitchen and a fenced-in front yard.
Who says owners of houses and town homes should have all the fun? Several Chicago high-rise buildings offer residents a chance to savor the great outdoors.
At the Aqua tower in the Lakeshore East development, the distinctive balconies with undulating curves are a retreat for condo owners.
Michael and Jane Cason take pleasure in relaxing on their 72nd-floor balcony, which offers sweeping vistas of the Loop, Millennium Park and the lakefront.
"You can't imagine a better place to have a cocktail and enjoy the view," said Michael.
Trump International Hotel & Tower boasts large private outdoor spaces for residents. How large? Bigger than many urban backyards, said sales executive Kiyoko Binosi.
Two 29th-floor residences have private terraces of 5,000 and 2,900 square feet, respectively. They wrap around the building's southwest curve, allowing views east and west along the Chicago River, as well as city views to the northwest.
Alta at K Station takes outdoor amenities to the next level at the apartment complex in the Fulton River District.
The 32,000-square-foot K2 club on the eighth floor features a fitness center, swimming pool, sports court, sun terrace, business center, party suite, lounge, theater, grilling area, fire pit and cabanas.
"The pool and basketball court are what make people ooh and aah," said Vice Chairman Randy Fifield of developer Fifield Cos. "It adds a special flair to an evening when you come back from dinner, lay out in the poolside chaise lounges and have a cocktail. And on warm, sunny days, people will be doing their work on iPads outside in the cabanas."
The pool, grill and hot tub certainly were selling points for Mike and Rachel McCann, residents at Alta at K Station since July.
"If the hot tub is open, we go there almost every night," said Rachel.
It's not every day that homebuyers want their property to look like a Disney resort. But that was on the wish list of the buyers of a 4,000-square-foot home built by Gander Builders in Frankfort.
Steve Lecas, founder of Gander Builders, outfitted the yard with an opulent pool, pool house, in-ground trampoline, child's playhouse, fountains, gazebo and stone patio showcasing 5,000 square feet of Travertine marble.
One of the most arresting features is a 25-foot-long, 30-foot-wide, two-way fireplace built into the side of the house.
"There are couches around the fireplace patio, and we integrated four infrared electric heaters into the stained tongue-and-groove ceiling, which keep people warm on that patio during the winter," Lecas said. "They spend all winter out there."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times