Courtesy Custom Design Pools & Landscaping

Once upon a time the well-dressed backyard consisted of a kidney bean-shaped pool and a few plastic lawn chairs. And if you really wanted to impress the neighbors you threw in a picnic table and a sunshade…and perhaps even a hammock.

Today, the Joneses have stepped up their game considerably. The suburban backyard look is now way less “Leave it to Beaver” and more “Modern Family”--striving to be on par with the lush grounds of a high-end resort. Pool builders and designers are developing unique, customized backyard features to achieve that look and consumers are demanding fabulous furnishings to go with them.

“On the higher end projects we’re noticing more clients wanting a sunken seating area surrounded by water,” says Christopher Anderson, co-owner/lead designer of Custom Design Pools & Landscaping in Webster, Texas. “This is a very expensive feature on any pool, but it sure does make for a unique project.” Imagine this set up: You walk off your patio and take a few steps down to a sunken area that has a fire pit in the middle surrounded by a seating bench. Or perhaps you have to cross over some floating steps to reach the lowered area. The pool surrounds the entire seating space or in some cases the pool will only take up three sides of the space. But either way, custom-designed furnishings are often required because the area is typically too tight to accommodate any old type of patio furniture.

But even though the pool configurations are modern and inventive, Anderson has noticed that customers are calling for classic color combinations when it comes to their backyard furnishings. They’re opting for neutral tones of stone, aquamarine and ocean blue with colorful pops of red and rust orange on pillows and cushions. The color combinations really give the backyard that resort feel, and strategically placing those pops of bold color across different segments of backyard furnishings “carries the color across the yard and aesthetically adds to the design,” says Anderson.

But for those who must settle for non-customized patio furnishings, the trend is definitely leaning toward multifunctional patio sets, says Ryan McCroskey, a general contractor for Design Management Group, LLC in Matairie, La. He believes that customers are opting for versatile furnishings, such as ottomans that double as tables, and chaise lounges that may also be used for storage. The versatility allows the homeowners to make the most of their backyard space. Multifunctional pieces can set the stage for an intimate evening for two under the stars or a large weekend gathering with the neighbors and all of their kids, he says. The idea is to transform the backyard into an extended living area, says David Ghiz, president and owner of Imagine Backyard Living in Scottsdale, Ariz.  “It will be the second most used room in the house [first place goes to the living room] and maybe the favorite place to relax, unwind, and connect.”

The Internet, specifically websites like Houzz and Pinterest, can take a lot of the credit for driving backyard living trends. “Once pictures of these unique features are posted they shoot their way to the front of the site, and then everyone [has to] have them for their backyard,” says Anderson. Retailers can use these sites to keep on top of these trends and maintain a fresh and inviting inventory—and establishing a good relationship with local pool builders can’t hurt either. “If a pool builder can recommend a specific furniture company to a customer they’re going to take our referral very seriously,” says Anderson. “Because we’ve more than likely had experience with those furniture companies and the clients know that they’re going to get quality stuff.”