Photo: @naturalstonegasfirepits

With daylight savings time just around the corner (can we get rid of it already?), it’s time to accept that winter too, is near. The Escape Home’s Danielle Hyams spoke with New York-based landscape architect Jeff Keitler to get the scoop on what you should be doing with your yard.

Barnfox Coworking, Livingston Manor (in collaboration with JKLA). Photo: Tim Tedesco

Fire pits, fire wood, fire everything

While Keitler said he believes more people will be comfortable gathering indoors once more are vaccinated, the idea of “extending the season” and spending more time outdoors is here to stay. The most obvious way to do that is with a heat source. The trend of the moment, Keitler said, is rustic, stone-based custom-built fire pits. But it doesn’t stop there — part of the current aesthetic is incorporating where cut wood is stored in the design.

“I think it’s part of this working landscape aesthetic which has kind of caught …  people want to show their firewood, they want to show how they’re stacking it, where it comes from, all that sort of sustainable supply chain kind of thinking,” he said.

For those who want to learn more about chopping and stacking wood, Keitler recommends the book “Norwegian Wood” (not the one by Haruki Murakami).

Dark finishes

Speaking of fire, the color palette of the season is something resembling charred wood or charcoal, as people really embrace the low end of the neutral color spectrum. Call it “new rustic,” if you will.

“I think it’s a signifier for this kind of modern rustic. In a way, if you just give a house that paint job or that charred-wood look, it sort of instantly turns a simple ranch house for example into a sophisticated modern property, and I think for a lot of people that’s a great first step.”

Just add a pop of color — think red or yellow doors or window trim —and you’re good to go.

It’s not too late to plant

I think a lot of people don’t necessarily understand how much landscaping you can do in the fall,” Keitler said. “If you’re trying to improve the look of your property, if you’re trying to do planting that will give you interest over the winter and be performing the next spring and summer, really until the ground freezes there’s a lot of planting you can do. Many deciduous plants are fine going in when it’s in the 40s and 50s.”

His recommendations? Shrubs like twig dogwoods will leave you with bold red, orange and yellow stems once their leaves fall off, which really pop against snow. An economical way to prepare for spring is to bulk plant bulbs like daffodils, tulips and quamash.

Barnfox Coworking, Livingston Manor (in collaboration with JKLA). Photo by Tim Tedesco

String lights

Combined with a heat source, string lights (think Edison-style lights) are a great way to create an ambiance of warmth. As much as people are extending the outdoor season into the fall and winter, it’s also important to think in terms of extending day to night.

“In a lot of ways landscapes are primarily designed to be seen and inhabited during the day, but the more we think of them as nightscapes, you’re getting more value out of that space and investment,” Keitler said.


Keitler stresses the importance of creating a balance with some measure of drama that makes a destination call to you (even if only a tiny backyard), while still keeping the basic principles of accessibility in mind when designing outdoor spaces: ramps instead of stairs, wide paths and being mindful of surfaces, so choosing something smooth as opposed to gravel or wood chips.

“There are ways to think about people who aren’t necessarily there with you when you’re designing your space, maybe it’s the next person who owns the house, maybe it’s a distant relative that has a disability. But the thing is, any and all of us will hopefully age, and so a lot of the features that make spaces accessible for people with wheelchairs, walkers, sight impairments, those are all great spaces for any of us who don’t necessarily have those things.”

In other words, by making your place accessible to all, you can much more easily wheel in a grill or a cart full of speakers for a party — it’s a win-win.

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