For lots of Americans, working-hour daydreams of going home aren’t about going into the house but relaxing just outside it, on a patio that combines the comforts of a house and its surroundings. The indoor/outdoor living trend shows no signs of abating; if anything, signs point to the patio becoming one of the most important “rooms” in the house. It’s no wonder, then, that patio investments have grown.

Outdoor kitchens are replacing the simple grill. Lighting has become more multifunctional to fit varying moods. Furniture and textiles are more varied and colorful. Meanwhile, we’re hearing that spaces for plantings have shrunk a bit and what’s going into the ground is more likely to be locally sourced; witness the campaign in drought-prone areas to turn to xeriscaping and native plants.

Given all those sensory delights, it's no wonder so many people want to retire to a patio.

Nature in the form of a set of blue spruces used to provide this Eden Prairie, Minn., family needed privacy around a front-yard water feature. But when the spruces started dying after 30 years and the community wouldn’t permit the family to put up a tall fence, creative solutions were necessary.

Mom’s Design Build of Shakopee, Minn., provided so many good solutions that its design won NARI’s national COTY Award for best landscape design, outdoor living project over $60,000.

Mom’s solution was to replace the spruces with a space-saving barn-door entry gate and half-inch-thick, timber-framed art panels that sport a copper patina. Holes take up 14% of the panel's surfaces, creating a shadowing effect.

Lanterns on small stone columns flank a pathway leading to a pergola-style loggia. The stone floor beneath has a diamond-shaped pattern cut into it and is filled with synthetic turf.

To the left, there's a pond and "lounging island" surrounded by water plants.

That pond used to be much bigger. It was reduced to make room for a sitting area with a large masonry fireplace that's flanked by two living walls with removable planters to grow cut flowers. The patio contains natural stone and more synthetic turf, thus reducing the need for maintenance—and it's pet-friendly, too.