Decks and patios give a home and yard an attractive, functional outdoor space.

align=leftHome owners' increased interest in enjoying nature and gardening is reflected in patios and decks sprouting on the front, back, and sides of city and suburban homes, as well as atop roofs of condominium buildings and townhouses. These outdoor spaces reflect a greater array of designs, materials, sizes, and price points than constructed in years past.

They're getting bigger and bigger and sometimes extend off the back and wrap around one side, says Melissa Galt of Melissa Galt Interiors in Atlanta. Many also are designed as a transition between the indoors and a landscaped yard, says San Francisco architect Frank Bergmaschi.

Decks and patios also are getting swankier, the equivalent of outdoor rooms with sophisticated furnishings and all the bells and whistles. Home owners want to take everything they love about their homes and move the whole lot outside, says Michael Payne, a designer and former host of HGTV's show, Designing for the Sexes.

Here's how to get these outdoor spaces the attention they deserve:

Boost Curb Appeal

Outdoor spaces have become a bigger part of the curb appeal that attracts buyers and can even increase a selling price, says broker Kathy Braddock of Charles Rutenberg LLC in New York City. More than one-third of buyers want a patio or terrace (a space level with the ground) while 21 percent desire a deck (constructed above the ground), according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®' Profile of Buyers' Home Feature Preferences.

Choose Features Wisely

To get the greatest enjoyment and best return on dollars invested, home owners should study examples in design publications, drive through favorite neighborhoods to see possibilities, and ask themselves pertinent questions, such as how the deck will be used, when, and what activities will take place there.

Here are other factors to consider:

  • Style. Most designers recommend a style compatible with the home's architecture. The greatest opportunity for a successful look is for the space to be seamlessly integrated with the house rather than resemble an afterthought, says Bob Hursthouse, a landscape architect in Bolingbrook, Ill.
  • What the yard and home look like. Braddock says the style also should blend into the landscape. More buyers are interested in Zen-like simplicity, she says. And Chicago landscape architect Bernard Jacobs says a deck or patio should be an extension of interior taste. You can repeat the floor pattern, colors, or an architectural treatment, he says.
  • Materials. More buyers seek materials that require little or no maintenance and can withstand inclement weather. In addition to perennial favorites such as brick, bluestone, and Western red cedar, materials that are gaining popularity today are recycled plastic composites; dense renewable tropical hardwoods such as ipe; vinyls that have the look and feeling of wood; and Trex, made from reclaimed wood and plastic.
  • Installation. How the material is installed makes a difference. Brick pavers atop a sand base can be installed quickly and inexpensively but may shift; those atop a crushed gravel base will cost more but require less maintenance, Hursthouse says.
  • Color. Lighter materials reflect more sunlight and can be hotter, Hursthouse says. Stains can change the color and protect wood from moisture, mold, and algae growth, says Rich Morrell, brand manager for Cabot, a company that manufactures coatings.
  • Size. While shape and size should be proportional to the home, the deck or patio also needs to be large enough to accommodate all uses and users comfortably. Outdoor furniture is one-third larger than comparable indoor pieces; chaise lounges are especially big, Jacobs says. To accommodate multiple uses and add visual interest, more decks are built on several levels, says Payne.
  • Placement. Where the deck or patio is situated should depend on views and the region of the country. Everyone's conscious of sun and how it can damage skin, but where the sun is rare - for example, in northern Minnesota - the last thing people want to do is sit in the shade, says Payne.
  • Safety. Any deck or patio needs to meet local safety codes with the correct height of railings and spacing between and correct number of steps. Some communities require lighting in step risers to illuminate treads, says Hursthouse. A roof deck in Chicago must have two points of egress, says Jacobs.
  • The extras. Among today's favorites for decks and patios are fireplaces and pits, gourmet kitchens, Hollywood-style sound systems, water features, flat-screen TVs, high-end furnishings, storage, gazebos, colorful awnings, space heaters, and decorative and energy-efficient lighting. Many home owners spend most of their time after dark on their decks and terraces, Hursthouse says. Lighting also is good for security.

Understand Costs

The cost will depend on the material, size, amenities, and labor. A trellis built from 4-by-4 inch cedar posts that adds a simple decorative touch might run a few hundred dollars while an ornate cedar deck with pergola for shade could run a few thousand dollars, says Paul Mackie, Western-area manager with Western Red Cedar Lumber Association.

While it's difficult to generalize, Hursthouse says concrete typically runs $8 to $10 a square foot, cedar or bluestone $25 to $35 a square foot, and granite or limestone $60 a square foot.

Amenities and furnishings also represent a wide range. Furniture for one Galt project totaled $50,000. Jacobs designed an elaborate roof deck in Chicago for $350,000.

The key is to make the price proportionate to the home's value. Don't spend $50,000 on a house worth $350,000, but you might for one between $750,000 and $1 million, Hursthouse says.

Don't Forget the Landscaping

An outdoor room is best accessorized with plants, says Payne. I can't compete with Mother Nature, he says. She offers the best of the best.