If you find yourself daydreaming about practically living outdoors next summer so that you don't miss a moment of sunshine, then you also need to be dreaming about what your outdoor living space will look like. It can range from a fire pit to a full kitchen with a wine cooler, fireplace and furniture.

Patty Brockmeyer, owner of Designer Landscapes, 4110 Morrisonville Ave., Farmersville, said fire pits are very popular and are available in three options: traditional wood-burning, gas and smokeless flame. Many people like the idea of a gas-burning fire pit; it is easier and very convenient, but it does cost more. Depending on where you live, running a gas line to the location of the fire pit can be expensive; however, Brockmeyer said Designer Landscapes has built and installed plenty of gas-burning fire pits this year.

With people spending more time outside than they used to, Brockmeyer highly recommends adding features such as an outdoor couch and television. "Create a comfortable place to hang out," she said.

Ted Galassi, owner of Artisan Stone Products, 2475 Peerless Mine Rd., offers a variety of fire pits from very basic ones that people can assemble themselves to custom fire pits with attractive stone options. Options include fire boulders that look like natural boulders; when the flame is lit, it glows with beautiful color and creates a nice atmosphere.

And, if you want to cook over the fire pit, there are grill top options to suit any taste. Galassi said the staff at Artisan Stone Products can create about anything someone would want in a fire pit. "If a customer finds something they like on Pinterest, or they have a unique vision, we can make it happen," he said.

For people who have allergies and are bothered by the smoke of a fire pit, Brockmeyer suggests the smokeless fire pit. The additional cost averages about $500-$750 more, but can be worth it for the enjoyment without the aggravation.

And if you want to kick it up a notch, you can even cook dinner on a complete outdoor kitchen. Brockmeyer said many more people are cooking outdoors these days, but noted that outdoor kitchens require plenty of planning. The advantage is "You can start with something simple, such as a grill top. At a later date, build a stone surround with an island and add a nice countertop, and then the next installment could be an outdoor pizza oven. It doesn't have to be done all at once," she said.

Galassi has two fully functional outdoor kitchens on display at Artisan Stone Products. He understands that not everyone can imagine what something will look like without actually seeing it first, and that is why he has built a 12,000-square-foot walk-through display of products, stone and just about anything else he carries.

He said, "One of the kitchens on display is a complete outdoor lifestyle kitchen with a cedar pergola for shade, a fireplace, refrigerator, grill and pizza oven." Like Brockmeyer, he also noted that outdoor kitchens can be done in phases.

At the other end of the spectrum is a kitchen system that Galassi started carrying this year. It is high-quality simulated cast stone that comes in panels and is designed for simple installation. When the pieces are put together with stainless steel hardware, it looks like stone. Galassi said a person who is handy can do it without having masonry experience. It comes in four different size options and only requires simple tools for installation.

Galassi emphasizes that whatever your vision might be, he and his staff can make it happen. But if you're hoping to improve your outdoor areas, it would be a good idea to start making plans now, as many contractors are already booking jobs for 2022. The pandemic has caused people to want to spend more time outdoors, especially for family gatherings and entertaining, and there is no indication that this industry will slow down any time soon.

Holly Whisler is a freelance writer from Springfield who enjoys spending time in her backyard.

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