Now that the children's swing sets have been dismantled, you may be ready to rethink your back yard. Here are a couple of suggestions to transform your back yard into an outdoor living area.
To turn your back yard into a garden retreat, think pool house, playhouse, guesthouse or greenhouse. For as little as a few thousand dollars, or as much as $15,000, you can have a back-yard structure that gives a whole new meaning to the term "garden shed."
Such back-yard buildings constitute a cottage industry in states with large Amish communities. These artisans assemble kits or build the structures from the ground up for delivery around the United States. Customers are springing for cabins, garden retreats and even croquet houses, says Nellie Ahl of Gardensheds, in Lancaster, Pa. (1-717-397-5430, www.gardensheds.com).
"They want something pretty and charming," she says.
With most companies, you start with a basic structure that costs from $2,000 to $5,000 and add options, such as window boxes, weather vanes, dovecotes and French doors.
On its Web site (www.cabanavillage.com), CabanaVillage, in Wilmington, Del., lets you click and drag accessories onto a template to create a custom design. Signe's Little Houses (1-717-393-0661, www.childsplayhouses.com) can gussy up its cottages with Palladian windows, lofts and bookshelves.
Suzanne Metzger of Newark, Del., went all out when she ordered a 9-by-14-foot back-yard building to use as an art studio. The studio, from Gardensheds, includes a copper cupola, French doors, Dutch doors, a skylight and air conditioning.
"I wanted the cutest thing I'd ever seen," says Metzger, who spent more than $10,000 on the project.
Just want to add some fun to your back yard? Consider bocce. Several companies will bring Italy to you with this ancient game, which you can play on your back 40.
You'll need a level 12-by-60-foot area, boundary and line markers, and a set of balls. Sideboards and a backboard, although not essential, allow you to capitalize on rebounds.
A 12-by-60-foot bocce court surfaced with crushed oyster shells runs $5,000 to $8,000, depending on the cost of labor. You can buy a kit, which includes the oyster-shell mix, perimeter rails and instructions, from Tom McNutt (1-360-224-2909, www.boccemon.com).
You can also get the ball rolling on your lawn with a set of vinyl boundary markers, including midcourt and foul lines, from Backyard Bocce (1-800-927-6581, www.backyardbocce.com), which start at $40. That company also sells a vinyl mesh court with sideboards and a backboard for $350.