By Toni Lapp

Northern Coloradans are laid-back, but active. Mindful and environmentally conscious. Resourceful and inventive. These characteristics are reflected in our outdoor spaces.

If landscape design has undergone a transformation in recent years, it’s because people are changing the way they use their homes, says Jane Choi, associate professor of landscape architecture at Colorado State University.

Outdoor spaces have always offered an escape from the daily grind, but people are not as enamored with mowing as they once were. Turf is out and native grasses are in. Xeriscaping is great, as are rain barrels. Vegetables grow happily alongside ornamental plants.

“People want their yards to be as low maintenance as possible,” says Choi, noting that homeowners have become savvy in their awareness that expansive lawns come with intensive maintenance and require enormous volumes of water to keep them green.

People still want their yards to provide an outlet for their activities, and they expect to have the comforts of indoors available outdoors as well.

“Gardens have always been a retreat from work life and business,” Choi says. “Now people are asking for Wi-Fi connections and speakers. They really see their outdoor space as an extension of the indoors.”

Fire pits remain the most popular accessory for the garden. This one can also do double-duty as a coffee table. Photo courtesy of Christy Sports


Plush cushions and a built-in grill, along with many other amenities, bring the comforts from indoors to the outdoors in this custom-designed patio. Photo courtesy of C2 | Studio


A pergola helps shield the sun’s harsh rays and provides a wind barrier, helpful for Colorado’s weather. Photo courtesy of All Terrain


A modern take on the sliding door uses a floor-to-ceiling design. Photo courtesy of C2 | Studio


“Unconventional” best describes the fire pit custom-designed by Fort Collins landscape architect Jane Choi, principal of C2 | Studio. “We used a weathered steel, called ‘corten steel’ that rusts in this reddish/orange color that naturally blends with the natural environment.” Photo courtesy of C2 | Studio


Not only are yards becoming an extension of our homes in the spring and summer, but in the fall and winter as well. Fire pits and heat lamps enable outdoor spaces to be used year-round.

When Choi is not teaching future landscape architects at CSU, she teams with her business partner, Scott Carman, a professor at University of Colorado Boulder, at C2 | Studio, their landscape design firm based in Fort Collins.

In recent years, they’ve noticed that fire pits have become not only a useful accessory but a focal point in a garden. For their projects, they have explored custom designs that employ unique materials in their construction, such as a weathered steel that rusts to become a reddish-orange color that naturally blends with the natural environment.

“Fire is such an elemental force, people are drawn to fire pits not only for the aesthetic beauty and physical comfort, but also for the psychological calming they provide,” says Carman. “They’re a natural gathering place for entertaining and can really transform a space in the evening hours.”

But a custom design is not in everyone’s budget, and Choi is quick to add that retailers are now offering ready-to-install fire pits at lower price points than when they first appeared on the scene several years ago.

As far as patio furniture, eclectic styles are in, meaning, “no matchy-matchy furniture,” continues Choi. Found objects and recycled materials fit well into this new landscape. One Colorado-specific trend is the use of “beetlekill” pine, a rustic wood made available in abundance as the result of the scourge of pine bark beetles.

Colorado also offers amenable conditions for vegetable gardening, and many homeowners have their yards working for them—literally.

For those with less expansive outdoor spaces, including the many Coloradans living in condos and apartments, container gardens continue to provide the comforts of a yard in the confines of a smaller footprint.


Toni Lapp is managing editor of NOCO Style magazine. To comment on this article, send an email to