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The weather is warming up and we’re heading outdoors to soak in the sunshine. With spring in full force in many areas across the country, homeowners are looking for ways to entertain outside and take advantage of nature’s majesty. If you’ve always imagined having a luxury outdoor living space and feel the green monster of jealousy rear its head every time you see a home with a massive deck, it’s time to consider adding this gorgeous feature to your home. Make the most out of your yard and create a functional, comfortable hangout space for friends and family by following these tips for creating your dream deck.

Add a Water Feature

No yard is complete without a lush water feature. Why not include the relaxing sounds of bubbling waters and the soothing appeal of running streams on your deck? Whether you install a demure fountain or find a wall-installed waterfall, guests are sure to ooh and ahh over your design scheme. Add a small pond next to your deck or incorporate a water basin with a constantly refreshing flow of water. A high-quality water features adds an air of refinement regardless of your yard’s style or motif, and is an easy way to implement upscale appeal.


The Right Lighting

If all goes according to plan, you’ll be wanting to use your deck late into the evening. Instead of sitting around with guests in the dark and dealing with the fire hazard of candles, install some smart lighting systems that are both energy-efficient and sure to complement the evening’s atmosphere. From string lights to exterior wall sconces, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from.

Add a Fire Pit

Want to inspire late night chats and keep the party going outdoors even in the cooler autumn months? Install a fire pit on your deck and make for a fantastic focal point that provides landscaping interest and functional heat. Check out the modern fire pits from StartFireDirect.com; with a bevy of styles, you’re sure to find an option that suits your deck design.


Transition Your Landscaping Features

Don’t think of your new deck as disjointed from your yard’s vegetation. Extend landscaping features from yard to deck in a few simple ways. Plant vegetation and flowers in pots that you can place on the deck, install a lush plant wall complete with unique succulents on the exterior wall of your home, or leave an area open in the center of your deck for a tree or bush to grow from. The more you can blend your landscaping from yard to deck, the better. As you landscape, be sure to consider the ways you can conserve water and energy. Consider drought tolerant landscaping if you live in an area that’s low on water, and take a look at the natural turf options that are more realistic looking than ever. Check out www.renovateamerica.com. This company offers energy efficient and water saving landscaping upgrades through the HERO Program, allowing homeowners to finance important home improvements without breaking the bank.

Provide Some Overhead Shade

Spending hours outdoors sounds wonderful, but baking in the sun for that amount of time can prove to be a little too hot—and result in aching sunburns. If you’re looking for something a little more aesthetically pleasing than an old fashioned patio umbrella, consider building a pergola. Simply train climbing plants to stretch their way up these structures, and within a year’s time you’ll have lush shade and gorgeous vegetation in one nice package. If you’re considering a modern outdoor kitchen you will need shade but be careful to give the structure some vertical space for the heat coming off the grill and to protect food from the direct sunlight.

Consider an Outdoor Kitchen

Looking to transfer much of your indoor living into the great outdoors? Consider investing in a high-tech outdoor kitchen setup. Homeowners are increasingly interested in the idea of a staycation, and what better way to relax at home than basking in the sunshine while eating a fresh meal made with all the comforts of a chef’s kitchen on your deck? Wining and dining outside has never been simpler. We’ve long moved past the simple barbecue sets that were once a staple of nearly every American’s backyard. Instead, homeowners are installing kitchen counters outdoors complete with refrigerators, sinks, and barbecue features to drool over. If you’re the quintessential entertainer and love cooking up new concoctions, consider how you can turn your deck into a chef’s dream. Creating your dream deck is possible if you follow these tips and incorporate fantastic features. Make an investment in your property’s value and your family’s happiness with these stylish backyard additions.


Ariel Castro had spools of barbed wired tossed about his backyard alongside heavy metal chains and rolls of tarp that he used to hide his neighbor’s view, new photographs reveal.

The collection of discarded items piled up in the garden of the “house of horrors” come in stark contrast to the discarded Barbie bicycle that was likely used by Jocelyn, the daughter Ariel Castro fathered with Amanda Berry.

Police have sealed the scene as they continue to search for clues inside the Seymour Avenue home in west Cleveland, but the photos show that Ariel Castro did much of the blocking off himself.

While police were the ones to replace the back door with a piece of fresh plywood, Ariel Castro had taken out the windows from the back of the house and completely blocked them with gray wood to keep any neighbors from looking into his home.

CNN obtained the photos from a neighbor who chose to remain anonymous.

It appears that the person hopped the fence into the yard because they were able to photograph certain items- like the child’s bike- at a very close distance.

Another chilling clue into Castro’s psyche is the fact that he installed mirrors above his back door.

Ariel Castro had spools of barbed wired tossed about his backyard alongside heavy metal chains and rolls of tarp that he used to hide his neighbor's view

Ariel Castro had spools of barbed wired tossed about his backyard alongside heavy metal chains and rolls of tarp that he used to hide his neighbor’s view

The angle at which they were left shows that he used them in order to see if anyone was coming up his driveway without his knowledge.

This confirms the story of former friends of Ariel Castro, who said that when they would go over to his home, he would always jump out from the back door as they were walking up, meaning that even if they were going over unannounced he knew they were coming.

The most dramatic items that were spotted in the backyard are the spools of barbed wire and the rusty chains.

Both were likely used to keep the three young women captive inside his home for roughly a decade.

Michelle Knight went missing in 2002, Amanda Berry in 2003 and Gina DeJesus in 2004, and all three were found alive in Ariel Castro’s home early last week.

Portions of their interviews with police have been released, including the disclosure that during the first few years of their captivity, the 52-year-old former bus driver used chains hanging from the basement ceiling to keep them under his control.

One of the pictured chains is lying close to a pulley, which suggests that it was like one used in the basement ceiling so that he would have been able to determine how taut or loose the chain was- and, in turn, how high off the ground the girls were forced to be.

The neighbor who took the photographs said that there were “hundreds” of chains scattered about the back yard.

Several items in the backyard would have looked ordinary to neighbors- as there are two red bicycles leaning against one of the fences that may have belonged to his grandchildren who visited the house and never knew about the captive women.

The same could be deducted for the toy basketball hoop.

That said, the decision to use large sheets of blue, green and gray tarp to hide his backyard from the neighbors’ houses only a stone’s throw away.

Police have boarded up the house – only the portions that he hadn’t blocked off already- as they continue to scour for evidence while preparing for Ariel Castro’s eventual trial.

The photographs came out on the same day as it was revealed that utility workers visited his home roughly 160 times in the ten years that the women were held against their will, but none of them reported any suspicious activity.

The young women were freed after one of them, Amanda Berry, was able to get the attention of a neighbor by breaking part of the front door when Ariel Castro had left “the big inside door” unlocked while going to McDonald’s last Monday.

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