Kristine Gill for Better Homes & Gardens on a new trend for front yards.
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The functional front yard is having a moment. See why experts say interest in this creative lawn alternative is growing, plus what having one might mean for your curb appeal.
For decades, trends in front yards have leaned toward that pristine, turf-like front lawn that requires regular mowing, weeding, and landscaping. But as values change (as demonstrated by the growing popularity of No Mow May and similar initiatives) and the ecological impacts of a traditional front lawn become clear, more and more homeowners are exploring alternate ways to use their front yards—and bringing the cozy feel typically reserved for backyard entertaining spaces to the front yard has become more and more appealing.
According to data from Yardzen, a virtual landscape design service, requests for functional front yard designs have increased by 150%.
“People are more willing to embrace alternatives to the traditional lawn, definitely. Now, I think that that willingness differs from one neighborhood to the next—it’s not universal,” says Kevin Lenhart, landscape architect with Yardzen. “And many people have deep personal memories attached to a lawn.”
But the data shows that many are also looking for new ways to maximize their properties.
“Front yards used to be purely aesthetic,” says Allison Vaccaro, co-founder of the virtual exterior design service Brick & Batten. “You think of the white picket fence, and it was almost like an American dream to have this private buffer that was purely aesthetic, but I think that has shifted completely.”
Bringing Functionality Up Front
The 2022 Yardzen report shows that those requesting new front-yard designs are looking for dining areas, firepits, fenceless front porches, and pergolas—elements more typically reserved for backyard spaces.
The report also showed a 66% increase in requests for replacing traditional lawns with different ground cover options including flower beds, vegetable gardens, seating areas, and play areas for kids.
Lenhart says lawn replacement isn’t just about replacing grass with some other kind of ground cover—it’s about redesigning the front yard as a more functional space, the way backyards have been treated.
“We’re going to use some of that area for one thing, say expanding ornamental planting, and the other side to that area for maybe a functional use like a seating area or a kids’ play area,” he says.
Americans are looking to redesign their front yards—and they’re looking for ways to use them, too, especially for get-togethers.
“The front yard is typically the most underutilized space on a person’s property,” Vaccaro says. “Even leading up to , it seemed like we were getting a lot of requests for outdoor living and what we kind of call the outdoor living room, which is using that front yard as a place to socialize. It’s no longer like you retreat to the backyard to have this private family time. Now the front yard is the social spot.”
Vaccaro says most of the design requests her company receives involve a sort of bohemian-style aesthetic with wild plants of varied heights, usually incorporating some kind of sleek or modern hardscape as well.
“Maybe a third of it is going to be pebble, a third of it is going to be ground cover, and then maybe some kind of really wild garden for the other third,” Vaccaro says. “We’re doing a ton of requests where it’s not just this big square turf; it’s more interesting than that.”
Lighting has also become an important feature in the front yard, she says. Where most folks are comfortable hanging string lights over a backyard patio, clients are now seeking ways to illuminate their front yards to make them appear more inviting.
“Typically we light up parts of the yard that lead your eye to the front door, but in a way that’s not so obvious,” Vaccaro says.
Looking for Connection
Yardzen data shows that, while requests for optimized front yards have been increasing steadily over the past few years, the events of 2020 and the years since have heightened those requests as people look for ways to build connection with neighbors and friends from home—ideally outdoors.
“During COVID, being at home so much, some people had this same epiphany that they needed to get more function out of the space that they had available,” Lenhart says. “And that opened up new willingness to reconsider what is acceptable in your front yard.”
Many new requests coming in from homeowners center around a desire for community engagement.
“Generally speaking, it’s creating a space where you can have social interaction with your neighbors, which is something that we were all craving throughout the pandemic, or isolated play areas, flexible gathering spaces, where you could have a drink or read a book by yourself or have a meal,” Lenhart says.
Working with the Neighbors
Interest in the functional front yard is climbing, but do these unique (and nontraditional) designs actually boost curb appeal, or are they a subjective addition that the next owner of your home will undo?
When it comes time to selling your property, Lenhart says buyers are more and more willing to accept fresh takes on front yards, especially if the new design is easy to keep in shape.
“You’re setting the next homeowner up for low maintenance and a healthy landscape,” he says.
Of course, there are some local restrictions you’ll likely have to consider in your designs. Lenhart suggests checking with county code enforcement offices about what is allowed in your area—and what’s even encouraged: Some parts of the country offer rebates and incentives if you make your lawn more environmentally friendly with something other than grass.
Homeowners associations can be notoriously traditional when it comes to what’s expected and allowed in a front yard, particularly in looks-oriented communities, but talk to your HOA’s president or committee to find out what they’re open to—you may be surprised by their flexibility.
“Generally speaking, what we’ve observed is that when there are major environmental pressures like a drought, HOAs do respond, because not only is it an environmental issue, it’s a financial issue,” Lenhart says. “Water prices will elevate. In LA now, in California, they’re enacting record historic water restrictions where you will be fined if you irrigate your landscape more than one day per week.”
With regulations like that—and increasing attention paid to eco-friendly changes—your neighbors or HOA may be more open to approving your functional front yard makeover.