12 Functional Front Yard Ideas that Add Livable (and Beautiful) Square Footage
Front yards are having a moment.
As the theory goes, pandemic isolation put pressure on our homes to meet all our functional needs. Strapped for space and cuckoo with cabin fever, homeowners started spilling indoor activities out into their yards. Outdoor living became essential to well-being.
Pandemic isolation has relaxed, but our taste for outdoor living has not. Having experienced first-hand how time outside improves our quality of life, we’re re-configuring our yards to help us spend more time in our outdoor spaces.
What does this mean for front yard landscape design?
For generations, front yards were little more than decorative foregrounds, but standards are evolving quickly for what we can do with them. More than ever, it’s fair game for front yard designs to meet homeowners’ needs by providing spaces to work, play, eat, grow food, or simply socialize with friends and neighbors.
Ready to get more from your yard? Looking for front yard landscaping ideas? Great! Let’s take a look at several designs that re-imagine the front yard as a space not just for looking, but for living.
01 SIMPLE & SOCIAL FRONT YARD
How can I make my front yard more inviting and social? We get this question all the time.
The answer depends on your yard and your goals, but, as this design demonstrates, attractive planting, clear sight lines to the street, and a comfortable place to sit are a great place to start.
Garden beds with flowering perennials and shrubs envelop the front patio, which is surfaced in crunchy decomposed granite for a casual, rustic feel. Bold Bougainvilleas and a specimen olive tree create a triangle of focal points, implying boundaries while preserving open edges around much of the patio’s perimeter.
These open edges are key – sight lines link the sidewalk and seating area, beckoning neighbors to pull up a chair. Widening the DG as it meets the sidewalk also implies permission to enter the property.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to take much to create an inviting, social outdoor living space. In fact, the light touch we see here has advantages, like lower installation costs and greater flexibility – this movable furniture can be added to or whisked away at will, whatever the situation calls for.
02 OUTDOOR LIVING ROOMS
The owners of this modern Austin rental wanted their front yard landscape to feel like an extension of the home itself. This goal is most strikingly achieved by the pergola, which note-for-note matches the house’s black and blonde exterior while extending a wall-less room off its front facade.
Process the initial “wow” of the pergola, though, and you quickly perceive that the three principle landscape spaces – dining area, lounge area, and fire pit a seamless progression of rooms for outdoor living.
The deck makes this possible, knitting the separate spaces together with a shared surface material.
Careful boundary design also plays a role. The semi-transparent pergola separates the lounge and dining areas, otherwise all edges are left wide open, establishing a sense of shared space and easy circulation that makes the spaces feel larger and more interconnected.
Crucially, each space has direct views of the front yard planting design, whose dappled canopy and swaying ornamental grasses lend softness and charm to the overall atmosphere.
This is hardly as simple as the previous design, but no less inviting, thanks to cohesive aesthetics, a flowing layout, and strong integration between hardscape and planting.
03 TRADITIONAL ENTRYWAY REDUX
This lovely landscape applies traditional aesthetics to a similar design strategy.
As with the previous project, the design provides several seating areas across a shared surface. Instead of a deck and grasses, however, we get ivory herringbone pavers and a handsome blend of shrubs and perennials, not to mention a substantial front lawn.
Within the paved area, the furniture is arranged to imply separate zones, which are themselves emphasized by material changes in the house facade.
As with the previous project, the design minimizes physical barriers between spaces, opting instead to maximize openness and interconnection. This creates an expansive, flowing feel across the patio. It also makes for a nice uniform foreground, allowing the complex house design to take the spotlight – a nice trick for boosting curb appeal.
04 THE ORIGINAL SOCIAL FRONT PORCH
Here’s another question we commonly receive: Will an HOA allow a functional front yard?
The answer? Depends on your HOA, but if you want a functional front yard, it’s almost always possible.
Clients in neighborhoods with more traditional aesthetics, including many HOA communities, may encounter a little more resistance to the idea of migrating functional spaces to the front yard, particularly if they float detached from the home.
If this describes your situation, lean on our old friend the Front Porch. By integrating functional spaces into porch designs, front yards can retain a traditional look while ramping up their functional performance.
Here, the classic porch swing on one side is countered by cushy lounge seating on the other. The design is simple, inviting, and ready for social encounters.
05 PORCH-ADJACENT RELAXING
Some functions, like fire pits or dining areas, require a bit more room than some porches can provide.
Not to worry! Try placing new functional zones next to the porch, as they’ve done in this design.
Repeating motifs from other parts of the porch will lend your new space a sense of belonging. In this case, the design repeats an ornamental grass planting motif and a light neutral color palette in the furniture and groundcover material. This visual consistency helps the new functional space to feel like an extension of the porch.
06 KID-FRIENDLY FRONT YARD SPACE
Another great question we get all the time: How do I create a safe front yard space for my kids or dogs?
Dogs and kids, bless their hearts, can’t be counted on to think twice before dashing into the street.
Solution: include a safe play space in your front yard design.
Unless your dog is a leaper, all it takes is a low fence with a dense enough design to keep kids and pups from slipping through. We suggest fence designs that use hogwire or boards with moderate (under 3”) gaps, which keep your loved ones contained while allowing light through and maintaining an inviting feel to passers-by.
This design takes just this approach, running attractive planting beds along the base of the fence on the street side, while providing an abundant lawn area for kids to run wild within the safe confines of the fence.
07 COME OUT (THE FRONT) TO PLAY
This kids’ zone throws in some natural wood play features, both for kids and adults. We all need to have fun, right?
Instead of using fencing, these homeowners rely on planting to keep their kids safe. The garden design features robust, kid-safe (not toxic or sharp) shrubs and perennials, densely planted to avoid gaps that little ones could wriggle through.
For their part, adults get a custom seating area at one end of the lawn, where they can kick back while keeping an eye on the kids. A water feature positioned along the entry way path at the other end of the lawn creates a soothing atmosphere while offering the kids some splashy fun.
08 A CAMPFIRE UNDER THE STARS
Privacy may be the biggest concern clients grapple with when it comes to functional front yards. Homeowners love the idea of getting more use from their front yard area, but don’t necessarily want to be on display to the neighborhood.
The good news? You can tailor your front yard design to provide as much or as little privacy screening as you wish.
Often, planting alone gets the job done. Ground level greenery paired with understory trees like Japanese Maple or Dogwood can create an attractive, layered planting design that also blocks most incoming sight lines. Those seeking a more complete blockade of prying eyes can enlist a privacy fence or dense evergreen hedge. Key views can often be obscured with a well-placed tree, tall grass or shrub, or even a trellis panel planted with a climbing vine.
Your privacy solution should be tailored to suit your home’s style. To protect your leisure time, it should also enlist low maintenance plants.
This design, which pairs modern pavers, decking, and lighting with rustic gravel and shaggy, naturalistic planting, uses tall, evenly-spaced evergreens and a 4’ tall fence to establish a semi-private atmosphere in this outdoor fire pit area. The fence blocks views of those who are seated, while gaps between evergreens allow some glimpses of the elevated deck and living room.
A canopy tree overhead casts dappled shade for daytime enjoyment, while landscape lighting and the fire pit itself create a pleasant space for enjoying an evening under the stars.
09 A FAMILY FRONT YARD AFFAIR
We tend to favor the inviting first impression one gets from planting designs that allow some limited views between the street and functional front yard spaces, there is certainly a time and place for more robust privacy in front yard designs.
For this young family’s front yard, the design uses bamboo to create a tall, narrow, and quite dense privacy screen. The result allocates minimal space to planting, allowing plenty of room for the family to enjoy their outdoor dining and fire pit zones in comfort and privacy.
10 DON’T FORGET YOUR VEGGIES
Growing your own food is a rewarding experience in its own right, but doing so out front creates a social opportunity as well. There is something magnetic about vegetable gardens – many clients report that, while working out front on their gardens, neighbors routinely approach for a chat.
A well-tended garden can be a source of pride worthy of displaying to the neighborhood. It doesn’t hurt that vegetable beds can also evoke the romance of European orchards and cottage gardens.
As long as they get enough sun, raised vegetable beds can go just about anywhere, including your front yard. They can also be built to be just the right size and shape to fit your preferred space.
Here, a blank zone next to the driveway is livened up with a pod of four square beds – a significantly more charming scene to welcome you home than just another expanse of lawn.
11 SECRET (VEGETABLE) GARDEN
Where the previous design dedicates a specific zone for vegetable beds, this design integrates a vegetable planter into a robust front garden. Perched atop a hill supported by a retaining wall, the bed is barely visible upon approach to the house, but easily accessed from the side yard.
Not sold on showing your veggies off to the neighborhood? Take note of this approach. Just a few well-placed plants can be all you need to keep your vegetable garden discreet while utilizing available front yard space for a functional purpose.
12 FLOWERS ON-DEMAND
For those who prefer home-grown flowers to home-grown vegetables, front yards can be equally productive. Simply incorporate cut flower species into your planting design, as this client has done along both sides of their driveway.
Be sure to select species that will thrive in the site’s light and climate conditions present (we suggest starting with natives), and don’t forget to leave a little space to access the plants for clipping.
While these homeowners opted for traditional favorites like Hydrangea, we also recommend blending in native cut-flower all-stars like Purple Coneflower, Yarrow, Black-Eyed Susan, or Joe-Pye Weed into your front yard flower beds.
DESIGNING A FUNCTIONAL FRONT YARD THAT MATCHES YOUR NEEDS AND STYLE
Yardzen’s award-winning online landscaping design is tailored to clients in all fifty states in the U.S. Our design process begins with understanding your space, your aesthetic preferences, and a discussion of your budget and vision to minimize surprises when it comes time to build.
Our top-notch designers then develop a personalized vision for your yard, shared through 3D renderings, 2D plan drawings, and plant and material lists. Your design will capture the look, feel, and function you are hoping for, all while keeping costs within range.
Once your design is complete, we’ll help you connect with a local contractor from our Pro Network of vetted professional landscapers to install your new design.