Chicago area residents transforming front yards into functional, social environments

When COVID-19 hit, many residents upgraded their backyards with a new pool, patio furniture or even an outdoor kitchen in order to socialize outside. 

But now — many are starting to shift from the backyard to the front yard.

One Elmhurst homeowner turned to his laptop, instead of his lawnmower, to help make his front lawn more functional and social.

"One of the things we noticed, there was a lot of activity out front," said Brandon Patrick. "The kids play. A lot of parents stand outside and watch."

After moving in about two years ago, Patrick and his wife decided to add a seating area to the front of their house this year.  It can be used for work or play.

"Thus far, its just been when a couple people stop by, we just sort of sit down there, have a drink, hang out," said Patrick.

Allison Messner is the CEO of Yardzen.  

The online landscape design service helped the Patrick's redesign their front yard. 

"At the start of the pandemic, when people were homebound, they were coming to us," said Messner. "They were saying basically, ‘We’re homebound. The only green space basically we can access is our yards — help us get more function out of our outdoor space.'"

Messner says that is when her designers got the idea to focus on the front yard. 

"We've put dining spaces in front yards, fire pits with lounge areas in front yards, vegetable gardens in front yards, kids play spaces in front yards," said Messner. "Really it depends on your lot and how you want to make use of the space — but its every bit as useable as your backyard."

The head of IIT's Landscape Architecture Program agrees.


Ron Henderson says it's easier to socialize in your front yard.

"I think the backyard is a place of invitation and the front yard is a place of spontaneous inaction," said Henderson. "A place where maybe you didn't anticipate seeing a friend or a neighbor, but because you're visible in the public, you may encounter your neighbors." 

Messner doesn't see this outdoor trend going away.  She says requests are up 150 percent.

"People continue to want to make use of their front yard because they realize this is an underutilized space, and it's a great place to socialize," said Messner.

When it comes to making your front yard more social, there are a few things you should not do.

Both Messner and Henderson agree its best to keep your pool and/or barbeque grill in the backyard.