(ARA) Your backyard is your sanctuary. But you want to make it even better -- perhaps with a patio where your family can congregate, enjoy outdoor barbeques and entertain guests.

Here are some design tips to help turn your backyard into the oasis of your dreams:

* Install a patio.
You yearn for a lovely patio area for picnic lunches or to relax and read a book as you enjoy the sun. The cost of using natural stone, however, is a negative, and so is the lack of creative colors and design allowed by precast pavers. Another option is to use stamped concrete for your patio base, which has unlimited patterns and colors and can be used in all climates.

"Homeowners are interested in concrete patios because they blend the connection between house and patio -- indoors and outdoors," says Jim Peterson of ConcreteNetwork.com, which offers a wide variety of patio designs, provides many useful concrete tips and comparisons and lists local contractors for your area. "Decorative concrete can create the look of authentic stone, slate or cobblestone, is more economical to install and adds value to the home."

* Gather around the fire.
Bring your family together with a fire pit. Whether you're building a fire for cooking dinner, roasting marshmallows or to keep warm on a chilly evening, it will become a gathering place for your family and if invited friends and neighbors. Depending on your creativity and building skills, you can make your fire pit an elaborate congregational area with permanent benches and a decorative wood rack, or a simpler ring for cozy family cookouts.

* Set up seats for relaxation.
Don't forget the tables, chairs and decorative planters to encourage people to relax in your backyard and enjoy your sanctuary. You will need to decide if you want permanent, built-in tables and chairs or benches on your patio or along strolling paths through your backyard landscape, or if you want furniture you can rearrange and store during inclement weather.

* Keep the hunger pains at bay.
Perhaps you are looking for more than just relaxation; you want to fill your tummy as well. Outdoor barbeques are becoming increasingly popular, complete with drink coolers and sinks. For an outdoor countertop, look for a material that can withstand weather, yet still have a warm, natural look that will work with the other materials you're using on your porch. Concrete countertops can be mixed with stains, pigments, aggregates and epoxy coatings to give them the look, texture and feel of more expensive quarried stones like marble, granite and limestone. Visit www.ConcreteNetwork.com to learn more about how this material can work in your backyard.

* Soothe the senses
Water features are popping up in backyards across the country. Families enjoy them by relaxing near the sound of trickling water and watching birds and other wildlife looking for a drink. Some homeowners install small fountains surrounded by landscaping to provide the water ambiance, while others take the route of building a full water garden.

Self-contained water features are easy to install in less than a day, while kit ponds might take a weekend to set up. But the larger water features give you more opportunities to be creative for example installing a bridge, water wheel, water falls or tiny streams.

Once you have your backyard sanctuary complete, you'll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy your investment while relaxing. For additional tips in learning how to install a functional and appealing patio in your backyard, visit www.concretepatio.org.

Courtesy of ARAcontent