For the most part, front yards are designed for curb appeal with landscaping meant to be attractive from the street. John and Melissa Wallace had a different idea when they moved to a simple ranch house with a typical front yard a flat lawn, a couple of trees, and some shrubs in an established Phoenix subdivision. The Wallaces wanted a front yard with outside rooms they could use, and a design that would be pleasing from inside the house looking out.

Transforming a front yard into a more usable space is not a simple proposition.

"First, if you live where there is a homeowners' association, you better check with them," says Jani Lockwood of Lockwood Landscape Designs in Medford. "Even if you aren't constrained by association rules, you don't want to start a project and get static or vandalism. You have to be respectful of the neighbors."

Lockwood says when creating outdoor rooms, it is important to create a sense of flow and consistency. The area outside the living room windows, for instance, should pick up the colors or theme used in the living room, and echo its design style if possible. A Tuscan courtyard will not complement an American country room.

"If you are using hedges or fences to create an outdoor space," Lockwood says, "make sure it is something pleasing to the eye. Everything should be thought out, not just jumbled together."

John essentially ripped out everything to start from scratch, except the fruitless mulberry trees. "I cut the trees back 65-70 percent," John says. "I brought them down to regulate the light. They were proportionately too large for the yard. Plus, I can manage them now from the ground."

Plants are placed in curves on berms of varying heights. They are also grouped in aesthetically pleasing odd numbers of three, five or seven. John planted Japanese maples, magnolias, crape myrtles, camellias, clematis, rhododendrons and azaleas but just one of each type or color. He underplanted with hostas and daylilies. Seven separate irrigation systems allow for the individual needs of the various plants.

Lockwood suggests creating shade with overhanging trees, gazebos or awnings, and including lighting and water features. Flowing water can mask the sound of traffic going by as well as provide a resource for wildlife. Comfortable seating is a must. A small table for coffee or card games is also a good idea.

"But don't overdo," Lockwood says. "In the front yard you want to keep it simple."

John is the first to admit his project is nowhere near done. He says it will take years for the plants to grow to their ideal size and create private seating areas in his outdoor room. Then his goal will be achieved.

"We'll be able to come out and feel we are in the middle of nowhere," John says.

"The whole idea of bringing the indoors out is definitely a baby boomer idea, but it's not just a trend," says Lockwood. "Once people see the benefits they just don't go back,"