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Simple and easy the trend in homes

CONCORD — If the displays at last week’s Greater Charlotte Home & Landscape Show were any indication, a recurring theme for gardeners, landscapers and decorators in 2013 will be “back to basics.”

Inside and out, luxury is giving way to function and durability.

Nels Hofert, owner Carolina Custom Countertops in Concord, said he’s been working a lot of jobs in both Rowan and Cabarrus counties. But he’s not installing as much granite, which Hofert said requires sealing, and stains and chips easily.

“More and more people are getting away from the granite (countertops), the natural products, to man-made products,” Hofert said. At the show, Hofert showed samples of Polystone, which he described as “crushed granite in resin.” “There’s no maintenance,” Hofert said, and many homeowners prefer its uniform look to the “busy” patterns of natural stone.

Concrete countertops are also popular, with a variety of colors and finishes. Redoing a kitchen with a resin countertop runs about $2,400 on average, Hofert said, while concrete averages about $3,400.

Elsewhere, visitors found information on other cost-conscious options, from re-facing kitchen cabinets with veneer instead of replacing them, to installing new bath and shower fixtures over existing ones.

For the budget-conscious landscaper, the best approach is to stay realistic.

Ahmed Hassan, landscaper and former host of reality TV show “Yard Crashers,” brought his audience a dose of common sense during talks at the show. When an audience member asked whether a hibiscus plant was “tough and rugged” for Carolina weather, Hassan answered, “What do you call ‘tough and rugged?’”

“They freeze. If you can’t handle 28 degrees, you ain’t tough and rugged,” Hassan said.

After his talk, Hassan said he commonly sees homeowners making expensive mistakes, like trying to grow grass in an area without full sun, under mature trees. “Grass doesn’t grow like that,” Hassan said. “Ever see a sod farm in a forest?”

Keeping with common sense, landscapers say homeowners are rediscovering some traditional Southern decorative plants.

Brandon Vaughan, of Toms Creek Nursery and Landscaping, said now is the time to plant trees and shrubs. In doing so, Vaughan said, people should consider durability instead of what’s popular. “A lot of making your life easier is getting the right tree the first time,” he said.

Many housing developers planted fast-growing Leyland cypress and Bradford pear trees, which do not age well. Also, hotter summers have also made some popular plants, such as rhododendrons and even azaleas, impractical, Vaughan said. Instead, Vaughan said, North Carolina native holly trees and bushes are making a comeback. So is acuba, a green, broad-leafed plant with spots and stripes of gold or cream.

“It kind of got skipped by a generation,” Vaughan said.

Hardy fruit trees, such as brown Turkey figs, are also seeing a resurgence.

Scott Greeson, of Woodlands Outdoor Living in Concord, said his company replaces Leyland cypress with hardier, similar-looking plants, such as arbor vitae. Greeson also recommends varieties of holly, and smaller varieties of magnolia.

Chad Little, owner of Bushwackers Landscaping in Richfield, said he’s recommending a variety of traditional plants – daffodils, tulips and blooming Okame cherry trees. Little also suggests small-leafed rhododendrons, “an older variety (that) seems to be doing a lot better,” he said.

At the same time, Little said, homeowners have to be willing to work for what they want. Even in droughts, he said, there are varieties of roses, ornamental plants and grasses that will provide long-term beauty and stand up to the worst Carolinas weather.

People are also using outdoor areas to add value to their homes, for comfort and higher sale price.

Little said he’s seen increased interest in waterfalls and other natural features, as well as illuminated paved walkways that use low-power LED lighting.

And Greeson said “any kind of fire feature,” including backyard fire pits and fireplaces, has been popular, as homeowners seek to add long-term value in an uncertain market.

  Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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