Neily Pappas enjoys gardening and entertaining in the peaceful, enchanting Eden in the backyard of her Milton Avenue home in Rock Hill.

Doors from the kitchen and living areas lead onto a deck with an arbor and both cushioned and built-in seating. Steps from the deck lead down to a brick patio with a vista of the yard, including a swing under an arbor and a brick terrace.

"It is a pleasant yard to be in," said Pappas, a building contractor who renovated the 1930-era house. "It's what they call a green yard, because there's so much shade."

The yard is an example of one of the most popular home trends today -- outdoor living spaces. So-called outdoor-rooms that incorporate both elegant design and function are replacing bare patios and decks.

"We are definitely getting more calls for outdoor living spaces," said Scott Reister, owner of TG&R Landscape Group in Rock Hill. "People are spending more money improving their homes, and part of that is outdoor living spaces."

Outdoor rooms include such features as covered areas and other extensions of living areas, fire pits and fireplaces and even outdoor kitchens.

"We try to get people down into the landscape," said Reister. "It becomes a more sensory experience. You can incorporate plant material that's going to have seasonal interest and fragrances. It creates a more peaceful place to sit and relax."

Plain, standard-issue decks lined up one after the other on the back of many homes in new subdivisions don't offer that sense, he said. "You're above and you're kind of exposed."

Living areas that are incorporated into the landscape create a more pleasant environment, he said. "It's easier to create that sense that we call sanctuary."

"If you have that space, you want to sit down in it and relax and feel comfortable," Reister said. "That's where creating that space is important."

Pappas has lights in the trees so she can entertain in the evening. She has hosted gatherings for Historic Rock Hill, bridal parties and other celebrations.

Some of the yard's unique features include a bridge built for her grandchildren, who played Three Billy Goats Gruff there when they were young, and a "gate to nowhere," that connects two areas of the yard.

Underground gutters from the home direct water into a small stone brook built by Pappas that runs through the back of the yard. "I like to do my own things," said Pappas.

One corner of the yard features a raised area with a statue and wrought iron tables and chairs. Fences in brick, wrought iron and wood lend a backdrop to the yard.

"I didn't put up the fences to keep anyone out," explained Pappas, a member of the local Floribunda Garden Club. "I put up the fences to have background for planting."

Reister said other features that can be used to create a sense of sanctuary in an outdoor living area include planted buffers, fireplaces, garden walls and trellises, brick or stone walkways, planting arrangements and earthen berms.

He said many empty nesters who have downsized are creating outdoor retreats in smaller gardens. "Courtyard gardens are a real extension of the house," he said.

He said landscape architects can work to bring those elements together in a pleasing way. "Anybody can throw a fireplace in the yard. How are you going to use it? And how does it integrate into the rest of your surroundings?"

Views in the yard, or extended vistas, are another aspect of the design that creates a feeling of sanctuary, he said. "It's more about the experience," he said.