Story by Janice Henshaw | Photos by www.nuttycake.com / Vince Klassen
What does outdoor living space mean to you? Does it consist of a trip to the park, a barbecue, or perhaps a pot of geraniums and a couple of sun loungers on a deck? Or could it be an all-season entertaining area that includes an outdoor kitchen, heated tile flooring, and wicker patio furniture that surrounds a beautiful outdoor fireplace?
Whatever we have now, it’s fun to dream about changes that will transform our outdoor play or relaxing space into something even more amazing. Perhaps this is the year we can add lighting, plants that attract butterflies and bees, fruit trees, a kid’s treehouse, or incorporate a whole new design with retaining walls, an infinity pool, or raised garden beds. But how do we transform that glorious image into reality? When the questions start to add up faster than the answers, it’s time to check in with some local experts.
Silvia Bonet, lead architect at Finlayson Bonet Architecture, grew up in the hot climate of Argentina where there were no boundaries between indoor and outdoor living. As a result, Silvia approaches designing a space differently, and she says that to achieve the uninterrupted feeling of not having a threshold between you and the outdoors, it’s best to use the same flooring or same colour of flooring through both spaces, as well as matching colours and lighting.
“Large openings, whether sliding, folding, or swing doors, permit that continuity. Large windows next to a double swing door also enhance that effect. It is ideal to have no obstacles when going from one space to the other. Allowing full visibility to the outdoors, or using subtle, deliberate framed views from the inside, will encourage us to go outside for further exploration,” Silvia says.
“Not all houses are at ground level, in which case a large deck can be built to create the expansion to the outside.” Silvia notes that it is better to have a minimum grade differential; however, if steps are required, then it is essential to provide large and safe platforms that transition to lower decks as the outdoor space flows down into a lower garden.
Landscaping choices are important too. Silvia encourages her clients to plant deciduous trees on the south, south-west side which provides welcome shade in the summer and allows maximum sun in the winter. Coniferous trees planted on the predominantly-windy side helps block cold winter winds. Silvia concludes: “When we design an outdoor space in our climate there are many challenges to consider!”
For additional information on landscape design, I turned to a Q&A session with the ever-helpful and talented Chris Stansfield at Garden City Tree & Landscape. I gave him, as an example to work with, a rancher style house plunked in the middle of a large lawn with a few trees and shrubs. Here are his suggestions:
How do I create boundaries in my outdoor space, so it isn’t just an endless mowing chore?
If you have space, it’s ideal to make “rooms” throughout your landscape using larger plant material or hardscape (pathways, retaining walls, etc.). If you have a smaller yard, it’s ideal to have peek-a-view sightlines (windows) in the “rooms” to give the illusion of a larger area.
I think a deck could be my favourite hangout in the summer. What are my options?
If you like things hot and you have a sunny patio, I would recommend interlock pavers or slate. These elements act as a heat sink during the day and help keep you warm on our cool summer evenings. We very rarely put in natural wood decking here on the West Coast as it does not have a long life and continually needs to be repainted or stained. But if you like the look and feel of wood, I recommend you take a look at composite deck material. It’s soft on bare feet, looks good, and never needs to be painted!
What addition will transform my outdoor space from forgettable to great?
Lighting, lighting and more lighting. We have long winter nights and coming home to a nicely lit-up landscape is a great reward for spending hard-earned money. A second step is to add a high-quality mulch – that will also make your plants and hardscape pop!
What options are there for the entrance to my outdoor space? How can I give it pizzazz?
Building a trellis or arbour sets the tone for your outside space. Using our local full dimension wood products mounted in powder-coated saddles creates a stunning effect.
How about installing a water feature? Will it help with noise from roads or neighbours?
A water feature helps to dull background noise and the sight of moving water can be very relaxing. If water usage is a concern, stay away from large deciduous trees and full sun. It’s amazing how the evaporation rate varies from a sunny open area to a partly shaded, wind-protected area.
In designing a seating area what should be considered? And how do I define it?
Make it close to the house, so you use it! It’s amazing to me that people spend hard-earned money on a very attractive seating area that they never use because it’s in an inconvenient location. The key to success is to ensure it matches with the elements of the location. A heavily wooded area suits live-edge lumber benches surrounded by large woodland plants like rhododendron, pieris and azaleas. A rocky outcrop area suits a slate patio with high-quality teak furniture surrounded by masonry walls that can incorporate drought tolerant feature plants. All patios will benefit from a natural gas “fire pit” if the budget allows it.
Chris concludes: “Fire, water, earth and air are crucial to
To finish our deck with a fire pit or furniture, we can pop over to Home Hardware, where Laura Harris notes that new trends in outdoor furniture are always happening. “Colour is huge; I remember when Adirondack chairs came in only three or four colours – now I struggle to find space for all the varieties. They go from teal green to wine burgundy. It’s a rainbow of furniture!”
Once you are all comfy in your beautiful new deck chair with an intriguing summer read in one hand and a cool refreshing beverage in the other, you can look up at the gorgeous blue sky, relax, and be grateful. No matter how small and simple, or large and complex, it’s your lovely retreat, your space to enjoy.