We Canadians love our backyards, and no wonder. We have been spending so much time at home with COVID-19 that we love to spend more time outside. And stay out there – listening to the birds, the burble of a water feature, watching the sun set, connecting with friends and family, even at a distance.
As the pace of life quickens and our homes shrink in size, the outdoors is literally the last frontier – and the reason why we’re spending so much more on making the backyard, or deck or balcony a destination oasis.
Out with the white plastic chairs and plexiglass tables, in with the fire pits and heaters giving us a much longer outdoor season, deep-seated sectional sofas, teak dining tables and chairs, and strings of lights. Outdoor furniture manufacturers have been eager to meet our need to linger outside with a wider range of furniture, with longer lasting frames, fabrics that retain their shape and water resistance, and cushion foam that stays comfortable.
Here’s what you need to know:
1) Plan out your space according to how you intend to use the deck. If you are a big reader or sun worshipper, but don’t like eating al fresco, set up your space with more living room type furnishings, and tuck a small dining table off to the side and out of the way.
2) Check materials carefully. There’s teak, treated pine, metal mixed with wood, solid aluminum, stainless and wrought iron. Of these, teak and aluminum last the longest, and are probably the most expensive. Teak you need to baby a bit, while aluminum just wipes clean.
3) Consider modular furniture – pieces that fit together as a sectional or stand alone as chairs – for flexibility. You can change the seating arrangement to suit the occasion or your mood.
4) Decks aren’t just for daytime. Small white lights are magical when strung from house to tree. Add candles around the edges of your deck or patio – flameless ones are safer. An ethanol fire pit not only creates mood, but keeps feet warm and can easily be moved around.
5) Music really adds to the ambience – not so loud that your guests can’t hear each other or the neighbours complain, but as background.
6) As for styles, the sky’s the limit, and they can reflect your dream destinations, or they can reflect the decor of your home. Fancy a week in the Hamptons? Check out sectionals in whitewashed and weathered greys – made from resin wicker – with East Coast fabrics such as navy and white stripes (in water repellant fabrics). Prefer life in a Park Avenue brownstone? Then wrought iron with deep charcoal cushions set amidst a row of boxwoods might be better for you.
7) Don’t forget the floor – wood flooring tiles are easy to install, and create an immediate room setting, especially with the concrete of a condo balcony. Add an outdoor rug to pull it all together.
8) There’s nothing like dining al fresco, and if you’re the type who likes tons of people over, an expandable table might be the best choice. Classic wrought iron tables look great and last forever but are pricey. There’s always teak, but it’s pricey, too, so check out budget-friendly teak alternatives that work equally well. If your deck is on the small side, go for stackable dining chairs.
9) Stow outdoor dining essentials – bright coloured table mats and napkins, covered lanterns or candle holders – near the back door or in a waterproof storage bench. Make sure to keep throws handy to ward off the evening chill.
10) An umbrella will shade the table from the sun and rain; one with a tilt arm that can be adjusted to follow the sun all day. The new pergolas do the same and more, especially when fitted with a retractable canopy system or screen to protect against bugs.
11) For privacy, especially on a condo balcony, you can create a privacy wall by positioning a row of evergreens in matching containers along the edges of your deck. Erect lattice or bamboo screening, then add wall mounted planters and a water feature for an instant retreat.
12) Depending on the space you have, hammocks are well worthwhile for the downtime they afford – snoozing or watching the stars. Add colourful pillows and a sea of planters for a cosy destination.
13) Containers are the way to go for gardening. They come in all shapes and sizes and materials (remember that resin is lighter and therefore easier to move). Depending on the direction they face, condo balconies are ideal for herbs and tomatoes, but they need a lot of water, so make sure you have proper drainage. Tropical plants love sun and add a festive air to your deck – you can also bring them in come fall. If you have less direct sunlight, fill tall tapered containers with ornamental grasses for a clean, modern and minimalist look.
14) Just like inside, the deck is made livelier with the addition of some artwork, such as wrought iron grills, architectural salvage, window frames (with or without mirrored glass).
In the end, if you choose any of these tips, who needs a cottage?