You’ve designed your dream backyard. Now all you have to think about is filling it with stuff.
The look and feel of your backyard will be shaped by the choices you make at the stage when you’re dealing with hardscaping and the installation of major features. Your outdoor refuge begins to take on its own personality, which should complement the personalities of both your house and your family.
Between the cost of labour and materials, this will be by far the most expensive stage of any backyard reboot. If you invest in hardy materials and timeless looks, you won’t be tempted to change it all around again in a few years.
“What I find most of the time is my clients are looking for something with longevity,” says Jennifer Hayman, a Toronto landscape designer.
Below, some tips for making the big backyard decisions:
PATIOS: SIZE AND PLACEMENT
Go big. Landscape designers say they often have to persuade homeowners to make patios as large as possible. A patio has to accommodate our freewheeling outdoor ways, says Kennedy McRae, a partner in the Toronto landscape design firm Earth Inc. For example, people get casual and push their chairs well back from the table while dining al fresco.
“When you’re sitting around a table outside, nobody sits tight up against a table like you would in your house,” Mr. McRae says. “You sit back at a patio table … So the space needed for a patio set of, like, eight people is way bigger than you’d need in your interior.”
He notes as well that furnishings have to be bigger in the backyard in order to look presentable.
“The scale of everything outside becomes dwarfed by nature.”
For smaller Toronto backyards, Ms. Hayman likes to place the outdoor “rooms” on a 45-degree tilt “so that instead of looking straight down to the end of your property, like a bowling alley,” the eye is tricked into seeing a larger space.
Firstly, you and your landscape designer or contractor will need to decide what kind of base will go underneath the stones: dry lay or wet lay. The latter involves putting a concrete base underneath the flagstones. It’s more expensive, but also more durable.
As for the paving materials, natural stone has a stronger aesthetic and even emotional appeal than artificial options such as concrete. But natural stone is expensive.
“People tend to gravitate towards stone … that’s what they see in magazines and stuff, but then when it comes down to the price, that’s quite often one of the first things that will change,” says Fran Moore, a landscape designer at Collingwood’s Vogel Landscape Design and Consulting Group.
“We always like to use native material in its own setting where the budget allows,” Ms. Hayman says. And Ontario is rich in beautiful stone. However, if a cost compromise is necessary, it’s helpful to know that the more affordable options — even the man-made materials — are improving.
“There’s a lot of new products on the market from India, Vietnam and China. People are using them across the city,” Ms. Hayman says. “It allows the homeowners to have that natural look, that old formality, but at a better price point.”
The key to outdoor lighting, Ms. Hayman says, is to use it to draw attention to the interesting features of your backyard, not the lighting itself.
While you generally want to avoid creating glare, you can extend your nighttime cooking hours if you make a decently powered light available in your barbecue area.
You don’t need a permit to build a pergola in Toronto, which might help explain why they’ve been growing in popularity. Their cost varies based on materials, ranging from pressure-treated wood at the cheaper end to sturdy imported woods such as ipe from Brazil.
Today’s swimming pools exhibit a dazzling aesthetic range, in contrast to the aqua-blue-and-white eyesores of generations past. Collingwood’s Vogel, for example, creates splash zones that take advantage of whimsical and beautiful trends in pool design, such as using boulders as diving boards and using dark concrete to create a serene, pond-like aura.
Costs start at $80,000 and go well past $100,000. Even still, Vogel is set to install a surprising six pools this year, Ms. Moore says. She speculates that’s because lingering economic weakness is causing people to travel less. “Their getaway is there, right in the backyard.”
Tony Lombardi, principal of Toronto’s Dr. Landscape, says a more basic vinyl in-ground pool will start at about $45,000. “That can chew up a budget pretty quickly,” he says. And he notes that a pool can also be a drag on resale value of a home.
If a pool is out of the question, landscape designers will often suggest a lesser undertaking that will still bring the calming sound of running water into the backyard — waterfalls and fountains, for example. Recirculated water is the way to go: Water features that involve a pond or pooled water tend to be a hassle to maintain.
It’s tricky to find an appropriate setting for a fire pit in a typical GTA backyard, which leaves fireplaces. Going beyond the portable kind, gas fireplaces are the luxe option but of course require that you run a natural gas line out to them. Outdoor ethanol fireplaces are touted as an environmentally conscious option and are relatively hassle-free, but they generate noticeably less heat than a wood or gas fireplace.