Rachel and Shay Sekler’s family life is too big to be contained inside their Toronto home. Their family loves to entertain family and friends and wanted to turn their backyard into the perfect outdoor venue to host their guests. Unfortunately the weather often refuses to cooperate when you want to spend time in your backyard. If it’s not too hot, it’s too cold or too dreary. When Rachel Sekler contacted Eitan and Keren Abu, with the Toronto-based architectural landscape company M.E. Contracting Outdoor Solutions, they found they had a wide range of options available to extend the season during which they could enjoy their backyard.

“My vision was to have a backyard that I could really use and enjoy,” Rachel Sekler says. “I told Eitan I wanted to still be able to sit outside even if it’s a rainy or very cold day.”

Abu came up with a design that included a large maintenance free deck with a dining table that seats ten; a cabana with shower and bathroom facilities; a swimming pool with a waterfall feature and a large concrete deck area for entertaining as well as a pergola with a retractable awning and natural gas firepit to provide a bit of heat on cool evenings. Sekler was thrilled with the result.

Start the day. “Usually I start my mornings at 6:00AM by going out to the pergola with my coffee and my computer,” She says. “I turn on the water so I can listen to it fall and then give myself an hour to relax before I start my day. I don’t need to worry if it’s raining, and if it’s cold I just light the fire.

“On summer evenings we often invite friends over and entertain,” she adds. “Last night people were here until 1:00AM. My son and all his friends were here and they are coming over to go swimming shortly. It’s better than having a cottage.”

Summer doesn’t last very long in Canada, so people want to get outside and enjoy it while it’s here, says Keren Abu. “I believe people here appreciate the summer weather more than they do in warmer parts of the world.”

“Consumers are refreshing or updating their backyard space,” says Jeff Kozak with the Napoleon Group of Companies in Barrie, Ontario. “Their outdoor space is becoming an extension of their indoor décor and their lifestyle. As such, everyone is gearing up their offerings to make the outdoors a little bit more comfortable.”

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People are increasingly willing invest $50,000 to $500,000 to turn their backyard into an outdoor oasis instead of buying a cottage, Eitan Abu says. The expense can be justified because recreational property within an easy driving distance of Toronto is very expensive and weekend traffic jams on the roads to cottage country are legendary.

“So many people tell us we sold our cottage because the two hour drive up to Muskoka (Ontario) became too much,” Karen says. They tell us we have a nice property here in Toronto. If we put in a pool it will be perfect for us. We just want to enjoy life with no traffic, and it saves so much money.”

“There are a number of things you can do to make your backyard more enjoyable when the weather isn’t ideal,” Keren Abu says. “Let’s start with when it’s too hot. One of the first options to consider is adding a wood pergola. A pergola has vertical pillars that support cross beams and a sturdy open lattice. It helps keep you cool by offering semi-shade from the sun. You could also add a high technology, retractable canopy or awning to it. These are great! They provide full shade when it’s hot and sunny, shelter when it’s raining and help retain heat when it cools off in the evening.”

Refreshing water features. Another option is to add a water feature. Having a swimming pool in your backyard is obviously a great option for keeping cool on a hot summer day. But even if a pool isn’t to your taste, or in your budget, you can install a small waterfall. Abu says it’s amazing how much running very cold water over a small waterfall will help cool your environment.

Strategically planting trees is another great way to create shade, Eitan Abu says. Climbing vines can also provide shelter from the sun and can be used to provide a bit of privacy.

“Utilizing plants for shade and privacy though started to become less popular about five years ago,” Keren says. “Maintaining plants is a lot of work and people don’t want to be bothered with all the extra work they require. They would rather just have us put up a privacy screen instead.

“Young urban professionals have a very hectic lifestyle and work from morning to night,” she explains. “When they get home they just want to sit out on their deck, perhaps call some friends over, have a glass of wine and enjoy life. They are looking for a space that’s a haven, not one that creates more work. So they are willing to pay extra for technology that’s as low maintenance as possible.”

Even swimming pools today can be equipped with technology to reduce the amount of time needed to maintain them. Systems are now available that keep the water clean by filtering nearly everything for you with minimal supervision. You can control everything from pool maintenance to lighting with apps on your smart phone.

Summers in Canada typically start with cool mornings, hot days and then cool once more in the evenings. Evenings especially can be sometimes be very cold. Thankfully there are several ways to deal with this. Firepits, outdoor fireplaces and patio flame tables that burn natural gas or propane are rapidly gaining popularity. They’re becoming a convenient alternative to the traditional campfire.

A patio flame table is essentially a gas fireplace built into a patio table. The burner element is covered when it’s being used as a table but when the evening cools you can remove the cover to fire it up. Kozak says they are probably not quite as functional as the mushroom-shaped patio heaters they are replacing in the market place but they are aesthetically more pleasing. They come in three basic heights, coffee table height, dining room table height and bar height.

Locating a canopied pergola up against the privacy fence provides shelter from the elements.

Locating a canopied pergola up against the privacy fence provides shelter from the elements.

“We can build a custom-made firepit that can be as big as people want to have it,” Keren Abu says. “If you want to put it in a space big enough to hold twenty people, we can build it.”

Consider a gazebo. While a pergola equipped with a canopy and a gas firepit is great for taking the edge off of a cool morning or evening, if you want to really be comfortable when it gets cold you might want to consider building a gazebo, Abu says. It’s possible to equip one with sliding doors and windows that can be opened or closed depending on the weather. These, along with an outdoor fireplace, truly create a room that can be used year-round.

Creating your backyard oasis can easily become one of the most expensive renovations you will undertake with your home. Your options are only limited by your budget. It’s easily possible to spend $50,000 to a $100,000 dollars on it. Since you can spend so much money, Abu highly recommends hiring a professional to manage the project.

“The very first thing you should do before you start on a project like this is ask yourself, what do I want to do in my backyard?” Keren Abu says. “How do you see yourself making use of your outdoor space when it’s done in two or three months? How do you wish to prioritize your goals? These are simple but important questions, but people often don’t think to ask them. Of course you also need to have a firm handle on your bottom line.”

Outdoor kitchens are very popular right now, Abu says but they start at $10,000 dollars and go up from there. Is having one really necessary for how you plan to use your space or would a decent barbecue suit your purposes? It all comes down
to differentiating between your wants and needs.

“You have to remember that at the end of the day your landscape project is a luxury,” Abu says. “You are building something that will enhance your lifestyle but it will not necessarily increase the real estate value of your home.”

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