Interior design heads to the great outdoors
Three of Toronto’s top decorators explain how to create an outdoor oasis
Thanks to the unseasonably warm spring weather, it comes as no surprise that we are moving our attention outdoors. Thoughts of sipping cool drinks on comfy loungers and backyard barbecues instantly come to mind at the mere hint of summer. However, in recent years, there’s been an increased shift in transforming an outdoor space from a simple seasonal hangout to a full-out extension of your home.
“People are looking at their outdoor space the same way they look at the rooms in their homes,” says Tommy Smythe, associate designer with Sarah Richardson Design and co-star of HGTV’s Sarah’s Cottage and Sarah’s House. “They are looking at sight lines, flow, scale. Instead of just thinking, ‘I need a table and a lounge chair,’ outdoor design is going toward indoor design,” he adds.
Heidi Richter, the designer of HGTV’s Decked Out, says the economy and priorities are two of the main reasons for the switch. “Everyone is on a budget now,” she says. “Everyone is buying their own home, saving for their children’s education. So they want to make the most from their home. You don’t have to buy a cottage or take a vacation. With a great outdoor space, you can have a staycation.”
Form and function are other factors, says Ashley Tracey, a designer with Toronto’s Lux Design. “For the people living in condos or having smaller backyards, they want to utilize the space and maximize it.”
Prioritize and budget accordingly
To get started with creating your outdoor oasis, Richter suggests evaluating what you want to do with your space — for example, creating a lounge, a play area or even a vegetable garden. “Do you want the maintenance of [a vegetable garden],” she asks. “Or do you want something more low maintenance?” Both Smythe and Tracey agree that budget and quality are key factors in deciding how to outfit your outdoor abode.
“I think there’s a desire that people have, when the weather gets warmer, to rush out to a cheap and disposable store, so they can grab what they can grab,” says Smythe. “And the problem with that is that they don’t last very long, and you’ll have to buy it again later. I would say prioritize and spend accordingly, but buy the best you can afford.”
Pattern and colour are beginning to appear in trendy outdoor spaces
Adds Tracey, “If this is a piece you want in the next 10 to 15 years, instead of the next two or three years, it’s an investment to have furniture with UV protection and water protection.” Once you’ve determined how you want to utilize your outdoor space and how much you can afford, it’s time to consider core furniture pieces.
The sectional sofa is a new addition to the backyard, according to Tracey. “Now we’re doing [sectionals] outside, so you can have a large gathering. It’s the outdoor version of a family room to entertain and have enough people around be comfortable.”
As for the aesthetics: “We’re looking at furniture with good-quality fabrics that can be left out in a light rainfall,” says Richter. “Like synthetic wood and a resin wicker weave.” Your best bet for furniture? Richter favours Southport Homes (6201 Highway 7 W., Vaughan), and Tracey likes Casalife (171 East Liberty St.). If you prefer something more unique, you may want to check out the vintage outdoor furniture available at L’Atelier (1224 Yonge St.), says Smythe.
All three designers agree that colour is making a big splash in outdoor decor. Pink, lime green, tangerine, cobalt blue — you name it, the colours of the rainbow are popping up everywhere outside and are no longer exclusive to your flower bed.
“Pattern and colour are creeping into outdoor furniture,” says Smythe. “We haven’t seen that until recently in outdoor furnishing, and it really links to the notion that people are looking to their outdoor spaces in the same way that they are viewing their indoor spaces.”
“It’s all about bright colours,” says Tracey. “People are having fun, and they’re excited for the warm weather and to be outside, so there are a lot of hits of bright colours. Whatever your favourite colour is, go for it.”
And colours are not just solely for accessories, like throw pillows and area rugs, anymore this season, either.
“For spring and summer this year, it seems that a lot of progressive furniture makers are looking at a lot more colour in the furniture,” says Smythe. “Instead of the frame being neutral and the pillows being lime green, the frames are now in colour.” For colourful furniture, Smythe suggests Alfred Sung’s line available at the Bay. For bright accessories, Tracy recommends CB2 (651 Queen St. W.) and Richter thinks HomeSense (195 Yonge St.) is a great place, but adds that “You have to be willing to hunt.”
Buy well, buy once
So what are some easy accents that homeowners can do right now to spruce up their backyard?
Smythe, for one, isn’t an advocate for a quick fix. “I would be more advised to say to people to think of their outdoor space like how they look at their living room and make a list as to how they could improve their space with its function and what they want. Maybe this year they get a new lounger and a new sofa, and next year, a rug and mirror. Good outdoor furniture lasts a long time. I believe in buying the best, so that you can only buy it once.”
However, spontaneous backyarders who want to get an early jump on transforming their outdoor space can heed the advice of both Richter and Tracey.
“New planters are fun and easy,” says Richter. “You can get tulips and daffodils for the spring, and then you can switch over to some summer plants later on. Change up the foliage as the seasons go.”
Tracey agrees. “Large-scale planters that light up give off something dramatic. It gives a cool, South Beach feeling,” adding that “an ethanol fireplace is also cool and easy and inexpensive.” And when in doubt, add some colourful throw pillows.
As for what is the season’s must-have outdoor accessory?
Smythe returns to the sentiment of furnishing your outdoor space like it’s any other room inside of your house. “Rugs make the outdoor space feel homey and interior-like, while mirrors add a little bit of sparkle.”
Richter says it’s “anything that can extend your time outdoors. We want to be out there in the evening: so candles, lanterns, outdoor lighting, some sort of fire feature, anything to give you that warmth.”
“I’m going to stick with illuminated planters,” says Tracey. “They’re awesome.”
So pull up a chair and enjoy the warm weather in your new summer sanctuary.