Sutherland Furniture - Great Camp Chair

With all of this lingering cold winter weather, I was needing a little spring pick me up. I discovered this outdoor furniture company called Sutherland and fell in love with, well, all of their stuff, but it's the "Plateau" line that originally caught my eye (to be continued...I'll share that one later!). Scrolling through their website I saw this "Great Camp" Muskoka chair re-make, (Adirondack for all you American folk) and placed them perfectly fireside and dockside for me to drool all over. Couldn't be more of a summer tease than that. And what's cool about them, is that even though they are sleek visual stunners, they can still fit right in to (or onto) my rickety old dock and still look sweet. Great Camp is offered in teak, in four different finishes, and powder coated aluminum frames, available in 20 standard colours. The countdown is on....only 45 days to go until cottage season. And the first thing I'm going to do is park my butt on the dock on one of these beaut's.

Azek Composite Decking

Composite decking has been around for quite some time now, as an alternative to the nuisance of maintaining real wood. Of all of my clients, 99.9% all request NO MAINTENANCE when describing their wish list for their property. I then explain that there is no such thing, and every property requires some sort of maintenance to keep it looking its best. Composite wood is one of those little gold mines when it comes to that low maintenance category. There are several different types of "composite" decking out there, but most clients don't know the difference. When I mention "composite" as an alternative to my clients, common responses are "I heard it gets really hot", or "it looks like plastic" or "I heard bad things about the structural integrity of it". All valid concerns.

But...a valid argument can be made against all these points....people don't realize that real wood can get just as hot as a composite material. I have to run off my deck sometimes when the sun is out in full force. And the beautiful thing about composite being around for awhile, is that they keep making it better. Original designs were tacky and boring, and definitely looked like plastic. The colours that are offered now are ten-fold, and Azek is one of those companies that is blazing the trail for the rest. Traditional, as well as many modern colours and textures are one of the features that make stand them apart. Their construction is paramount as well. They coat all four sides of the deck board and the groove, in a protective cap, protecting your board from the elements. It also resists mold, moisture and mildew, resists scatching and staining, and has superior heat dissipation. Azek also manufactures several other products, such as railing systems, trim, moulding, lights and even pavers to create a uniform look throughout.

And lastly, the final concern to address is the price. Yes, composite decking is pricy. But when you compare it to the cost of real wood, plus the yearly maintenance costs required (or your blood, sweat and tears....lots and lots of tears...) then looking at composite isn't so bad. It's sleek, slick and of course, tear free.   

Flower Construction by Anne Ten Donkelaar

This is some of the most amazing plant art that I have ever seen. The artist, Anne Ten Donkelaar, takes pressing flowers to a whole new level. Instead of gluing flattened, pressed flowers to a page, she preserves the colour and beauty of these flowers, and elevates them on the page using pins. And she uses some of the most unique varieties, so whimsical, so creative. My brain literally hurts just thinking about how tedious this whole exercise must be. To me, you can tell how passionate an artist must be to be able to complete a process such as this. Each and every piece tells some sort of a story, and I love that Anne wants people to make up their own rendition of what they see.

“A damaged butterfly, a broken twig, a bumblebee, some strangely grown weeds: I find all these unique discoveries in my path and then take them home to my studio. Here, I take my time to explore the objects and try to work out how I can show each one to it’s best advantage. My finds inspire me. While looking at them I can invent my own stories about their existence and their lives. By protecting these precious pieces under glass, I give the objects a second life and hope to inspire people to make up their own stories about them.” (Anne Ten Donkelaar)

Gloster Outdoor Furniture

One of the most premium lines of outdoor furniture, Gloster continues to amaze me with their creative and quality product lines. They create heirloom furniture using teak, stainless steel, aluminum, and synthetic fiber and upholstery. Teak is one of the best materials for outdoor applications as it has a tight grain and high oil content which is very resistant to the elements. Gloster’s furniture lines are very appealing to me as they offer that high end look that my customer’s are looking for. You sit in a Gloster chair and you can feel the quality underneath you. The teak is so smooth it almost feels fabricated.

Another popular material that Gloster uses is their woven, man made fibre. It is tear resistant, UV resistant and weather resistant.  This furniture can be left outside year round and is able to withstand temp’s from -20 celsius to +55 celsius. As a bonus, it is also resistant to chlorine, salt water, and tanning lotions and oils.

I have only highlighted a few of their product lines, so do be sure to check out Gloster’s full collection here and start planning your landscape around your new furniture 

Flowers by Claus Dalby

I stumbled upon Claus Dalby on Instagram a few months back, and he is absolutely one of my favourite people that I follow. A man of a few different hats, he is a plantsman, publisher, author, broadcaster and photographer. If you want to get all squirmy and antsy for spring, then jump on board and follow Claus. His photos are s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g. I love to play in the garden as much as the next, but when I look at his photos, and peruse his blog, he makes me want to grow these fascinating specimens myself, as he does. There is truly a science behind the growth of a plant; watching these beauties take shape, and admiring the vibrance of colour from one to the next. When I look through his blog, and absorb every bit of information he puts forth, he reminds me more and more of a male Martha Stewart. Their beautiful estates are similar, their disposition, their love for the plant, and their plethora of knowledge that I will never tire of. I dream, one day, to be as fortunate as both of them, to be able to grow and enjoy ALL of these beauties throughout the year.

Firepits by Paloform

Ok, my ideal fire is always real wood. Always. Nothing beats the smell of a real fire burning. But with it come a few headaches. You have to find the wood. You have to chop the wood, hopefully without chopping off your digits at the same time. And you have to build the fire itself. Not everyone is able, or even wants to do this. And you need the perfect location of course. So when my clients ask me to include a fire pit in their design, a real fire isn’t always feasible. Most of us live within the city limits, and most cities are unwilling to allow you to have a real fire in your backyard. So what is the alternative? The mention of a gas fire pit isn’t always received well. “Its just not the same thing.”

However, when I show them the options and possibilities for a gas unit, they are pleasantly surprised when I show them Paloform. Crafted right here in Toronto, they make each piece made to order for each and every client. They have 8 different units to choose from, in various colours and finishes, and they top their fire pits with honed basalt river rock or lava rock. You can choose from either propane or natural gas, and are supplied complete…all you need is a fuel source. Their burner systems are designed and manufactured in-house and ETL listed, certified to CSA and ANSI standards for the U.S. and Canada and have CE certification under the Gas Appliance Directive 2009/142/EC for Europe.

So for the fire snob out there like me, you may be convinced. These are beautiful units. I, myself would love to have one of these in my own backyard. A flick of a switch and you’re ready to go. No mess, no campfire smell, and all 10 fingers in tact.

She Sheds - A Design Trend to Stay

The female alternative to the traditional "man cave", She's Shed's are becoming an increasing request amongst design clients. Women are craving their own sanctuary to call their own, whether it be for gardening, reading, an art studio, or simply a place to have a glass-o-somethin' in peace. Clean out that dirty old garden shed, or better yet create something completely custom just for you. In fact, Lowe's Canada is taking advantage of this popular trend by creating custom kits just for this. So check out these awesome inspo pics for some great ideas, and hit some flea markets and antique shops for some inexpensive, one of a kind finds to suit. Don't forget to decorate the outside of your She Shed. Add a small deck with some outdoor furniture, hang some sconces, and paint the door something fun. Bring the garden inside with potted plants, fresh flowers, or integrate some floral prints and patterns as well. And don't just think about daytime....string up some lights, light some candles, and create a sweet ambiance for night time retreats. This is your spot...make it YOURS. You wanna rock that purple wall that makes your hubby go cross-eyed? You go girl. 

Ken Gangbar

Pottery at a whole new level. Artist Ken Gangbar creates art installations and sculptures that “feature organic shapes arranged in nature inspired patterns” (Stacy Lee Kong, House & Home p. 46). Take each piece for what you will….nuts or cones in the grass, petals floating to the ground, fungus growing on a tree, birds in flight, waves of water, or dandelions blowing in the wind. I could just sit and stare at each piece for hours.

An artist who dabbled in pottery, even from a young age, found his mark after taking different courses in school and experimenting with pottery. “We are inspired by the cyclical patterns and intricate compositions of the natural world. We thrive on spontaneity, and the spirit of experimentation made possible by fearlessness. We strive to emulate the abstract found in the organic.” (Ken Gangbar, Website)

I always admire the process of art…how you can create a shape or an object, a certain brush stroke, and have the vision to turn it into something incredible, like each one of these pieces. Absolutely beautiful.

Loll Designs - Outdoor Furniture for the Modern Lollygagger

Edgy, hip. These designs are so sweet. A variety of different colours, form and function, this furniture collection is for the modern lounger, or 'lollygagger' as they put it so eloquently. 

Loll designs and manufactures durable, all season weather outdoor furniture made from 100% recycled plastic -- mostly from milk jugs. "Originally, we used recycled post-industrial plastic scrap (that has been diverter or recovered during the manufacturing process), but by 2007, we began sourcing post-consumer plastic (materials that has been used by consumers and diverted or recovered from waster destined for a landfill). This is when Loll, as both a product and a company, really started to take shape as a green company. An estimated 8 recycled milk jugs go into each pound of a Loll Adirondack Chair, which equals about 400 milk jugs per chair." Even better, their recycled material is 100% recyclable, so when you are done with your Loll furniture, they can be recycled and re-purposed into something useful again when the time comes.

Couldn't you just kiss them?!? 400 milk jugs per chair! That's huge as these designs are awesome. Every one of us (well...I hope so!) has every good intention to do something good for this good, green earth we co-habitate together...paper over plastic, walk instead of drive, use bio-degradable soaps, whatever little thing you can do in your day to make a teeny tiny diff. in the grand scheme of it all. I know I'm not re-using 400 milk jugs so I can sit down comfortably at the end of the day....wish I could say I was. But purchasing a sweet little piece from this company is the next best thing - hell make it a set of 4 while you're at it. I'll take mine in Blue.


Design like a Pro

When you break it all down, designing your own yard can be very rewarding, and not as hard as one may think. Keeping in mind certain principles, you can design your own yard, and hopefully have fun doing it. Below are a few of my own tips that I follow, when undertaking a new project.

  1. Keep things simple. People find the need to try to cram too much stuff into one space, or simply try too hard to fancy it all up. A busy garden isn’t pleasing to the eye, and will quickly date itself. Monochromatic colour schemes (with a splash of colour is always nice), organized planting, and simple lines are a common favourite in my book.
  2. Be aware of scale. A backyard design that is 85% stonework, and 10% grass and 5% planting is not very appealing. I always find that keeping a healthy amount of rich green grass is an easy way to please the eye, even if you don’t want to cut it. You could always install turf! And if you hate grass, then make sure that your plant ratio is complimentary to your hard surfaces. As well, a 24″ wide walkway is not a comfortable width to walk on, so bump up the scale and make transition areas as easy to navigate as possible. You should be able to pass someone quite easily without bumping one another off. Plants that are too large (or too small) for a space is something to be mindful of. Plants should feel like they belong there, and that they have actually been there all along.
  3. Use fewer plants. I can always spot a homemade garden a mile away. I know everyone loves plants. I am guilty of the same. So be choosy. Planting every variety you love in your backyard is not helping your cause. Choosing a few complimentary colours to one another, or even monochromatic, is the best way to calm your eye muscles. So choose a few plants, and repeat. You want cohesion. Seeing different groupings of plants throughout the design creates that familiarity, and is comforting to those spending time in your space.
  4. Odd Numbers?? I think many people have heard the common rule of “planting in odd numbers”. I don’t always follow this rule, but most often. When the quantity of plants exceeds five, I don’t find it makes a difference. One is nice, three and five is great, but I find I will never plant only 2 plants in a row.
  5. Create focal points. Everyone likes something to look at, whether its a beautiful Japanese Maple by your patio, or a piece of art amongst the shrubs. I like adding focal points where they are not expected, like at the end of a long walkway, a detail in stonework, or something architectural. Be different.
  6. Go vertical. I find nothing more boring than everything on the horizontal. Its flat. It always costs more to go up, but I find it is well worth it and necessary to an original design. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, and can be achieved with stone, wood or even plants. Build a stone seat wall. Add a decorative arbour or wood screen. And be sure to plant that beautiful shade tree or linear hedge to help balance out your horizontal surfaces.
  7. Create a destination. I always try to separate each area into zones. By having a cooking area, dining area, lounging area, play area, etc. it createsthat destination. You could be dining out back with your friends, and see those comfy lounge chairs by the fire across the yard calling out your name. Everyone loves a change of scenery from time to time. It creates a completely different experience for you and your guests, and they will already be planning the next get-together at your house again soon.
  8. Add texture. Everyone tends to do the same thing. Put down a patio or deck and be done with it. It functional, it works, right? But you could step things up drastically by just adding in a few different textures here and there. I like to use both wood and stone if I can, or integrate two (MAYBE three!) different stone materials. I like to border my different zones, which helps to break up that “sea of stone” look that I love so much. And have fun with your plant choices. Place plants with miniature leaves beside one with larger ones. Use wispy ornamental grasses that blow in the wind. Use something spiky. Or incredibly soft. And have fun with it.