Top trends to create the outdoor living space of your dreams

By Kate Rae

In recent years, backyards have gone from lawn-and-barbecue affairs to deluxe alfresco extensions of the home, with high-end flooring options, tailored lighting, gourmet outdoor kitchens, fire pits – even chandeliers and sofas.

“It’s all about bringing the inside out – creating actual outdoor ‘rooms’ complete with comfortable seating, trendy accessories and even fireplaces,” explains Fiona Hills, a sales associate for The Home Depot.

Outfitting a chic and welcoming outdoor room is easy, whether you’re starting from scratch or spiffing up what you have already. Here’s what design experts say are the hottest things for summer 2012.

Patios

“Patios – not lawns – are huge! Patios are found to increase your home’s curb appeal more than backyards, ” says celebrity landscape designer Carson Arthur. “ There’s also a big trend towards eco-friendly building supplies, like patio stones made of recycled glass.”

Water conservation

Water conservation is becoming another consideration for those updating their outdoor spaces. “Water features are changing, ” says Arthur. “ People are opting for ones that look like pieces of (sculptural) art over more pond-like (fixtures). They require less effort and energy and still look wonderful.”

Compact furniture

“Patio furniture is becoming more streamlined, with thinner arms on chairs and a slimmer profile, ” Arthur says.

Barbecues that do more

BTUs are no longer the be-all-end-all measurement of grill calibre. New generation units boast infrared searing technology or integral pizza stones and vegetable baskets. Mini smokers make it easy to be a pit boss, even if your urban yard is postage stamp-sized and your primary grill is gas or propane.

“An outdoor fire pit – they’re actually quite affordable. You can find something for under $200, ” says Hills. Or consider a contemporary indoor/outdoor ethanol-gel fireplace for a truly “ living room” look.

Interchangeable accessory palettes

“In the spring, we’re attracted to hot, bright colours like pinks and greens, but by the time the hotter months roll around, we seem to lean towards more neutral shades, ” explains Arthur. “ It’s best to pick one neutral colour, and use pops of bright colour in your serving platters and flatware. IKEA has some wonderful, bright serving trays, for example. For your table centrepiece, always go with fresh flowers – you can easily change it up and go as bright as you like or opt for a softer look. ”

Upcycling your outdoor furniture

“People always think what they already have is worse than it really is,” says Ian Beck co-owner of Fresh Home and Garden, an outdoor furnishings home store in Toronto. “ If it’s metal, you can scrub and paint it. Wood can be sanded down. We think everything has to be shiny and new. Embrace some wear and patina. If you want to give new life to old metal furniture, talk to your local auto body shop about painting it. It’s a much different look than you’d get from a spray can – the finish is exquisite! – and it will stand the test of time, ” Beck says.

First published in the Toronto Star on May 17, 2012.

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