National Blog

Creating a Summer Oasis

I bet you’re as excited as I am to have longer days and much warmer temperatures! And with this beautiful weather we are all excited to be outdoors as much as possible soaking up the rays and heat. As you gravitate to the outside, does your outdoor space inspire you or need an update? Do you even have an outdoor space to relax in? Is there a corner of your yard that has untapped potential?

Many of us want to maximize our time outdoors in what seems to be the shortest season of the year.  Thankfully gone are the days of fold up lawn chairs and an upside down bucket as a ‘side’ table.  The range and selection of outdoor furnishings is limitless and we now view our outdoor spaces as rooms;  extensions of the indoor spaces in our homes and a reflection of our personal style and taste. The size of the space doesn’t matter either as even the smallest balcony or condo backyard can be transformed to a welcoming place of calm and relaxation.


June 2019 J.Armstrong article CF Interiors Sienna 2

Sienna Dining table and Sling chairs exclusive to CF Interiors

One or More Rooms?

First, consider whether you have the space, requirement or desire for a single or multiple rooms for gathering, cooking, dining and/or lounging with family and friends. Multiple rooms can be separated with the use of plants and shrubbery or structures such as lattice, railings, open shelves draped with trailing vines or a pergola. Delineate the areas of a multi-function room by groupings of furniture and accessories so the function of each area is clear.


June 2019 J.Armstrong article Zuo Martinique beach day bed 2Zuo Modern Canada Martinique Beach day bed


Who and How Many Will Use the Space?

Once you have determined whether you will have one or more rooms, it is important to consider who will be using the space or spaces. If those enjoying the space include children, consider easy or low maintenance materials and finishes for less stress and easy maintenance. If there are more ‘mature’ people using the space, consider the height of seating for ease of sitting and rising. The number of people using the space will help you determine the amount of seating required in the various rooms of your outdoor play space.


June 2019 J.Armstrong article CF interiors Park Lane1 2

Park Lane outdoor furniture c/o CF Interiors


Decorating the Space

Now, this is where the fun begins! Whether you are re-doing your outdoor space or just want an update and refresh, there is a wide range of outdoor furnishings from which to choose. They come in a broad selection of materials including wicker (natural and man made), wood and plastic (that actually looks very natural) and multiple colours enabling you to customize the furnishings to fit the ambience and vibe you want in your spaces. As with indoor furnishings, available pieces include dining sets, sofas, loves seats, sectionals and occasional chairs as well as coffee and end tables that can be mixed and matched for a truly personalized look.

Outdoor pillows, cushions, umbrellas and area rugs are available in durable, fade and mildew resistant materials providing an opportunity for your outdoor spaces to be stylish as well as long wearing so they will last from year to year or until you are ready for the next update!

In terms of outdoor dining ware, forget the melamine of the past – it has gone upscale! The patterns, colours and even textures of dinner ware are impressive and include accessory pieces such as trays, platters and bowls. The broad selection allows you to pull together your own look by combining different colours and coordinating patterns for a truly fun dining experience.

Likewise, drinkware has evolved beyond the plastic of the past and is available in shatterproof materials and a wide range of colours and textures. There are many styles of glasses making it easy to have a glass for every type of beverage you might serve. Beverage accessories such as dispensers and beverage tubs will round out your gatherings and make self serve stylish, practical and more relaxing for you!

Simple decor accessories such as lanterns, candles, lights and even art work add the finishing touches to your outdoor spaces and make them truly cozy, comfortable and festive spaces to relax and entertain in during the day as well as long after the sun has set. Plants add a soft, cooling effect to spaces and a mix of succulents, broad leaf and ferns provide visual texture and interest. Tall plants are a perfect filler for an empty corner and can provide definition between zones as well.


June 2019 J.Armstrong article Sherwin Williams plants 2

Plant stand primed and then painted with Emerald Exterior paint from Sherwin Williams.
Photo courstesy of Emily Grundy, Sherwin Williams


Creating your outdoor rooms and can be a fun and inspiring way in which to make the most of the space available as well as a reflection of your summer style. Once you have created your outdoor oasis, make the most of every moment you get to relax and enjoy it whether you are spending a quiet afternoon alone or entertaining family and friends.

Janet Armstrong (Simply Swank Decor) is a graduate of the Interior Design Institute of Canada, CAPS and Membership Chair on the Board of the Decorators and Designers Association of Canada (DDA Canada). 


Outdoor Electric Fireplaces vs. Gas Fireplaces

More and more Canadians are sprucing up their backyards and outdoor spaces. That means that interior designers are becoming exterior designers, too. Because our weather is fickle (I give you Spring 2019 as proof of that!), many homeowners are considering a fireplace for their outdoor space, to allow them to extend enjoyment of their backyards into the Fall and early Spring.

You may have assumed that an outdoor fireplace must be fuelled by natural gas or propane. However, there are now electric fireplaces that are rated for outdoors. When comparing outdoor electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces, many of the considerations are similar to a comparison for indoor use. Here’s how we break it down:


Outdoor electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces – ease of installation

If you’re thinking of an outdoor fireplace, you will need to determine how easily you can get an electrical connection or gas line to the desired site. An electric fireplace requires either a 120 volt or 240 volt dedicated electrical connection. A gas fireplace will require either a propane or natural gas connection, as well as electrical power for the fan.

Gas fireplaces also require ventilation, as well as minimum clearances to combustibles. Electric fireplaces are zero-clearance and require no ventilation. These are important distinctions for enclosed porches, gazebos or small patios.


Amantii 60 Tru View XL patio


Outdoor electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces – space requirements

Electric fireplaces have a much slimmer footprint that most gas fireplaces. If you have any space limitations for your outdoor fireplace, you will need to check the depth of electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces, so you know which is going to fit.  


Amantii BI 50 Slim patio pool


Outdoor electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces – heat output

Electric fireplaces may be operated with or without the heater running. Gas fireplaces emit heat as soon as they are turned on. In warm weather, we are looking for ambiance over heat; the heat output of a gas fireplace my overwhelm those sitting next to it. Who wants to sit next to a blast furnace on a hot, muggy evening?! However, an electric fireplace can offer ambiance without heat, and is perfect for hot summer nights. In cooler weather, when we want to gather around a cozy hearth for warmth, both electric and gas outdoor fireplaces can offer this feature. Electric fireplaces will take the chill off an area of 400 – 500 square feet, on a regular 120 volt connection. If your outdoor space is larger than this, or you wish to use your fireplace in winter, then a gas fireplace will provide more heat to a larger area.


Amantii BI 88 Deep Patio pool


Outdoor electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces – design options

Outdoor electric fireplaces come in linear designs at this time, with a single face as well as two- and three-sided models. However, if you prefer to have a see-through outdoor fireplace, you will be limited to gas. Likewise, if you prefer a more traditional outdoor fireplace, there are more gas options. On the other hand, there are no limits for the surrounding materials, when you are building an outdoor electric fireplace wall. You can clad the fireplace wall in any weather-proof material you like – flammability is not an issue with electric fireplaces. When installing an outdoor gas fireplace, as with indoor gas fireplaces, the walls around the fireplace will need to be non-flammable.

Another interesting feature that has become standard on most outdoor electric fireplaces, is the ability to change flame colours from orange to blue, as well as a range of pinks and purples. This means that you can make the fireplace appear ‘cooler’ and more summery – something you can’t do with gas fireplaces.


Amantii Cube WM Birch Outdoor


Outdoor electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces – cost

Outdoor electric fireplaces will generally cost much less than outdoor gas fireplaces. The fireplace itself will cost less; the electrical connection will cost less than gas, in most cases (this will be partially determined by the distance across your property that the connection must be delivered); and the materials around the fireplace may cost less, since you aren’t dependant on non-combustible walls. The cost to operate an outdoor electric fireplace will be less than the cost to operate a gas fireplace for the same period. When you want ambiance without heat, the LED lights and flames in an electric fireplace will cost a fraction of the cost of running a gas fireplace. Since you only need to operate the heater on an electric fireplace as needed, most people will end up spending less on electric fireplaces than they do on gas, where heat is always put out whenever the fireplace is on.  

The next time a client asks you to help with their outdoor space, consider adding an electric outdoor fireplace. They will be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is such an option!

Submitted by Jeanne Grier, President, Stylish Fireplaces & Interiors

Backyard Makeover

Ah, the sound of birds chirping, lazy heat beating down on the grass, luscious greenery under your feet and the chatter of happiness wherever you turn. This is the feeling of summer we yearn for year-round. And this is what coaxes us outdoors from our winter cocoon.  To be able to enjoy the short lazy days of summer, which tend to disappear almost in the blink of the eye, we should aim to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor living. It is simply bringing the outside in and inside out. Here, for the love of summer finally around the corner, we’ll highlight the outdoor living aspect of enjoying our exterior space using elements of interior comfort. JUne 2019 Subi S. photo4

When we imagine our homes, we imagine different spaces that exist inside of it, all of which we need in order to bring about ultimate comfort. Similarly, when we think of our backyard space, we should aim to create the same layout of space and all the necessities as the indoors. There should be an area allocated to prep and make meals hot off the grill, as well as a space to relax with our sore feet up. Just as we have a fireplace to warm up our insides in various rooms of our house, we should create a warm nook with a natural fireplace feel (whether it is a stone encased firepit or an erected gas fireplace wall, the sight and sound of fire crackling away while we sip on chilled sangrias is the feel we are going for here). Keep in mind that EVERYTHING has to be weather proof in an outdoor space, and I mean everything! One does not want to keep storing things away in the midst of a looming thunderstorm, so the key to longevity is not to worry about the little things and just buy weather resistant materials. 

Here are my seven tips for creating an outdoor oasis you are sure to wish for all year-round. 

1. Create what you have inside, outside

All the rooms you deem necessary inside your home, bring it outside. We all know that the kitchen is the heart of any home. Build a corner of your outdoor space to accommodate a cooler (it can be built-in fridge, wine coolers or portable ice filled box), a meal prep area (it can be cart on wheels made with weather-withstanding material, or a built-in countertop and island), and a heating or cooking element (bbq, stove, or even electric or gas-equipped portable burners). Equipped with drawers and cabinets to house your utensils, along with bar stools and other seating area, you’ll have a charming space to entertain the hungry and the thirsty. Pictured here, I’ve opted to place an additional pool side bar as well as roll away ice cart as the pavilion was just simply too far a walk from the pool to grab a chilled drink by the waters. JUne 2019 Subi S. photo2

Incorporating a seating area in any corner of your backyard should involve plush cushions, a warm throw, and a means to rest your restless feet. What you imagine in your living room can be brought to life outside of the mentioned space, and should take centre stage in your outdoor oasis. This is where family and friends gather to mingle and thus should have plenty of seating to accommodate cozy close-knit conversations.

Sitting around may be appealing but lounging around is more of what the heart desires. Pool loungers don’t necessarily have to be only by the pool side or just to sunbathe. You can use these loungers (or hammock) simply to sit back, relax and enjoy the sunshine on the grass area, on the patio, and anywhere you visualize yourself sitting for hours. 

JUne 2019 Subi S. photo6

2. Create a Zen space:

Our lives are more hectic now than ever before and as a result, we want to enjoy the relaxing feel of a zen-like environment inside our homes. When we bring that to our outdoor living, it is essentially putting together mother nature’s finest treasures into a more cohesive and serene oasis. We want to feel the connection to the earth and nature around us, so what better way to do that than to be closer to the ground. Create a low-to-the ground seating (will surely be a hit among kids!) with plenty of oversized and plush cushions thrown haphazardly around combined with low ottoman to provide seating at staggered levels (pictured here, I’ve chosen to buy inflatable ottoman so that storage is easy and is also light weight to move around). 

JUne 2019 Subi S. photo7

3. A water feature is a must!

Whether it’s a built-in pool or an inflatable one, dipping into a cooling body of water on a sizzling night is almost as good as that perfect hug when exhausted from a long day. Something about the feel and sound of water calms our senses and helps put all the stress on the back burner. If your backyard is too small for a pool, invest in a large water feature like an electric fountain that will put out continuous lapping music to your ears.

JUne 2019 Subi S. photo3

4. Fire up!

Besides water, another element from Mother Nature is fire. It’s the best way to relax when there is a chilly bite to the night. A portable fire table is the easiest way to add fire to the backyard and serves double duty to house cups and things around the periphery, as well as providing warmth. A firepit is another way to go, if your community allows them, but my favourite is tall patio heaters. They warm you up from above simply by standing there. And if your space can handle it, go for multiple ones standing tall and proud next to any lounging space. Building a fireplace wall or even a portable fireplace to be in the midst of the gathering will surely provide a crackling warm atmosphere to the night. 

JUne 2019 Subi S. photo8

5. To Be or Not to be Entertained

When I say entertainment, I am not implying a mean mix of cocktails or music to uplift the mood. I mean an area dedicated to just sit around and play games. If budget and space allows, it can be a basketball court. But of course, not everyone lives on acres of land for this type of luxury. A small space with a storage cart to hold games for a lazy night of chess or cards under the stars will surely help drain a long day away. 

June 2019 Subi S. photo12

6. Go Green!

Don’t forget to bring all these together by going green! Luscious greenery, potted floral plants (go sexy, go black! I recently bought a pot of Black Magic Petunias after doing a double-take at the unique sexy and velvety appearance. Who knew flowers came black?) and tall potted emerald cedars divide and conquer any outdoor oasis. When you have a dining area backing into your lounging area, these cedars can beautifully divide your space like no other shrub can. When placing them, line them up linearly with a minimum of three, or group them in three’s with staggered heights of potted greens. Be careful of mixing too many colors when introducing flowers into the mix, you want to keep things serene and calm and the way to do that is to go easy on the eye with at least 2-3 colors instead of everything under the rainbow. 

June 2019 Subi S. photo14

7. Then There was Light

You can do absolutely everything from the list above and the space will still not be complete without the proper use of lighting. 

Light is what will set the mood when the sun goes down. Whether it is candlelight or solar powered or electrical, its twinkling glow will catch your eye. Light can be from above, the sides, shining down and flickering up. Consider battery or solar powered uplights inside shrubs or potted plants. Pictured here, I went generous with the amount of solar powered lights and candles in and around this backyard. At night time, the light from each corner of the space helps to create an ambiance to wind down, relax and sip on a cocktail.

June 2019 Subi S. photo1

In summary, summer is only here for a short season so make up a reason every day to enjoy the outdoors with your loved ones. Treat yourself to an oasis even as you step outside of your home, and enjoy your space under the sky with the same serenity and comfort as the space under your roof. Happy Summer!

Photos and article submitted by Subi Shehaan, Design Contours

Patio Style

It is summer! What better way to enjoy the outdoors than to spend time on a patio in the comfort of your own home! Even your client’s small condo balcony can be easily transformed into an outdoor oasis. Think luscious palm-filled cabanas to take you back to your favorite sun-setting memory or recall a quiet zen-like moment curled up with a warm drink, a blanket and your favorite book. All this could be a reality, with the right materials, products and the right design. Join us in exploring some of the materials and items that will help you bring that perfect piece of nature into your client’s outdoor living space.

JUne 2019 C.Heung Balcony photo

  • Resin Wicker: is durable, UV-resistant, and easy to clean. Items made of these materials won’t fade or crack and will be able to withstand rain, sunlight, and humidity.
  • Wood: Hardwoods such as teak or acacia have exceptional durability and softwoods such as pine, cedar or fir have some degree of weather resistance. Items made of these materials can withstand rain if sealed properly, sunlight, humidity, wind and extreme temperatures.
  • Recycled plastic: is strong, extremely durable and easy to maintain. Items made of these materials are resistant to moisture, fading, rotting and cracking and is impermeable to salt and stains.


Bast, rattan and wickerwork lounge chairs from Kare Design Toronto ( ) bring a natural and earthy element to your terrace, balcony or garden look both casual and cozy. Kelly Da Silva from Kare Design, describes this product as "extremely versatile on the terrace, balcony, in the garden and also in the living room."

outdoor chairsProduct Number 84116.  Shop this item at KARE Toronto 553 Queen St. W. M5V 2B6.


Hand-made terracotta, pots and planters from Kawa Canada make the perfect statement piece to accentuate your potted floral or leafy plants

potsKawa Canada

Potted plants such as Hostas make lovely shaded patio or balconies come to life. They thrive in containers and their palm-like leaves give your outdoors space a classic touch of the tropics.


Written by Carly Heung


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