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With the change in the seasons comes a renewed desire to ramp up our outdoor spaces with as much usable living space as possible. Whether it’s a stunning outdoor kitchen or a chic backyard pool, the options for life al fresco are endless — yes, even in Alberta where the weather doesn’t always co-operate. We’ve talked to some experts and put together some suggestions to get you living your best life — both indoors and out.
A definite architectural go-to for capturing stunning views, while retaining plenty of privacy, rooftop terraces are becoming a must-have, especially in denser neighbourhoods with downtown skyline views that aren’t apparent at street level or in communities nestled up against plenty of nature.
“We’re had a number of requests for rooftop terraces recently; you can really use these spaces to bring the outdoors in,” says Christopher Lemke, owner and designer at Alloy Custom Homes. “But these spaces need to be scripted — you need to decide at the design stage what the point of that rooftop terrace is going to be, otherwise it tends to be under-utilized.”
In a recent project, Alloy created a stunning rooftop terrace as part of a new build that abuts Confederation Park in the established community of Mount Pleasant in Calgary’s northwest.
“I had the house designed in my head even before we bought the lot,” says Lemke. “The whole house is designed to take advantage of the views to the park and we’ve used the massing of the home to frame those views, so you can’t see any of the neighbours — you’re just looking at the park up to Nose Hill.”
Within the design, the rooftop terrace sits atop the two-storey east wing of the home and is accessible from both the master bedroom and the public corridor on the second floor, so that it becomes a multi-functional entertaining space. Unobstructed views of the park and beautiful landscaping by Calgary company VisionScapes complete the look.
“It’s a misconception that it’s challenging to create an outdoor kitchen in Calgary’s climate,” says Ernie Lussier, owner and president of Canada Outdoor Kitchens. “Canada is the sunniest city in Canada and the growth in outdoor kitchens is statistically the fastest growing area of residential construction in all of Canada. It’s all about creating a microclimate outside and about properly building outdoor kitchens,” he says.
He notes that there are several factors to consider in the design, starting with location.
“Think about how you are going to use the space. Do you want screen drops, heaters? How do the wind and the light come into the space?” Another important element to consider is safety. “There aren’t any codes when it comes to outdoor kitchens. It’s all manufacturer’s specifications and every single grill says, ‘don’t put under a combustible structure.’ ”
Lussier suggests planning ahead and carving out an area that is at least 200 square feet. Think about how you want the kitchen to flow and about venting and clearances. This is especially important as you add all of the top-of-the-line appliances like Forno ovens that fire up to 537 C (1,000 F) and barbecues with BTU’s (British Thermal Unit) soaring skyward.
And, as Lussier notes: “It’s not really an outdoor kitchen without running water. Many people don’t put in water, but that ends up being their biggest regret,” he says.
Costs for an outdoor kitchen aren’t inexpensive — a barbecue centre starts at $10,000 and the grand shebang with appliances, cabinetry, countertops and lighting can hit upwards of six figures.
“This is all about creating a lifestyle and building memories with loved ones. And, it’s important to remember that an outdoor living space is tax free. It’s not on your real property report,” says Lussier.
Covered Living Rooms
Imagine being able to sit outside for most of the year, despite the wind and chilly, inclement weather. Picture a stone fireplace with a roaring fire, lots of cozy sofas and a big screen television with your favourite movie playing, all in the midst of nature.
“People are really wanting to bring the outdoors in and extend their usable space and entertaining areas,” says Danny Ritchie of Ultimate Renovations, which does work in Calgary and Edmonton. The company has earned multiple awards for its charming and esthetically stunning covered outdoor spaces. “With the unpredictable weather in Calgary, one of the biggest trends in outdoor living spaces is to add motorized screens so that you have the option of having the space completely closed off or completely opened up,” says Ritchie.
One recent project, a 278-square-foot covered outdoor living space that extends from an infill-style home in south Calgary, takes full advantage of its site and features a focal wood burning fireplace as a dramatic central feature and a vaulted ceiling with open rafters. The space is open on three sides with a glass curtain wall up to railing height, with the potential to add motorized screens to completely close off the space from the elements.
Costs for outdoor living rooms run the gamut, and depend upon the level of technology (louvered roofs, motorized screens, heaters, etc. and finishes).
Perhaps one of the most coveted accoutrements to outdoor living is adding an element of water — a beautiful backyard pool can calm the mind, the body and the soul, as well as add a handful of design elegance. Whether it’s a minimalist creation or a more elaborate design, the key to a seamless and sophisticated look is to integrate the design into the surrounding nature, while complementing the architectural esthetic of the home.
Case in point is a stunning riverside backyard oasis, designed by Rocky Mountain Pools and Spas.
“It’s one of my favourite pools ever,” says Andrew Kondi, owner of Rocky Mountain Pools and Spas. “The vision was to create a world-class installation, while maintaining the consistency of the home’s architecture.”
Inspired by the home’s French Chateaux detailing, the pool melds old-world elegance with state-of-the-art technology. Think a cover system that opens up from the floor of the pool, a heated deck that allows for warm under-foot and snow-free year-round use, along with plenty of beautiful details — materials like flame-torched Pennsylvania bluestone, and a custom-designed sun shelf with strategically placed loungers, and extensive landscape lighting, including up-lighting in the trees.
“Year-round pools are a big trend; people are using them every day to exercise and with the way we insulate them now and with the auto covers it is very possible, even in Calgary’s climate,” says Kondi, noting that outdoors pools are really becoming an extension of the home. “They just have such a design element.”
Plus, with new technology and auto covers that are safety certified, six-foot fences are no longer required, allowing residents in communities with fence restrictions to add a little outdoor splash to their lives.
As for costs — a plunge pool starts at around $50,000 and goes up from there.