PHOTOGRAPHY: BRANDON BARRÉ
STYLING: LISA AIKEN
When styling an outdoor “room,” treat it almost as you would an indoor room with similar function. That’s the advice Lisa Aiken, owner of design company Terra Firma, gives her clients.
“When I do a consultation for something, I look at the home’s interior, at what the homeowners love,” she says.
For this townhouse in Toronto, she had two spaces to work on: a rooftop patio off the kitchen, and one storey below that, a courtyard patio that leads off a games room.
“I wanted to give the upper patio a cozy, high-end restaurant feel,” Aiken says. She laid down outdoor carpeting for that cozy feeling, and to provide a measure of privacy, she set up tall fencing covered in ivy. In addition, the dining table has an umbrella to block out the sun and the view from neighbouring buildings.
There’s also a small, separate grouping of a side table and two armchairs – just the spot for coffee at sunrise or cocktails at sunset. At one end of the patio, a low console table acts as a sideboard and, if even more privacy is desired, it can be set with more flowers. Planters and pots of herbs are both decorative and practical, and their scents add to the ambience.
The colour scheme is a sophisticated black and white with red accents. Says Aiken, “From looking at their home’s interiors I could say ‘these people would love this red accent.’ And the white flowers and white accents really glow at night.”
When planning a garden, large or small, Aiken has important questions for her clients: How much maintenance do they want to perform? Do they have access to a garden hose or an irrigation system? “That’s a very big consideration, and people don’t realize, to get something to look as lush as this, what it takes to maintain,” she says.
This upper patio has abundant plantings that look as though they require high maintenance. But Aiken has a secret: “The client’s only commitment is a small watering can,” she says. “Much of what you see is artificial. I added colour with live plants, all of them annuals such as geraniums and cut-leaf ivy.”
Aiken used the same strategy for the courtyard patio at ground level. Like the upper patio, it was a tabula rasa. “There was nothing there,” she says. “Vines growing on brick walls, concrete pavers – that was it.”
This lower patio is for daytime or nighttime entertaining. It can accommodate more people than upstairs and is furnished for what Aiken calls “a relaxed eating scenario. It’s a very private area in contrast to upstairs; it’s a family area that’s ideal for the family’s lifestyle. These folks love to entertain, and it’s important to have enough furniture, with a big coffee table that’s easy for serving food.”
Aiken says that designing this space was an easy job. “The wall is high; you’re so nestled in there that privacy is not an issue,” she says. “There’s nothing to hide or disguise.”
She continues, “Furnishings are key here. People have to have the budget to get this kind of look. It’s colours, too. I love doing anything white outside; it really shows up. Black and white is timeless and sophisticated. And I love red accents; it’s a great punch. The homeowners can change the accent colours, too, if they wish.”
Like the patio upstairs, this one is populated with a mélange of real and artificial plants. Even the ferns are a mix, whereas the palm tree and annuals such as the red pelargoniums are real. Aiken used pots, including those for the annuals, that can stay outside for the long term. Artificial plants not only require little maintenance; they and their containers can survive our winters.
With easy-care plants, well-designed furniture, charming accessories and a sophisticated palette, Aiken relished this project. “This is a unique space I had such pleasure designing,” she says. “The maturity of the ivy and the brick wall give it a certain feel. It’s a beautiful backdrop.” •
Terra Firma Design