New ideas in outdoor decor

[attach]4831[/attach]With vivacious crowds of hostas, ferns and pansies perched on a railing on the second floor balcony of her North York condo, it’s almost hard to believe that Elena Kashuba only started exercising her green thumb two months ago.

“I actually became interested in gardening after I bought my patio furniture,” she says.

Kashuba’s balcony, which stands at four metres by three metres, originally consisted of a metal porch swing shoved into a corner, underneath a sturdy, crimson-and-cerulean striped umbrella.

After seven years of the same scene, she decided it was time for a change.

Inspired by the small, intimate feel of outdoor décor in Niagara-on-the-Lake, she shopped online for patio furniture.

“The furniture outside gardens, cafés and restaurants over there (Niagara) are lovely, but they cost well into the thousands,” she says. “We wanted something comfortable, long-lasting and affordable.”

After much online window shopping, Kashuba came across Velago Patio Furniture and purchased a bistro set of two russet resin wicker chairs with plain white cushions and a table to match — for $1,000, shipping and handling included.

“It was in my price range and I love how it gives a small, cozy feeling,” she says. “I was given a one-year warranty along with the promise of protection from rust, frost and UV rays.”

So far, Kashuba says that it’s done a great job of surviving this summer’s heat wave.

To finish off the design, Kashuba wanted a splash of colour. She sewed up gold and ruby floral cushion covers and bought an assortment of annual and perennial plants.

She stopped at two cushion covers, but admits she indulged herself when it came to the plants.

“This is my first time gardening and I’m just amazed at how fast everything is growing,” she says, motioning toward the beds of hot hosta cultivars, red coleuses and sages perched above her hand-woven bistro arrangement. A few feet away, purple pansies and grass plants are sitting on two large, wooden-like vases, quietly soaking up some sun.

“The plants really give life to everything, otherwise it would just be a balcony with furniture,” she says.

While gardening around her outdoor den has worked out famously for Kashuba, not everyone chooses to mix patio design with plants and flowers.

Earlier this year, Mamta Bahl decided to extract the majority of the grass in her backyard in the Sheppard and Bayview area in favour of a large, open-air lounge, used specifically for dining and hosting parties.

“My husband and kids love to barbeque and invite people over,” Bahl says. “But our yard just felt so empty. There weren’t any patio tables or anything, just a bunch of grass.”

With an unused garden taking up space, Bahl hired the Stage-I design crew to set up a four by eight metre deck made of cedar wood. Stage-I designer Jafta Bindra then furnished the area with a large marble, dining counter leading up to a lounge settee and coffee table set made of wicker material.

“Bahl’s exterior lighting is very bright, so I suggested a neutral, white upholstery with blue and orange accent colours,” Bindra says.

The overall effect is to create an aquatic, summer atmosphere, says Bindra.

While the color scheme matches well with the ambiance of May through August, how does it fit in with remainder of the year?

“There’s touches of black with the carpeting and the umbrella, so in the winter, you have a bonfire element,” Bindra says. “The coffee table is also a gas fire table — it’s like being in a lodge or a cabin.”

The furniture also requires little protection from wintry weather.

“The umbrella helps a lot during the rain. You can put coverings if you want, but it isn’t necessary because the wicker is all water and snow proof,” explains Bindra. “The coffee table even has internal holes so if there’s a spill or ice gets on it, it will simply melt without causing any damage.”

Having purchased her lounge back in April, Bahl has yet to host any winter festivities but says that she’s been thriving so far as a hostess.

“Just a few days ago we had about 30 people over for my sister-in-law’s 25th wedding anniversary,” Bahl says. “Everyone loved having dinner and drinks in our patio.”

While her new den has been quite a purchase, costing her over $25,000 in design and construction, Bahl says she got her money’s worth.

“My family and I are actually using our backyard now,” Bahl says. “And we’re all spending more time together — we love to hang out here to read, eat, nap or have tea.”