Backyard Oasis
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Tranquil sounds of cascading water relax your muscles. Radiant views of blossoming hibiscus thrill your eyes. Smoky aromas of grilled delicacies tickle your taste buds. No, it's not a luxury holiday in Punta Cana. This paradise is only steps from your door in your own private backyard oasis.

Home renovations are no longer an inside job. The landscaped, waterscaped, hardscaped backyard is the fastest-growing vacation retreat in the land, and contractors and suppliers are busy conceiving every possible way to tweak your outdoor living experience for optimum enjoyment.

What's on their tempting
menu of products?
Read on and try to resist!
Connoisseur Kitchens
Forget that quaint hibachi teetering on the back porch. The new trend in grilling is the rambling barbeque island, complete with built-in refrigerators, griddles, rotisseries, deep fryers, prep sinks, side burners and grills that attach directly to your gas and plumbing lines. There's even the option of a warming drawer to keep your rolls toasty.
Big box stores are now offering starter outdoor kitchens for around $3,000, but it could very easily reach into the double digits if you want top-of-the-line appliances that include refrigeration, says Vince Cassidy of TA Appliances. 
But that's only your starter kit. Increase your recreational quotient with a bar caddy and built-in ice bucket, under-counter lighting and kick stand for guests cozying up to the bar.  And what is a backyard retreat without music? Get your custom stereo system installed right inside in your island's structure and enjoy your favorite tunes as you dispense your beloved microbrew from your built-in kegerator. ($600-$5,000.)
For those who need even more bells and whistles, enter the wood-burning pizza oven. Pizza ovens are starting to flood the market, but they come at a price. While they can be hand-built from rustic cob (clay and straw) for mere dollars or added as non wood-burning insert to a BBQ, higher-end buyers are shipping in hand-tiled ovens direct from Old World artisans in Naples. The cost? Up to $9,000 for the top-of-the-line oven with a vent system, built-in thermometer and powder-coated steel stand. For those who value the smoky goodness that a wood-burning oven imparts to a crust, price is of no object.
Friendly Fireplaces
EEveryone is looking for the next new item, and now it's outdoor fireplaces. Hop out of that refreshing pool, plunk down in front of a welcoming fire and unwind. Outdoor fireplaces provide both ambience and a heat source to help extend the season – a beneficial feature for shorter Canadian seasons. 
Len Hordyk of the award-winning Cedar Springs Landscape Group out of Oakville points out that while everyone enjoys the smell and crackle of a wood-burning fireplace, code regulations require that chimneys extend beyond the roofline of your house. This is just one of the reasons why his company is getting more requests for outdoor gas fireplaces now. “Out of five requests for fireplaces, four will be for gas today,” says Hordyk. “It's simpler. Instant heat. No smell, no smoke, no mess.”
Luxurious Living Rooms
The newest fashion in furniture is the outdoor living room with soft, deep seating and mid-height “chat tables” that allow for casual dining. “There's no doubt there has been a major shift to conversation pit arrangements within the last five years,” says John Hannon of The Patio Collection in California. All-weather wicker is now de rigueur for seating with cast aluminum welded internal framings preferred. “They don't get rickety over time like grandma's stuff, which was made out of wood,” says Hannon. Just remember to stand your cushions up when not in use so the rain will bead off.
Chat tables (measuring 22–24 inches in height) find their roots in continental European designs and are taking the industry by storm. The introduction of fire-tables (gas fire pits that double as chat tables) were the inevitable progression in design and are very hot items this season. “It's all gotten more extravagant,” says Michele Perone of D.O.T. Furniture and Patio in Barrie. Her company carries 11 different styles of fire-tables.
 
What's next on the horizon?
Day beds and cabana loungers of course—now arriving in showrooms everywhere near you.
Debonair Dining
The days of plastic chairs are also over. Fine outdoor dining is the new norm. “Entertaining outside has really stepped up over the years,” says patio specialist, Perone. “People are putting full kitchens outside. Your tables and seating have to reflect that.” But elegant al fresco dining doesn't have to mean high maintenance.
D.O.T.'s extendable cast aluminum “Breeze” table, for instance, offers hidden butterfly leaves that fold right inside the table so you never have to worry about storing them. Collapse the top down to create intimate seating for four or extend the hidden butterfly leaves for a gathering of 10. After the party just hose it off. “Your leisure life shouldn't be complicated,” says Perone. “Cast aluminum is low maintenance. It can stay out year-round.”
Protective Pavilions
The simple patio umbrella used to be all the shelter needed before outdoor furnishings went wild. Not anymore. Gazebos, heated pavilions and covered porches are trending as larger furnishings and kitchens demand greater protection from the elements. Len Hordyk of Cedar Springs reports a huge upsurge in requests for pavilions and, of course, most have a built-in gas fireplace and now flat screen TVs as well.
Wondrous Waterscapes
No backyard sanctuary is complete without some element of water. An invigorating swimming pool with embedded waterfall, an exotic grotto, koi pond or gentle trickling fountain can instantly transport you to another world.
There are two schools of thought on how to add water features to your backyard oasis – natural elements that bring in birds and butterflies, or architecturally constructed elements that are low maintenance.
Shallow streams that flow gently into ponds provide opportunities for tiny bridges and secret gardens along their path, but masonry walls with scuppers and sheer descents or pools with weirs also deliver a calming cascade of water that can kick those worries to the curb.
Hordyk believes ponds are on the wan and finds his clients are seeking a more modern look. His company is building more sheer descents these days. Sheer descents are long thin openings (often installed in the mortar joints of a masonry wall) that deliver a sheer waterfall of water, which streams into a reservoir (a swimming pool or reservoir tank). You can usually see right through a sheer descent, unlike a rainfall, which is constructed with numerous pinhole openings in a single line to create a waterfall with more turbulence.
On the other hand, Simon Ackles-Dold of Genus Loci Ecological Landscapes reports a new consciousness is starting to take hold and his customers want to reduce their exposure to chemicals by installing ecologically natural swimming pools with rockscapes and flowing water filtered by nature. Natural pools are a huge trend in Europe and England right now. Plants, natural bacteria and aggregate from river rock to pea stone help filter the water, just as nature intended.
Depending on your vision, water features can run you anywhere from the low hundreds for a basic fountain into the high double digit thousands for an in ground pool with sheer descent but the rewards are many. Flowing water relaxes your senses, masks the din of traffic and neighbour noise and invites the daily song of birds into your sanctuary, free of charge.
Hedonistic Hot Tubs
For extra pampering, don't overlook the health benefits of a year-round hydrotherapy spa. With jets strategically placed for maximum therapy, Arctic Spas are hot tubs made specifically for our cold weather climates. Their Coyote line could strike fear into a professional masseuse's heart with 114 jets targeting major muscle groups to service aching muscles and joints.
Leif Crawforth of Arctic Spas says you can get into a quality hot tub for as little as $4,000 or indulge yourself with their fully loaded “Epic” model (up to $25,000) complete with stereo, lights, self-maintaining salt system, waterfall and self-regulating heat system.  “It's the most hydro efficient hot tub on the planet,” says Crawforth. “With remote connectivity OnSpa, from anywhere in the world you can turn on your spa and control every aspect via your smart phone.”
Low on yard space, but still want a daily dip? The swimspa may be your answer. Expect to pay $20,000 to $40,000-plus for these heated units depending on options. Good-sized swimspas run around 14-feet long by 8-feet wide and are heated just like a hot tub making them usable year-round. Water depth is generally around 3-1/2 feet, which enables comfortable swimming (against a flowing current) to help melt off those calories. The best part of owning a swimspa is that you won't lose your investment when you move. For approximately $1,500, you can hire a crane and take your pool with you.
Luscious Landscaping
All these delightful bells and whistles are bound to enrich your experience in your backyard retreat, but you shouldn't ignore the subtler elements that make your outdoor space a sanctuary. It's really all about the garden.
Landscape designer Debra Lidstone of Barrie's Garden Centre says there are four things to keep in mind when designing your oasis: lifestyle, functionality, visuals and budget. A big fan of perennials, Lidstone suggests planting perennials that provide “sequential interest.” Just as the blooms fade from one plant, another will come into flower. “This is where a landscape designer is useful, bringing that knowledge base to the project,” says Lidstone. “I think of it as an orchestra. If all the players play their parts, you have a symphony. If it's just a random gathering of plants, it's a cacophony.”
Exterior-design consultant Carleen Reinstein recommends taking your home's style into account before finalizing every detail, from flowerpots to birdbaths to fountains. Landscaping designer Scott Flammer advises diversity in your plantings with “contrasting colours, forms, heights and textures” to add depth and dimension to your yard's overall environmental design.
Ground-level landscape design is not your only playing field either. Vertical sightlines are equally crucial to your visual enjoyment. Think of walls and fences as an empty canvas begging for greenery. Whether used as decorative element or as a way to feed your family with a vegetable or herb garden, vertical gardens are revolutionizing the landscaping industry. They cool down a hot deck, improve air quality and create a habitat for beneficial insects. 
ELT Easy Green is one living wall system that uses modular panels for exterior applications. Genus Loci Ecological Landscapes have used their panels to turn an ugly cement wall into a verdant haven of greenery. Today, “planting up” is a way to make use of all of that precious real estate you are paying property taxes on.
A front yard's curb appeal may be for the neighbors to enjoy, but the backyard is still all yours. It's the place where you can privately kick back with friends, centre yourself in a peaceful setting and truly live large. 
Dawn Ritchie is author of “The Emotional House: How Redesigning Your Home Can Change Your Life” (New Harbinger Publications).

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