House Beautiful: The great outdoors

On a chilly October day, Mike Murray surveys the newly landscaped back garden and outdoor entertaining space he and his wife, Cheryl, recently created for their Cordova Ridge home. “We live out here, even at this time of year,” he says.

The garden features about 1,200 square feet of stamped concrete patio, a large barbecue, eating and drinks bar, hot tub, inviting seating areas and lush plantings in mostly pure white.

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In addition to overhead heaters and see-through rain protection hidden in pergolas, there is a traditional-style fireplace built into an encircling stone wall. No casual fire pit for these two, who take their outdoor living and entertaining experience to a whole new level.

“Everything turned out perfectly,” said Mike, adding the couple planned the upgrades down to the last detail and there isn’t a single thing they would change.

“Every time a new suggestion was made or the budget got upped, we thought about it and made a decision. We’ve never regretted spending more — as long as there was value there,” said Mike, who heads Murray Chiropractic Group and has been senior chiropractic consultant with the Canadian Olympic rowing team for 25 years. He also works with top-tier musicians and has frequently toured with Simon and Garfunkel, and worked with visiting entertainers.

It took the Murrays several years to get around to creating their own outdoor entertainment area.

“You’ve got to sit back and live in a place for a while first,” said Mike. “We started thinking about doing this a few years ago and Cheryl looked at thousands of pictures and magazines.”

The process involved a lot of give and take, plenty of negotiation. “It was almost like [the TV show] Designing for the Sexes,” he said, noting, for instance, that Cheryl wanted a fireplace and he wanted a fire pit.

“We ended up with a fireplace,” he said with a chuckle, but he got the barbecue and eating bar he wanted, with a large countertop.

 

> See OUTDOOR, page E6

 

“We obsessed about how long it should be and eventually settled on space for four seats, as we didn’t want it to overpower the yard.”

They chose a Napoleon barbecue from Capital Iron. Under the bar are shelves for storage as well as a wine fridge. The cabinets are made of Ipe, “a hardwood which takes a nice stain,” and the bar is covered every night to keep it in mint condition.

“Night after night we come outside and sit here,” said Cheryl. “We eat here every evening we can and were outside for months this summer.”

She said the $110,000 investment has added immeasurably to the enjoyment of their home.

“We hemmed and hawed about doing something in the garden for a long, long time, and after 23 years, we finally pulled the trigger,” said Cheryl. One day, she and her husband sat down and wrote a serious wish list that included everything from an outdoor fireplace, kitchen and bar to an herb garden beside the grill.

Hiring Sean Greenfield of Greenfield Design Landscaping was their first great decision — “He was just brilliant.” Greenfield managed to turn all their ideas into reality, custom designing and building most of the structures.

They removed a rotting wooden deck that Mike had been staining for 20 years and replaced it with a zero-maintenance patio of stamped concrete, which includes a feature area of white slate laid beside the hot tub they bought five years before and repositioned.

The fireplace heats the seating area and there is a hanging gas heater over the bar, which also has a glass roof, “because you’ve got to keep the cook cooking,” said Cheryl with a laugh.

The renovation has doubled their living area and they are outdoors almost year round now. “People can spend a lot of money on holidays and expensive vacations, and it takes a lot of time to plan, but now all we have to do is just open our back door and we feel we are on vacation … we especially enjoy it in the evening,” said Cheryl.

“We go out there even on cool evenings with blankets, pillows and popcorn to watch TV,” which they plug in over the fireplace mantel.

“It’s nice to travel the world but there’s no place like home, and being in your own backyard with family and friends.”

She said the night lighting makes all the difference to evening ambience.

“I wouldn’t even consider renovating a yard without it now. That was Mike’s thing. He carefully placed every light after doing a lot of reading to see how light casts. It brings the space to life.”

Mike bought lighting fixtures at Wes-Tech Irrigation and what he couldn’t find he fabricated himself. “Lighting is my fetish.”

He studied all the different fixtures, different beams, light spreads and brightness before choosing fixtures and a warm white glow. “It took a lot of trial and effort, and while we now have about 30 lights, they are all LED and take less power than a single old 60-watt bulb.”

In addition to choosing the lights, and making some of then, he helped dig trenches for the in-ground services, cables and electrical wiring conduits for lights, heating, television, speakers, gas lines and more.

Now that it’s finished, one of the things they enjoy most about the new space is the fact that it’s low maintenance but looks good all year. The evening lighting and glow from the fireplace draw the eye outside even when it’s too cold to be there, and the effect is to make the 2,800-square-foot 1991 house feel much bigger.

“And the garden is so easy-care now,” said Cheryl. “Our previous garden was so high-maintenance, I used to think I was running an orphanage for perennials. We now have a succession of beautiful white flowers that bloom almost all year, instead of beds filled with a billion different colours. I wanted a space that looked more elegant and we have it.”

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