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I’ve Been Converted.

Artificial Wall

I had my olive-green Fiat 500 Cabriole for 7.5 years.

I loved it.

I could park anywhere – and did! I could put the top down on warm days. It had the right amount of technology in it, so I didn’t feel stupid. And, it reminded me of Italy . . . a country that’s captured my heart.

It was choreographed perfectly. A few days after IL shutdown due to COVID-19, I backed into our office’s loading dock and the car just stopped – not to start again without a serious cash infusion. It’s as if the Fiat got the memo from Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker that non-essential workers (and cars!) should stay home.

Insert Craig’s (my husband’s) comment here: “Thank god it’s dead. I hated that car.”

Broken heart emoji. (But his sentiment wasn’t new nor the first time I’d heard him utter these words. Wink emoji.)

Regardless, I believed there was no way that I was ever going to have another car that I connected to . . .

Then Craig dropped me off at a luxury auto showroom.

Spoiler alert, my new car is not a Maybach but it’s still pretty nice. I mean it had me at the heated steering wheel. (Again, I’m a bit easy when it comes to cars.)

I’m getting used to the all the bells and whistles . . . Okay, let’s be honest, I’m a little more comfortable and . . . can drive a little bit faster than in my Fiat. (LOL – it’s a LOT faster.)

Why the story?

Because sometimes it’s difficult to convert from one ideal to another. But, when you do, there’s possibilities you could have never imagined. And, get this, life may actually get easier and be more fulfilling if you do change.

When we started Topiarius, I’d never have considered artificial plants or turf for ANY reason. I believed that they were not made well and screamed fake. Only people that can’t grow anything would have such an atrocity in their yard. (Yes, I had strong feelings about them.)

 
Enter Stage right: Believers in the power of artificials.
 
Over the past few years, our designers have begun to incorporate artificial plants and turf into many of our designs. And, I’m impressed with the quality, effectiveness, and beautiful outcomes.

[My litmus test is if I can’t tell it’s artificial from within a few feet, we’ve got a winner.]
 
By far, artificial turf has been the most utilized, whether it’s in back yards, front yards, parkways, or rooftops. With so many options, there’s always one that will work for you.

Our use of artificial plants has also increased with the use on green walls or shrubs. I mean, they look amazing!

Check Out These Benefits:

  • You’ve got green all year around.
  • The green doesn’t come at the cost of toxic fertilizers or pesticides. (We stick to using organics for the real stuff.)
  • They don’t need to be watered. (Just cleaned.)
  • There aren’t huge holes because dead spots had to be clipped out nor brown spots because of pet pee.
  • They’re pleasing to look at (walls / shrubs) and comfortable to walk on (turf).
  • You don’t have to own a lawn mower (or pay us to mow)! One less thing to clutter your garage.
  • If the sun don’t shine, everything still stays green.
  • There’s long-term return on the investment because they don’t DIE.

 
I know. It’s kind of cool.  
 
So this non-believer has become a believer in the world of artificials, and like being converted to my not-Fiat, I’ve found out that I’m pleasantly surprised and honestly living beautifully. 

So, let’s make sure that you too can live beautifully . . . outdoors!


Enough already . . .  click here for pictures.

Open Air Life|FRILUFTSLIV

The link circulated through various feeds in my social media this past week thanks to our friends. They are like hey(!) what you do is a real thing!  (Teasing. Not teasing.)

National Geographic posted an article about the Norwegian lifestyle friluftsliv
“[It] means a commitment to celebrating time outdoors, no matter the weather forecast.” The phrase translates as Open Air Life.  

(I mean . . . I LOVE when other languages have words for concepts that the English language doesn’t.)

While friluftsliv encompasses outdoor activities, it is also about living outdoors. And since living outdoors – the open air life – is our specialty I thought it timely to share ways we can make this happen for you as our months get cooler, colder, and wetter. 

OVERHEAD HEATERS. An excellent way to heat your outdoor space is through electric heaters like this one from Bromic. In this project, two heaters are mounted to the pergola structure. All of a sudden(!) you can still enjoy being outside in the cooler and colder weather. 

FIRE FEATURE (ON A ROOFTOP). Ore is one of several brands we recommend for gas powered outdoor fire features. No longer do you need to shore up chopped wood for the season, simply click and you’ll have fire.

ROOFTOP SPA. What is it about that enjoyable feeling of being in a spa and the weather is chilly? For some of us, it’s heaven. Integrating your spa into a larger design can definitely be part of the plan.

RADIENT HEAT. This one is hidden below the surface. Maybe shoveling or powering up the snow blower is a pastime, but wouldn’t you rather spend your time watching the snow fall?
We consistently install radiant heat systems in-ground and on rooftops. When the temps go below freezing, the ground warms and the snow melts all on its own.

LIGHTING. The perfect combination of lighting in your outdoor space will provide the most inviting atmosphere during the evenings.
There’s a reason “mood” lighting is a term.

Lighting

BLANKETS. Our FAVORITE TIP when there’s a consistent chill in the air, keep a basket of blankets by the door. It makes it so easy to snuggle up next to a fire.

FIRE. For Craig at our house, there’s no substitution to an open flame. We have both built stone fire pits (like the image below) and have also specified pre-built options for projects. 

COOKING & TV. A standard design component for most of the projects we work on includes a cooking space. (Click here for more info on this grill.) The next best option to IRL attendance of team competition in stadiums/arenas, is to watch them on your own outdoor TV.

KINDLE. This product is brand new to us, but we are pretty excited about finding it. They’re an LA company that makes one fixture that provides both outdoor lighting and heating. Tons of options are available.

STRUXURE PERGOLA. As certified installers of the StruXure pergola system, we believe these may be one of the best ways to live outdoors in less than ideal weather. In addition to the movable louvres, they can be designed to be enclosed on each side. To see more about the project below, click here.

Meet Today’s Inspiration

Meet Sarah Vaile of Sarah Vaile Design

Admittedly, Sarah (Vaile) tagged us first on her Instagram feed. (She’s right, blue hydrangeas can woo!)

I was so excited I immediately checked out her other posts.

And, this is what happened:

Photos of an unconventional, inspired powder room and cloak room start populating her feed. Like many of the other folks commenting, we too were blown away by its boldness and artistry. It’s so not what everyone else does. It says, I am comfortable in my own skin and here’s what I have to say. Right!?!

Pink (it’s Sherwin Williams “Framboise”) may not be everyone’s taste, which is totally fine, but you still have to admit that these spaces are amazing.

We believe they are. 

We talked about them at our design collaboration meetings and we talked about them at our staff meetings. 

And then I got an idea.

Why can’t we create a concept rooftop that is inspired by Sarah Vaile’s two rooms? I’m not knocking the world of whites, grays, and blacks for outdoor spaces –  they’re probably my 3 favorites. But, what if we threw convention and resale-ability out the window?! What if we got to do whatever the hell we wanted?! 

So we did. 

Lake Forest Inspiration
Lake Forest Inspiration

Click HERE To see larger images.

What if our alleys were filled with shades of colors other than browns and blacks? What if we chose your childhood favorite color and made that the color of your pergola? or the privacy screens? or all your cushions? 

I know it sounds crazy and we may never see a pink pergola in Chicago, but  . . . . . . wouldn’t it be wild!

Let’s live beautifully outdoors!

Who’s On First?

Abbott & Costello Who’s On First came to mind this week. (A Classic Must Watch!) I thought, is this how confusing it feels when you just want to find the right company to work with when you’re pursuing design and construction for your outdoor space?   

My inspiration on this topic came from a conversation I had this week with a potential client. (Thank you, Brian G.) 

I realized how important it is to understand the who’s who in the professional world of landscaping because the lay of the land (pun intended) can be very confusing. 

So, I have broken it down into 4 categories. There are 

  1. companies that only do design work.
  2. companies that only do the installation.
  3. companies that do both.
  4. companies that do both and then some.

Each company or person has an area(s) of expertise and that is how they will design your experience for you. (Note: these do not include any home builders or architects. These company descriptions specifically focus on landscaping.)

Companies that do the design place a high value and premium on the design they will create for you. (Such as architects that design landscapes, landscape architects, landscape designers – different levels of education and expertise.) You will be buying your design from them. Because you own it, you can then take that design to whomever you want to do the installation. Often times, these companies will offer you their management services as well. You pay them to facilitate the multitude of subcontractors needed to implement your project. These subs may be companies that they have developed relationships with and will choose to use only them. Because they are working for many clients at the same time, these subs will operate on their own timeline, which can cause management headaches and longer timelines.

Companies that do the installation will work with a plan that is provided to them. (These are often the companies subcontracted with by the first category.) Depending on the scope of work needed, there may be need for multiple companies to complete your project, and then you become the project manager. Quality companies that do the installation will not have any issue reading plans to complete the work, but if there are any changes with design or construction, you also take on the responsibility of making these decisions.

Companies that do both the design and the installation are a perfect combination. Not only are the designs of high quality, but they are also implemented by teams under the same roof. These companies know their staffs’ skills and manage their timelines. If there are any issues that come up with design or with construction, the designers are immediately accessible.

Companies that do both the design and the installation and then some are the crème de la crème. At Topiarius, we not only provide high value design (with our in-house landscape architect and designers) and installation (with our general contracting license, our full staff of carpenters, a 5,000 square foot wood shop, and our full staff of landscape construction crews), but we continue our service with fine gardening and seasonal rotations (with our fully staffed maintenance team). So once the project is complete, we will continue to provide care and annual color through all seasons. We stand by our installations and want to help you enjoy them for years to come.

This information will start you off on the right foot.

Always ask questions so you have the clarity you require.

Contact us today. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have for us.

We’d love to get started with our complimentary consultation.

Feeling Alive Again

When my cousins and I would visit my grandparents’ house, the five of us would walk over to the nearby school and playground. Like most kids, we knew how to make each other laugh (I mean, really belly laugh) with small dares and ways to keep the youngest at bay. 

This was back in the days when the hard earth was your landing pad, sharp metal edging was on the really tall slide, and the swings could send you flying feet into the air as the swing-set poles thudded around in the ground.

The swings were a favorite because all five of us could do it at the same time. Between the underdogs and showing off how far we could jump, I can’t forget swinging to the highest arc. I’d feel fear creep in, the chain do a small gitty-up, and then POW! my stomach would drop! Oh, that could make me scream and laugh all at once.

Over the past few months, we’ve been forced to slow down.

A lot can happen when we slow down.

For me, I’ve remembered simple things like being on the playground with my cousins and I’m reminded how much fun there is to have in life. How simple acts like swinging on a swing make me feel alive.

There’s no good reason such lighthearted moments should only be for kids.

So, while these hanging chairs (below) won’t get you 10-15 feet off the ground or cause your stomach to drop, they will keep your heart light and a smile on your face.

Having your home’s outdoor space be a place that brings you joy is what Topiarius does. 

Especially now, as we spend so much more time in our homes, you have every reason to need this and make it happen.

– Sara J-S

Free Summer Planting Plan

Summer Annuals Free Planting Plan

It’s that time of year when it feels really good to get your hands dirty planting a container of beautiful summer annuals. (Summer officially starts today!)

Browsing through a garden center and walking among all the annuals can be inspiring, but it can also be a bit overwhelming. So, that’s why Topiarius is providing you with a free planting plan! You can enjoy the beauty AND know exactly what you need to buy.

This plan is for a 4′ x 16″ planter, but the quantities can be modified to fit another size container. We L-O-V-E our plantings to be lush instantaneously so we make sure to have enough plant material on-hand. Additionally, these plants do best in part sun/part shade.

Sketch by Abe Kelly.

A few tips for planting: 

  • Make sure your container has drainage holes.
  • Use potting soil (not Chicago clay soil).
  • Compact the soil a bit before and while planting so that after a few days the roots aren’t exposed as the soil has settled. 
  • Remember to water immediately after planting then regularly.
  • For more information about these annuals visit Missouri Botanic Garden’s Plant Finder – it’s one of our favorite resources.

If you need more inspiration, you can see our other designs on our Pinterest board. 

And, if you love the idea of a summer annual planting, but have no time nor interest in doing the planting . . . give us a ring. We’re happy and eager to help. 

Photo Credits:  
A: https://susajja.com/ficus-black-prince-rubber-plant-burgundy/
B: https://www.devonpondplants.co.uk/product/lysimachia-nummularia-aurea/ 
C: gardenanswers.com
D: https://shop.romencegardens.com/coleus-solenostemon-hybrida-electric-lime-p215.aspxE: https://shopugc.com/annual-flats/

You CAN Have It Your Way!

StruXure and Topiarius Rooftop Pergola

Not only does Burger King believe you should have your hamburger your way, StuXure does too. (I mean a 1974 reference is still relevant, right?)

This past winter Topiarius became a certified designer and installer of SturXure pergolas and accessories. After a few installations this past year, we realized that because it’s such a well-built and creative system, that we needed this product in our installation portfolio.

StruXure pergolas are 100% customizable and that flexibility allows any client to have a configuration that integrates with their overall home design while integrating state of the art accessories and features. The overall structure is powder-coated aluminum, which helps with weight load on rooftops and is extremely rust resistant and low maintenance.

The pivoting louver system is the highlight. Because of its smart capabilities it can open and close based on the weather. When winds are too high the wind sensor will automatically open the louvers to reduce the wind load on the pergola. When rain is detected, the pergola louvers automatically close. Don’t worry about snow and freezing water because, you guessed it, the louvers will adjust to prevent sticking and damage. The louvers can also be adjusted through an app on one’s phone, so if there’s too much sun or not enough, it can be adjusted as needed. If you really love technology, then you can utilize the voice-controlled commands.

The pergola can have different architectural elements that can help it integrate into the design of its location. (These pergolas work great in both residential and commercial locations.) There are options for corbel ends, cornices, column wraps, caps and bases. There are 6 standard colors, but custom colors and wood grains are also available to choose from.

As for the accessories. If you’re interested in lighting, fans, retractable sides and screens, and heating and cooling then it is easy to incorporate. The pergolas even allow Topiarius to provide our own unique design customizations.

Here’s a project that’s currently being completed – from before, in progress, to near completion.

A standard rooftop in Chicago. Lovely umbrella, but just not enough to allow the level of outdoor living this family wants.

Work began over the winter. The StruXure pergola is able to span the width of the roof top.

The louvers and the recessed lighting are installed. On this project, Topiarius custom designed the metal panels that provide the privacy around the perimeter.

Rooftop begins to take shape with furniture and containers/plants. This family is going to be living outdoors more comfortably and more often!

Now You’re Cooking! Find Your Perfect Outdoor Grill

Outdoor Cooking and Dining

Choices and options can be amazing, right? But when you’re trying to make a simple choice and you’re faced with endless options, it can stop you before you begin. Finding the perfect grill is no different. So, rather than getting lost in the possibilities, I had a conversation with Zac Selleck from Chicago Gas Lines to help me sort through all the chatter and make this process easy.

What is it you love cooking?
There are no longer distinctions between what you cook inside and what you cook outside. From being able to boil water, fry an egg, bake a pizza, sear steaks or tuna, smoke ribs, bake potatoes, grill vegetables, rotisserie cook a chicken . . . it is all possible. Because you don’t have to limit your options, what are you truly desiring to cook outdoors? Maybe it’s just a few options or maybe you’re saying yes to all of the above.

If you’re interested in pancakes, a hash, grill cheese, or bacon? Then, skillet cooking is an option. If you’re interested in being able to sear proteins like steaks and tuna then look at infrared grills; they will allow you to cook at a higher temperature in half the time. Or if you prefer the slow cooking process of smoking ribs, pork belly, or roasts because the beautiful smoke ring is the only thing that matters, then smokers are your focus.

What will fuel the grill?
Grills measure their efficiency in BTU’s. British Thermal Units are a “measurement of how much heat a grill generates at its maximum output. If you think of BTUs like your car’s fuel efficiency or MPG (miles per gallon), BTUs measure your grill’s fuel efficiency or OPB (output per burner) as well as all the burners combined.” [1]

While each grill will operate with its optimum BTU, depending on its make and model, all grills operate more efficiently when they are fueled by a direct gas line providing consistent and dependable fuel. When there isn’t a direct gas line, options are propane, charcoal or pellets.

Often exterior gas lines are added after home construction. It is only a recent phenomenon that home construction will include these lines to outdoor spaces. While it is most often feasible to retrofit a line to your grill, it isn’t always possible.

What size are you looking for and where do you want it located?
Grills come in many sizes from 21” – 54” widths, but 36” is the most common. Many companies have other appliances that they offer too, such as side burners and refrigerators. The additional options make it easy to get the exact configuration you want.

If you have an outdoor kitchen design, you will want a built-in grill. If you do not, then you’ll need the additional cart for a free-standing set-up.

[1] https://www.charbroil.com/learn/what-are-btus/

TOP 3 Grills on The Market Right Now

Now that you have answered these 3 questions, here are the TOP grills on the market right now. All of them will make your outdoor cooking and dining amazing experiences.

According to Zac, the best grill on the market right now is LYNX. They were bought by Viking about 2 years ago, so as LYNX they continue to bring the high-end quality they’re known for and are backed by a recognizable brand name of VIKING.

The 36” gas grill from LYNX begins at $5,800 (without stand).

Not only is the Hesten Aspire another excellent grill, you have the added dimension of being able to choose from 9 different color front panels. If you’re looking for a way to reflect your personality in the design of your outdoor space, then Hesten is a great place to start.

The 36” Hesten Aspire begins at $3,500 (without stand).

If you’re looking for a grill that is straight-forward and uncomplicated, then Broilmaster is the option for you.

The 36” Broilmaster begins at $2,200 (without stand).

We’ve designed many outdoor kitchens to include the Green Egg, so it’s worth mentioning here. It is an all-in-one grill that grills, smokes, roasts, and bakes while using natural lump charcoal. But, know it may take you some time to learn how to maximize its power. It is a grill that relies heavily on air intake and when there is a slight 10-15 mile per hour wind, the grilling process can easily become more challenging and make cooking inconsistent.

To see more designs of grills in outdoor spaces, visit our Pinterest board.

Happy grilling and more!

Outdoor Living for Pets

Outdoor Pet Beds

We Love Our Pets!

Comfort isn’t just for us two-legged folks.
Our four-legged friends need some attention too! If you’re in the mood to pamper your pet, here are our suggestions. 

1. BEAU DOG HOUSE by Kelly Wearstler  |   2. ADAMS TICKING GREY DOG BED by Annie Selke  |  3. JUXTAPOSE DOG HOUSE by Kelly Wearslter  |  4. MEDIO PRETTY KENNEL by Pretty Kennels  |   5. ARCTIC SHAG BLANKET by Jax & Bones  |  6. AVANT DOG HOUSE by Kelly Wearstler  |  7. RIVIERA DOG BED by Serena & Lily 

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