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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

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!

Easy Vegetables to Grow on Roof Top Gardens

Topiarius Veggies Tomatoes

Topiarius Gardening on RooftopWhen it comes to growing vegetables on your rooftop, there are very few limitations. As long as you have sun for most of the day and a consistent watering system/schedule, success is practically guaranteed.

Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS
Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS

In addition to the raspberries, dill, tomatoes, and peppers, the above rooftop includes carrots, lettuce, and herbs.

Topiarius Gardening

Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS

This rooftop garden is nestled into the full design of the whole space. It is on the perimeter next to the kitchen. In addition to the cherry tomatoes and eggplant, there are squash and cucumbers.

Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS
Photo Credit: TOPIARIUS

There are both cool and warm season vegetables that can be planted throughout the growing season. In early spring think spinach, snap peas, beets, and kohlrabi. Once the weather heats up you can plant those tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, beans, zucchini, butternut squash . . .

If you are just looking to stick your toe into vegetable gardening here is a mix that as easy to care for and provides that big bang of fresh garden flavor: Patio Hybrid Tomato, Italian Basil, Fairy Tale Eggplant, Mint, and Rosemary.

Here are some of our favorite places to purchase organic seeds and starter plants.

Finding Luxury IS this easy!

Outdoor Furniture Rooftop

Tired of only seeing what Restoration Hardware, CB2, and Wayfair have for outdoor furniture? Want something that is more unique and speaks to your style?

Luckily enough . . . you’ve got us! We can help you find all the luxury outdoor furniture companies that don’t float to the top of your Google search.

What you need to know is luxury brands sell in 3 different ways

You can

    1. buy directly from companies and purchase pieces at MSRP (manufacturer suggest retail price)
    2. buy from a company that sells specific lines of furniture and purchase at MSRP or a bit less.
    3. buy directly through your landscape design company. We have access to all of these outdoor furniture companies and can provide you with better deals.

To get started, start viewing furniture by going directly to a company’s website.

Janus et Cie

Brown Jordan

DEDON

Or, you can go to a website for a company that represents multiple lines of outdoor furniture, which then directly connects you to more websites.

There is no reason to have luxury outdoor furniture shopping being the “thing” that is frustrating. We can help directly you to more sites and other luxury furniture designers that we work with.

Need to know how else to eliminate frustration, download our “No Surprises” Guide to Planning Your Outdoor Space: 9 Practical Tips To Maximizing Your Budget For Patios, Rooftop Gardens and Backyards .

PS No kickbacks from these folks . . . just want to share our love of great design in furniture.

9 Practical Tips to Maximize Your Budget for Rooftops and Gardens

Outdoor Space Guide Topiarius

If you’re thinking about renovating your outdoor space, but aren’t sure where to begin, Topiarius can help. Click on The “No Surprises” Guide below for your free download.

In this article you’ll

  1. Learn how to prioritize spaces.
  2. Identify how you want to live in your outdoor space a MAJORITY of the time.
  3. Determine what views are the best.
  4. Understand the importance of roof construction.
  5. Learn how to incorporate water and gas sources.
  6. Think through your flexibility.
  7. See how your interior esthetic impacts your exterior design.
  8. Figure out your first steps in creating a budget.
  9. Learn how different landscape design companies are organized.

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