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Kids’ Play

Craig and I talk fondly about our childhoods. Our best stories and memories revolve around playing outdoors.

I grew up in a sunny suburb of western MA. My backyard was not large at all, but it had a swing set that allowed me to fulfill our my “gymnastic” dreams, 2 trees large enough to hide behind, and a rock big enough to sit on (lots of goofy photos on this one!). I could get to the other blocks in the neighborhood with lightning speed because I could cut through all our neighbors’ yards. Our detached single car garage was my stage for talent shows and round-the-world basketball tourneys. Small space, but mighty!

(Craig grew up in central MN at a camp. He was a country kid with plenty of wide-open space. He could do anything and absolutely go anywhere in the woods, fields, or lake. SOOOO boring . . . JK.)

Both our parents were of a generation that didn’t want us sitting around in the house. “Go outside. Go do something.” was a common refrain no matter the time of year.

I know parenting styles are different these days, but what’s the same is the fact that kids – maybe your kids? no judgement; just asking – need to get out of the house, put down the technology, and foster their imaginations in a judgement free zone i.e., not on social media. [I love the tech Shabbat my friend Melissa and her 5-year-old daughter do each week!!]

So how do you do this if you live in the city or have limited space? It’s easier than you may think. Not a lot of space is needed and not a lot of stuff (any cheering yet?). 

Whether you have a rooftop, an open space under the stairs, or a full side yard there are lots of ways to have playhouses, add shade, swings, jumping stumps, or chalkboards. 

And best part of all?! An outdoor kid’s space like any of these below will get your kids to turn off their tech and go outside and play.

I never want to leave you without ideas! 

All of these projects range in complexity and scope, but each one is for sure unique.

While they are initially designed for younger kids, they all have, with a few adjustments, the potential to evolve into teenager / adult spaces. Investment dollars well spent.

So, if you’re in the need . . . or your kids are in the need of an outdoor play space that will get them to put down their tech and spark their imagination and play, then you know exactly who to call

Playtime!

Relaxing In A Small Space

You Just Need 2 Things!

I don’t know about you, but complaining drives me bonkers! No, hold up, I need to refresh that . . . what really drives me bonkers is when an individual chooses to be confused because they’re just too [fill in the blank] to think for themselves. 

Who’s still with me? 

There should be no confusion around having an outdoor living space and making it your very own oasis. There are too many positive outcomes to your own health when you spend time outdoors to throw up any road blocks. 

So let me clear up a common road block about small spaces: small spaces are conducive to relaxing. 

You just need 2 things – only 2!

  1. You need a comfortable place to sit and kick back.
  2. You need it to be inviting – a Siren of sorts to woo you outside.

So the first one is obvs. (practicing the art of not being confused). If you are not going to be comfortable while sitting or laying down then there is definitely NO way you’re going to say, “I want to be outdoors in this space.”

The solution: Invest in comfortable, correctly-sized outdoor furniture. (Yo, large overstuffed furniture is not always the jam.)

Number 2. Let’s take a look at these two balconies, which are not large (i.e. imagine what you can do if you have more space . . . but that’s another missive). 

Here’s what’s wooing me out into these spaces, in addition to the uber comfortable lounge chairs:

  1. The are clean and clutter free.
  2. They are showcasing a few planted containers. 
  3. They have some sun protection.
  4. They both have minimal, but helpful lighting.
  5. They both use carpet to create a room feeling.
  6. Artwork (I’m giving props to the lion container as “artwork”) and the option of a faux green wall (upper photo). 

And guess what? I didn’t even mention anything about the view, which means if you don’t have an amazing one (bonus points if you do), you can still have a small amazingly comfortable and desirable outdoor oasis with just these 2 things – comfortable seating and an inviting environment.

If you are all in on this, then one of the best next steps to choose not to be confused is to actively look for guidance . . . that’s where we step in. We will create your dream outdoor oasis – no matters its size – so that you can master the art of living beautifully outdoors. 

Where’s My Freakin’ Fan? It’s HOT!

Roof Top Pergola Fan

I yearn for summer all year long, but it doesn’t mean that when it arrives, I need to suffer like a fool. I want to live outdoors AND be comfortable.

If this resonates with you, then holla! Cuz you can beat the heat in your outdoor space with these 2 cool options (pun intended!)

FANS.
We use two types of fans – either oscillating or ceiling fans. The best option depends on what kind of structure you have to attach them to. Ceiling fans need a beam or ceiling (i.e., something horizontal). Oscillating fans can be mounted to an horizontal or vertical surface – particularly if you do not want to take up space with a stand.

The key to choosing the best fan is finding one that is wet-rated NOT damp-rated. Damp-rated means it cannot get wet but can be in outdoor areas like a screened in porch with a solid roof. Wet-rated fans can live outdoors even when it rains. It’s like the coat label that says it’s waterproof versus water resistant. You’re looking for waterproof.

There are many different options once you start Googling for an outdoor oscillating fan. You’ll need to look at size, speeds, material, and rotation capability. Try to find the quietest one you can but know there will be fan noise. Most are plug ins so unless you hire contractors (like us) or an electrician to help hide the cord, you’ll need to be okay with seeing it.

For ceiling fans, we tend to choose ones from Modern Forms. These require more assembly and an electrician or contractor (us) to install. But it is well worth it!

COOLING SYSTEMS.

This is a fancy term for a system that provides cooling without wetness. It’s called TurboCool. It “uses hi-pressure pumps and an unique air delivery system to cool the air with micro-droplets. This allows for complete evaporation, so you can place tables as close as three to five feet from the port without having to worry about excess moisture.

The ideal solution for restaurants and patios [and residences], these innovative cooling systems will drop temperatures 10 to 20 degrees.”

These systems do require a professional contractor (us) or electrician to install as well as having a strategic mounting location(s). 

(This company does partner with StruXure with whom we are certified installers. Click here for more info.)

So don’t suffer like a fool outdoors! Get connected with us so that you can live  beautifully outdoors! While it will never be like sitting in air-conditioning, it will be WAAAAAYYYYY more fun and relaxing to be outside.

From one cool cat to another,

Sara J-S

Rats!

I want to talk with you today about one of the sexiest topics I know about. (Irony is dripping off me like a waterfall.)

Rats.

In 2020, Chicago held the title of the rattiest city in the US for the 6th straight year. (I mean if that’s not the ultimate title, add to it that in 2021 Chicago made it to the number one spot for bed bugs too!)

So, friends, suffice it to say rats are here and in your yards and in our yard. Just ask Craig about the nest in his sweet potato bed a few years ago.

Okay then . . . what can we do about them because we want you to live beautifully outdoors?

The name of the game is to make your yard inhospitable. If anyone promises an 100% guarantee that they can keep rats out of your yard, they’re lying, particularly if you live near restaurants. But don’t be dismayed, there a few things that can be done to help.

  1. Make sure you have a clean and tidy yard. Not only because this looks better, but because you will have a better chance of seeing any holes underground or in raised planters. These guys like to burrow. And holes can be filled!
  2. Keep your trash can lids closed, especially if your bags are filled with food. Rats are master dumpster divers.
  3. Dog poop. Seems the jury is still out on this urban myth. According to Steve Dale, pet expert, he says that “Steve Sullivan, senior curator of Urban Ecology at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum… [has] never seen a peer reviewed study to confirm that rats relish dog feces.” But either way, just pick up your dog’s poop. Right?
  4. Rats have a hard time finding consistent water sources. So if you have a water feature like a pond at grade or lower (i.e., same height or lower than your soil line), you will attract rats especially if it is not properly maintained. Instead make sure the basin of water has an edge and sits above grade. Or even better use a water feature that has a covered basin that can be installed below or above grade. Consistent cleaning and monitoring are key!
  5. Install an underground barrier deterrent. And this is where we come in.

Underground barriers work like this:

  • Along a fence or a foundation, we will excavate down 18″ – 24″, install galvanized ¼” wire mesh (hardware cloth), back fill the trench with lava rock, and cover with soil.

Like I said there are no guaranteed solutions, these steps can definitely make living beautifully outdoors in Chicago a fact and reality.

Sara “there’s always a solution” J-S

P.S. I’ve provided you with free plans to see exactly what a below-grade rat barrier is and what it looks like. (I know . . . I told you . . . real sexy.)

P.S.S. To our friends who don’t live in Chicago, please don’t be grossed out and not come visit. While we may have these two titles, we’re actually quite clean and beautiful. Pinky swear.

Thank you, Mood! Outdoor Fabric.

Outdoor Fabric

I know I’m not the only one that has done this.

The fan base is too huge for this to be unique. But . . .  we still had to go.

We (Craig and I) rode the elevator to the 3rd floor. The doors opened and the angels sang!

Okay, no angels just buttons, zippers, and notions everywhere. (Yup, I geek out over notions.)

We had entered MOOD Fabrics in NYC!

Let me catch you up: The epic TV series Project Runway, with the help of coach and mentor Tim Gunn, made the store even more famous. Each time Tim and the competitors were leaving the store they showed their manners and said, “Thank you, Mood.” I mean . . . I got the T-shirt to match.

Topiarius Mood Fabrics

So what’s the deal? Why do I believe that fabric is so interesting? Why do colors, patterns, and textures make my mind work on overdrive?

3 Reasons

It’s about all the options, about all the possibilities, about all the unique outcomes.

With the switch of a color, the whole mood can change. With the addition of a pattern, a rooftop can get interesting. With a textured, furry cushion, you now want to relax on the sofa and watch the game outdoors.

The beauty is that no two outdoor spaces will ever (or need to be) the same! You can have the design that speaks to you, and your neighbor can have theirs. Bonus! For all the designers at Topiarius, this is so not boring. We get to bring you the best possible design.

So how do you find outdoor fabric, particularly if you can’t go to Mood Fabrics in NY or LA?

I suggest you start here with these companies. Fabric can be purchased and provided to an upholsterer to make the cushions, pillows, etc. 

Perennials
Janus et Cie
Nomi
Link Outdoor

You’ll notice I have not listed Sunbrella. Sunbrella is ubiquitous in the outdoor fabric world. It’s almost like asking for Kleenex, when really you’re asking for a tissue. It’s a great option as well, but I want to make sure you’ve got the inside scoop to all things luxurious.

I Had No Idea. Green Roofs.

Sarah S. was one of the coolest girls in 7th grade. She had the most amazing bob haircut and knew how to wear eye makeup. She could peg her pants and knew how to wear her Forenza sweater backwards! 

I had no idea what she wanted when she said hello to me for the first time in our French class. I knew it wasn’t cuz she wanted to know where I got my turtleneck with strawberries all over it. (It was 1984, they were amazingly practical for a girl like me in New England!)

Turns out she was looking for a friend as much as I was. I quickly learned in addition to all her coolness, she was really fun and generous.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to beg one of our parents to drop us off at the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside on a weekend night. Three floors with curvy glass railings and lights that guided us to all the stores. One whole floor was a food court, a movie theater, and games!

And, on the top floor, next to G. Fox department store was . . . Benetton!

Back then the store was a small, refined boutique. Huge pictures lined the walls portraying female and male models from around the world of every skin color. (Radical!) The colors just exploded through the clothing. It was breath-taking. The United Colors of Benetton! (I can hear the angels singing.)

Sarah gave me a tour as one of the most experienced docents of Benetton. She told me about the sweaters, shirts, and pants. And, then . . . she pointed to the prized possession of all 7th grade girls: the Benetton rugby.

She already had one but wanted to make sure I knew this is where I should bring my parents to buy me my very own. Friends, I’d just been given the key to cool town.

Benetton Rugby

I will freely admit that my 12 year-old self knew nothing other than coveting that damn rugby and that I could only be a fulfilled junior higher if I owned one.

But, I also learned a valuable lesson. That my small world could/should/would expand. To some it may have just been clothing and a foolish adolescent’s endeavor, but to me it was learning what I didn’t know AND how much more I wanted to know what I didn’t know.

We want to help you, our trusted clients and fans, be exposed to all kinds of possibilities for you to live beautifully outdoors. (We’re also a bit biased and want it to be luxurious as well.)

So hold tight  . . .  I’m going to share with you what could be your Benetton rugby.

GREEN ROOFS. (full stop.)

I’m sure you’re familiar with them, enough so that I don’t need to get technical.

I want to make sure you know they don’t just make a corporate office building LEED certified.

Green roofs are incorporated into private residential designs – as well they should be!

They can be added for their plantings, for texture, and for design elements.

Topiarius Green Roof
Topiarius Green Roof

They can be used as most of the design for an impressive makeover. The planting provides interest all year with a lovely contrast between spring and fall.

Topiarius Green Roof
Topiarius Green Roof
Topiarius Green Roof
Before Topiarius Green Roof

And, they can be installed in spaces that won’t be used, just seen.

Topiarius Green Roof
Topiarius Green Roof

The options with green roofs are endless, which is (of course) where Topiarius comes in.

We have yet to tap into all the creative ways we can incorporate green roofs into designs.

We’d sure like to take on that challenge and . . .  be your docent through this whole new world. 

Winter is the perfect time for us to begin your design.

Contact us, but only if you’re serious about learning what you don’t yet know. 

P.S.  My begging paid off and my self-esteem was saved. My parents bought me a green Benetton rugby off the slightly damaged rack.

And, Sarah and I are still good friends to this day.

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.

Modern Prairie

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!