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This Is What Happened . . . When I Worked With Topiarius

Topiarius may not have the reach and influence of Martha Stewart or Chip and Joanna Gaines (yet!) but what we do have . . . is one AMAZING referral network of AMAZING clients and partners.

And this network has got some AMAZING things to say.

So . . . let me introduce you to Shellane.

Craig and I started working with Shellane and her family in 2012. We have landscaped the parkway, front yard, back yard and rooftop of her former home and have completed her garage rooftop and back yard of her new home. (Front yard is getting worked on as we speak!).

Let’s get started:

Topiarius: What was happening with your home landscape/outdoor spaces when you first decided to hire Topiarius?

Shellane: Every time I have decided to hire Topiarius, it has been because I am obsessed about our outdoor spaces. I grew up on a farm. My dad had flower beds everywhere, and in addition to the crops he grew, his flowers were his passion. They were so beautiful, and I knew having flowers in my life, even in the city, was going to be absolute.

So, in 2012, we bought a new house and the backyard was functional, but it wasn’t pleasantly functional. It was not useful in a way that would make it so that I could be outside as much as I wanted to. I knew I needed to hire someone to help me with that and I received a referral for Topiarius from a friend.

In our development plan, we started with the front yard first because it was terribly pedestrian and the part of the house that everyone sees, that was my first priority. We developed the rooftop next and finally, we developed and refreshed the backyard.

And then? We promptly moved to a new house around the corner and started all over again. (Bigger house because more and bigger kids!) That’s the fun part, right? In developing the property at the first house, I learned some things about what was valuable to me, and that knowledge actually helped me select a different type of property the second time. For example, I thought I would love a deck on the very top of my house! I ended up not really loving a deck on the top of my house. So. Many. Stairs. And its really hot up there!

Topiarius: What was your experience of working with Topiarius like? What would you rate as 5-star?

Shellane: Let’s start with the last question.

I like a small family-owned business. That’s definitely a me thing.

The other 5-star quality for Topiarius is they always fix their mistakes. I love that. And there’s no question about it. If I have something that is going wrong, I reach out and you guys are out there within a week fixing it. I like to think I’m a reasonable customer and not particularly needy, but if equipment isn’t working, that can be frustrating for me.   I reach out and Topiarius Is there to help fix whatever is going wrong. A more concise way of saying it is that you stand behind your work.

The other part of the question? I feel the relationship between Topriarius and me is such that you’re part of my family. (I know this sounds hokey.) You’re part of the group of people that help me do everything I want to do and have a beautiful house.

Every single time I walk out into the backyard or up onto the roof of my garage deck, I’m happy. Being outside just makes me happy. You guys are worth every penny, but it’s an investment. And because it can be such a big financial investment, I have worked with Topiarius over a period of years at each house to develop in phases of our property.

In addition to being influenced by my dad growing flowers everywhere, I was also influenced by the fact that my parents had parties all the time.  They loved to entertain.  Therefore I love to entertain.  And I am continuing to do that at my home with my family – we’re having parties six and seven times a year. As I mentioned previously, when we developed the outdoor space at our first house, I learned some things, my priorities changed.  I wanted my entertaining space done!

At our first house, we started with the front yard because it was what everyone could see from the street and that was important to me then.  When we bought the house, the front yard was grass and boxwood – not beautiful, but good enough.  This time around in my development plan, it was more important for me to be able to entertain outdoors in a living space for my family, especially for my older kids who are more independent. They want to be able to watch TV outside and sit outside to listen to music and all that kind of stuff.   So we focused on that aspect of the house first and the front yard came last.  (I’m on the schedule for the end of June and I can’t wait!)

Topiarius: What was the impact of working with Topiarius on you and/or your family?

Shellane: We are outside all the time. I mean, we would be anyway, but now we’re outside and comfortable and happy. This past summer, the kids were outside more than they had been previously. We installed an outdoor TV on our garage rooftop deck – it got installed kind of late in the season last year (due to it being backordered and us being in North Carolina for six weeks) but the impact of the installation was big. We started using it immediately. The kids would have friends over and they would watch Disney movies.

We also have a dining table up on the rooftop deck that I had actually planned for it to be in our lower backyard, so it would be closer to the kitchen and back door of the house. I showed Craig J-S how I was going to lay it out and he’s like, “Nope, that’s not going to work. You don’t have enough room. It needs to go up top.” I was not happy about that, but I trust Craig.  When we installed the planters and the plantings were completed, I realized there was no way that the dining table would have fit. Craig knew better than I did.   He was totally right.  (Is he reading this?)

This past fall, as the weather turned colder, my husband, my mom, and I would often play cards on Sunday nights up on that deck at that table. All warm and snug under our infrared heaters.   My friends and family love the space. Because it has been thoughtfully planned, the space draws people into it, like a magnet.

Topiarius: Let’s say I’m a super skeptical person and I am not quite convinced that Topiarius’ services are worth it . . . what tangible results did you experience as a result of working with Topiarius that would convince another person to choose us?

Shellane: Before I hired Topiarius, my backyard was just cement pavers and dark gray siding. Literally just walls, cement, and an empty sad space. Sure,  I could have just put some furniture out there and been done with it, but the space was hot and sterile and not a place that you want to go sit and read a book. But, by developing the backyard and garage rooftop deck, we have greatly increased the living space in our house. And the cost associated with that has been worth it to my family.

Now, I have a soft, cozy couch with a TV I can turn on if I want to, under warm heaters if it is too cold, and a louvered pergola to close and ceiling fan if it is too hot. I have a wall of hydrangeas that provide  privacy where I see flowers and butterflies. It’s inviting and cozy and meditative. It just makes me happy. But that is me, I’m happy outside.

But a side note, I’m not as happy as Craig J-S is outside in the winter. I hate to be cold.  But, as soon as possible this spring, when it finally starts to warm up, I will take our blue tarps off the furniture and open up the space from its hibernation so we can start feeling and smelling the outdoors.

 – Thank you, Shellane! You’re the best!

Refer/Earn is Our Referral Program That Pays You Back!

 

For every person you refer you you could earn endless credits! It’s like FREE money!

City Soirée

Project Brief

Knowing their 2,043 square foot terrace rooftop in Chicago could be an amazing outdoor space, our clients had begun investing in upgrades before hiring us. But they quickly realized that their original vision wasn’t satisfactory. Upon engagement with us, we excitedly conceptualized how their wide open, unprotected space could fulfill their dreams to live beautifully outdoors.

For this couple, the ease of entertaining was key with space for dinner parties as their highest priority. This meant a dedicated space for their large dining table and multiple spaces for people to gather in – all enhanced by ambient lighting. Our clients were also concerned about privacy from a neighboring building that looked directly onto their space which was addressed through plants as screening and the pergola. The noise of the mechanicals needed to be damped. This gave us an opportunity to define separate areas so that we could play with different materials and level changes through decking. Along with privacy, the sun exposure made the space very hot on summer afternoons and they wanted to find a way to create shade that would withstand the punishing winds off the lake. While the custom panels are fixed in place, their design allows for dappled sun and wind movement. With the addition of heaters anchored on the pergola and a fire feature, the couple has a space for extended seasonal use. And, of course, they wanted plantings that would soften the space and invite you outside. By using/transplanting some of the trees and shrubs they had, and adding other shrubs, perennials, green roof trays, and containers for annual displays an urban garden oasis was created.

Their outdoor terrace went from a Hodge podge commercial looking space to a sophisticated, welcoming, relaxing space that make entertaining a piece of cake!

Dermatologists Cheer! Umbrellas!

Have you ever left your dermatology appointment with a high-five because you’re protecting yourself from the sun ALL the time in ALL the right ways? 

I never have.

Erin (my dermatologist) gives me pamphlets, a huge bag of samples of sunscreen, and a stern warning EVERY time I leave her office. Protect yourself!

It’s a hard pill to swallow, not because I don’t believe she’s 100% right, but I just love the feeling of sun on my skin. I also know I gots to take care.

So, what the heck does this have to do with Topiarius?! Cha-ching!

If you want to get that high-five like I do, then you want to protect yourself from the sun by choosing one of these wildly creative SHADE options.

Some of these we’ve installed and used in our designs and others we want to. They are all easy to use and so visually cool.

A wall mounted, cantilever umbrella that requires no pole from Umbrosa! No more tripping around the base. Photo: Topiarius
A Mamagreen personal shade that moves where you do! Photo: Mamagreen
Double your fun! Heavy-duty cantilever umbrellas from Umbrosa that can rotate easily to create shade. Photo: Topiarius
These are for when your only decision of the day has to be whether you put the cover on or take the cover off the Sombrero booth. Photo: Mamagreen
It's not just enough to have shade during the day! You should also have evening light with the Extremis Sol Luna! Photo: Shadescapes

If you want to know more about some of these umbrellas, please take a look at this blog post on our website. AND, if you want to talk with us about your new design and installation, now is a perfect time. Can’t wait to hear from you!

From the gal who is learning to love the shade – 

Sara J-S

P.S. Curious about other ways to beat the heat, check out these posts as well: fans and misters and pergolas!

Don’t Chase the Shade

Roof Top Shade

One of my favorite memories about my pug Pegi is how much she despised the heat – I mean despised it! During the summer when we’d take her on a walk she would run ahead to the shade, wait for us to catch up, stay there as we walked past, then run to the next bit of shade. Truth. Hand to God.

And when there are days like this for us humans it’s gonna take more than a spot of shade to beat the heat!

So rather than wax poetically about this, here’s the punch line.

These are our top 5 solutions for beating the heat when you have a pergola.

 

CUSTOM PANELS (below)

The endless options for pattern on these fixed panels creates a unique respite from the sun.

Roof Top Pergola

RETRACTABLE SHADES

When the heat is too much, grab the “wand” and slide the panels where you’d like to have them. There are different options for fabric color too.

Roof Top Pergola

LOUVERS

Fixed in place, depending on the time of day, these louvers will minimize the heat by creating dappled shade.

Roof Top Louvers

STRUXURE PERGOLA SYSTEM

With a click of a button (or as a reaction to the the weather) the louvers will open and close providing instant shade.

Roof Top StruXure

SLIDING OVERHEAD PANELS

One of the more interesting and creative solutions that we’ve designed and installed are the moving panels. Using a “wand” the panels slide forward and backward to block the sun.

Roof Top Moving Panels

Beating the heat is no joke when you’re a pug . . . that’s for shizzle. But it’s even more fun when you’re human!

Can’t stand not having the outdoor space of your dreams? Can’t stand not having respite from the sun? Then now is the time to contact us and we’ll walk you through our process. 

Loving living beautifully outdoors!

 

Top 4 City Landscape Codes

If you’re planning on building out a rooftop or updating your landscaping in the city of Chicago, then these are the top 4 codes you should know.

But to put this into perspective, I suggest we think about codes as something to embrace rather than be amazingly annoyed by them.

This is not an out-of-the-box thinking kind of conversation. This is about codes. We all live with codes. We all agree in the US to drive in the right lane, stop at red lights, walk through an intersection at appropriate signals (most of the time), park in designated spots, etc. You get the point, right?

We use codes because we need to have ways to operate with each other; we need best practices to keep ourselves and others safe.

Just like homebuilders have codes to follow, so do we in landscape design/construction. And these codes are set by the city / municipality in which you dwell.

For Chicago city dwellers (i.e., residential properties), there are 4 key codes that are worth knowing about when you’re planning for landscape construction.

Since 2016 . . .

ONE: Rooftop Structures

On a private residential roof deck any structure above the parapet wall that is within 3’ feet of a property line or 6’ off a neighboring building has to be noncombustible. If this applies to you, then your pergola needs to be made of a metal and any screening needs to be made of metal, glass, or cement board.

TWO: Backflow Preventer

Irrigation systems require a backflow preventer installed by a licensed plumber and they need to be inspected yearly. The inspection is typically done by your irrigation company which has proper certification.

THREE: Fence Height

Anything less than 5 feet tall does not require a permit when built with typical materials (e.g., wood, vinyl, steel). But fencing can be up to 6 feet for solid panels and up to 8 feet for open slats. These heights may require a permit and a variance request. The takeaway is to follow neighborhood fencing heights, always talk to your neighbors, and hire professionals who know the codes!

FOUR: Parkway Trees

All trees in parkways are city property (no matter who plants them). Technically you’re supposed to get a permit to do any work in/on parkways, but functionally the city is fine with homeowners making improvements. However, existing trees cannot be removed! THIS IS HUGE! The fine is $1,000 per caliper inch. This means if you remove a 20” diameter tree you will be fined $20,000!

In order to plant a tree in a parkway, you must hire a company that is licensed by the city of Chicago to plant parkway trees, and you are going to be limited to 4 – 5 options. The city determines which options you have by what other trees are planted in your neighborhood. The city’s goal is to diversify plantings.

Major take away: When you’re contracting with a company (like Topiarius) to work on / at your home make sure you find and use a reputable firm that has up to date knowledge of codes. And don’t ever be discouraged by these codes . . . design solutions abound so that you can live beautifully outdoors.

P.S. This list is simply an overview of codes we encounter on a regular basis. It is not intended to replace city code documentation.

P.S.S. To see a pergola system that fits within city code, click here.

What Should Your Budget Be?

The #1 question we get is what should my budget be?

I’ll tell you this. It’s an easy answer, but it does require explanation.

You can see our answer if you skip this part and scroll to the bottom.

BUT DON’T SKIP THIS PART! HEY, COME BACK.

Craig and I had the absolute pleasure to spend time on Memorial Day weekend at a cliend home (new word for client turned into friend) for a summer kick off party. Unsolicited to a large group of party goers, our cliend said, “Having invested in my outdoor space (her back yard and rooftop), Topiarius has completely changed the way my family (of 5) lives together. It’s amazing.”

Here’s another way for me to explain. I’ve heard the following story told with a few variations, but let’s assume that while the specifics may not be 100% that the sentiment is 100% correct.

  • On a lovely afternoon at a café in Paris, a woman notices that Pablo Picasso is at a nearby table.
  • She musters the courage and walks over to him.
  • “Excuse me Sir, would you mind sketching me something on my napkin? I’ll pay you.”
  • “Of course.” says Picasso.
  • He takes her napkin, pulls a pen from his shirt pocket, and draws a few lines.
  • “That will be $20,000 francs.” he says.
  • “What?! You only spent 5 seconds on it?” she says incredulously.
  • Picasso responds, “No Madame, I’ve spent 30 years on this.” 

When you are looking for a luxurious outdoor oasis, a sanctuary at your own home, you will have to understand budgeting and expenses. But, friends, you’ll also have to understand that good design, quality installation, exceptionally kind and honest staff are not just fine-tuned overnight. They take time, energy, and lots of work to manifest and develop.

So, dig into our Budget Calculator and get a sense of what we suggest as starting points. Our goal is that these amounts kick-start conversation getting us on the same page from the very beginning. (I know, right? We are all eager to get your project started as quickly as possible. So let’s not waste time!)

If you’re interested in booking a call with us to talk through finer points, then let’s do it. Contact us today.

P.S. Continue reading our posts. We’ve got some great posts about value, investment, planning, and understanding our industry. Our goal is to always educate and make sure we can answer all your questions. 

I recommend these posts to get started: 

Yummy Textures + Colors

Gone are the days when you want your landscape to look like your neighbors, right? Our homes, inside and out, are all about expressing who we are and the kind of life we want to live.

This is why textures and colors are a must when it comes to outdoor design.

The combinations of landscape materials, such as plants, wood, metal, and stone, develop the textures of your built space.

Layer your space with furniture, that can have any amazing combination of color choices, and you’ve put the icing on the cake.

Taken as one whole visage . . . it’s an artistic masterpiece reflecting you!

You living beautifully outdoors. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve been posting on social media some combinations that I find inspiring. Scroll through and see if you feel the same.

Texture_Landscape and Fabric_1

JANUS et Cie fabric left to right: Plume (Rambutan), Remarkable (Amber), Conga Lines (Manhattan), Great Ocean Road (Khaki)

Landscape: Ipe (hardwood) decking, old clay Chicago pavers, white/cream Petunias, and Heavy Metal Switch Grass

Texture_Landscape and Fabric_2

Perennials Fabrics left to right: See Sea / Safari (Blanca), Jake Stripe (Black Tie), Bebop (Salt and Pepper), Tangled (Flannel)

Landscape: Custom sized bluestone paver in an herring bone pattern next to river rock next to black-painted cedar fence.

Texture_Landscape and Fabric_3_mammagreen

Mamagreen fabric top to bottom: Sunbrella (Ibzia), Sunbrella (Coral Spectrum), Agora (Coral Dust), Batyline (Gem Cream), Olefin (Aubergine)

Landscape: Sedum green roof and limestone pavers

Texture_Landscape and Fabric_4_Perennials

Perennials Fabrics top to bottom: See Sea (Squares), Ishii (Topaz), Wild and Wooly (Salt & Pepper), Scribbles (Hotsy Totsy), Drypoint Plaid (Watermelon)

Landscape: Artificial green wall and Limelight Hydrangea

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.

Picture Day

Spectra Umbrella by Umbrosa.

It was a Tuesday morning. I’m 7 years old in second grade. 

Donna, Kara, and I are taking the “long” way to school because 1) it’s raining, 2) the shortcut is a muddy hill with a stream, 3) it’s a paved sidewalk, and 4) most importantly, it’s picture day.

I know we had our umbrellas because it was all the rage to have the clear ones that arched so low it covered your shoulders. Plus, it had these amazing ladybugs all over it. No way I’d forget that artistry. 

Chatting along (or were we yelling to hear each other . . . ) we were staying pretty dry. 

Until . . . do I even have to say it?!?

A car drives by spraying ALL the muddy puddle water all over me!

My fear of being tardy to Mrs. Dunne’s class only meant one thing for me. Onward! My picture would just be epic. (Honestly I was just pissed. But we all know this is a bit revisionist history, so I’ll pretend I kept my chin held high and didn’t cry.)

Thankfully I did have my umbrella. It kept the upper half of me clean!

Umbrellas . . . do we appreciate them enough?

Do we know how ingenious and aesthetically pleasing they truly can be? 

In the landscape environment they can be the perfect addition to an outdoor space so it can be used in both sunshine and a light rain.

Over the past few years we’ve been incorporating them into our designs.

Spectra Umbrella by Umbrosa.

On this rooftop, we used the Spectra Umbrella by Umbrosa. Two together make watching TV so much easier while lounging on the couches (which are hidden the planters and plants). 

Paraflex Umbrella by Umbrosa.

This outdoor cooking and dining area needed some sun protection during the day. So, we chose the Paraflex Umbrella by Umbrosa. The flexible arm and tilting capabilities made it the perfect choice. Plus, when it’s collapsed it takes up very little space.

Dacapo Umbrella by May.

For this rooftop, the client opted for this amazing umbrella rather than a pergola. So, we chose the Dacapo Umbrella by May. It has been anchored to the decking to eliminate the stand, which often gets in the way. With this configuration, the umbrella can be rotated 360 degrees to the exact location needed. 

We all know that 99% of the time we get what we pay for. And, these umbrellas are no exception to this rule. The value they provide is through their ingenuity, their ease of use, and their durability. 

When we’re designing outdoor spaces, our goal is to provide you with ideas and products that you wouldn’t have or know about . . . like ways in which you can maximize your space, the best plant choices for their location, or options like these umbrellas!

Contact us to discuss. We will talk through the best applications for these umbrellas and see if they’re a great fit for your outdoor space. (Can’t promise you’ll never be soaked by a car driving through a puddle though.)

LIVE LIFE BEAUTIFULLY OUTDOORS!

Since you have stuck with me this long, here’s your reward:

Sara Jenkins’ 2nd grade picture. It’s okay to laugh . . . 

Topiarius