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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

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!

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.