Whether it’s at a new year or a new season, the search for the latest trends heats up. For outdoor entertaining, there is no shortage of new and exciting products to fuel our culinary creativity on the grill and at the dinner table (see our gift guide roundup!).
But beneath the innovative tools and trending styles, there is a deeper and more primal movement that’s been making a silent but steady sweep over Canadian backyards — the simple indulgence of staying home, staying outside, and taking it slow in the good company of friends, family and food.
“People are looking for reasons to go outside and stay outside,” says Adam Foulon, owner of London landscape firm Eden Gardenworks. “Today, the backyard is the retreat: the 24/7 cottage. For many people, it becomes an extension of the living room and kitchen. Really, it’s become the biggest room in your house. You can use it how you want, and it’s your choice how you extend it.”
“Backyards are very elaborate now,” says Hauser store manager Michele Yandreski. “People are devoting money and time to their outside space and I’d say there are more pools going in and more multi-areas being set up. People want their outdoor space to be maintenance-free, and comfortable.”
“Especially over the past seven years, we’ve noticed an increase in demand for outdoor entertaining spaces, as more and more people opt to invest in their backyard instead of travelling outside of the country for vacation,” adds George Giesen, owner of Porky’s BBQ & Leisure.
There are a number of quality solutions to the demand for custom outdoor entertaining spaces, allowing backyard enthusiasts to maximize the season, the space, and the budget.
Of course, top of mind for foodies and families alike are grills, smokers, pizza ovens and even outdoor kitchens, which offer ways to savour the season in a most literal way.
“In terms of trends for 2018, we expect that creating outdoor kitchens will continue to be popular, and so will built-in barbecues,” says Giesen. “Customers are seeking these out, as they essentially turn the experience of cooking into a social activity, where you can still be part of the conversation while minding the grill.”
And the type of grill? Charcoal is making a resurgence. “Charcoal grill popularity continues to grow, especially the kamado-style,” says Giesen. “The Big Green Egg is the leader in this space, but there are a few other manufacturers of ceramic cookers that have come on as competition. While these may have a lesser warranty — the Big Green Egg has a lifetime warranty — or be of lesser quality, you’re also paying less.”
In Foulon’s business, clients aren’t just investing in the grill itself — they’re also willing to invest the time. “Today, outdoor grilling is about going slowly, and about being able to cook on something wickedly hot,” he says. “Personally, I live to eat and I live to cook outside. The number one thing that I have — and that I’d recommend to anyone who could only ever have one barbecue — is a kamado-style grill, like the Big Green Egg.”
While the grill may have traditionally been the sole cooking station in the average family’s backyard, in today’s modern outdoor oasis, convenience and comfort have come out to play as well.
“Outdoor kitchen design today truly shows the influence of the indoor environment coming outdoors,” says Foulon. “Outdoor kitchens can be very involved, with storage, a grill or barbecue, countertop, outlets, a fridge and induction burners. The grills that we create are always built-in, and it’s also popular to include custom cabinetry, and poured concrete countertops that you can roll pizza dough on, without an issue. Restaurant-quality stainless steel is also popular for both countertops and cabinetry. It’s clean and low maintenance.”
“Grill materials have evolved,” points out Giesen. “Cast iron grills have been around for a long time. They’re heavy, can store a lot of heat, and they’re relatively inexpensive. However, they’re prone to rusting and breakage because the metal is very brittle. On the other end, stainless steel cook grills don’t rust, but the heat transfer is slower. This can be great for foods like chicken, sausage and asparagus, but it’s not as forgiving and steak needs as much heat as possible. So, for those who want something in between, Broil King has created a cook surface in their Imperial series that’s called ‘cast stainless,’ bringing together the best of both worlds.”
With all of the activity going out outside, managing the influence of the elements becomes key. Modular outdoor furniture (which can be moved into and out of the sun), as well as portable or movable umbrellas, shade structures and heaters all help extend time outdoors.
“Big shade structures, like flexi-awnings and cantilevers are always popular for combatting summer heat,” says Yandreski. “But people are also looking for ways to elongate the season and add warmth. Fire tables are increasingly popular, especially those that are heated by natural gas and propane. Our Dekko concrete fireplace is a customer favourite, both for its aesthetics as well as its durability against our Canadian winters”
All it takes is one visit to Hauser to see that there’s no need to compromise between comfort and style. For those who are interested, what’s trending right now is an eclectic mix of materials.
“We find that people gravitate towards an eclectic look, mixing natural finishes with metals, such as a reclaimed teak table with aluminum chairs,” says Yandreski. “Extruded aluminum has a clean modern look that’s popular. However, those who have older homes may also lean towards wicker, which is more traditional, or cast aluminum, which is more ornate.”
But perhaps the greatest comfort of all? Any Canadian will tell you that you can’t beat the luxury of a little extra heat to extend the season … and keep you on your comfy outdoor furniture longer.
“In Canada, we definitely have two to three months where it can be nice to be outside cooking, but we can also take advantage of the shoulder seasons,” adds Giesen. “You can enjoy the outdoors for longer by heating your area with radiant heat. Natural gas tends to be both the most popular and most effective form of heat. Schwank is one brand that’s known for creating commercial grade systems that are very effective, but they also create products for the residential market too. Bromic is another brand that’s known for its designer look.”
“There are also umbrella heaters, which run on propane tanks and electric heating systems, which are reliable and inexpensive, but generally less effective than natural gas,” he specifies.
Another exciting feature that’s been creeping into backyards? Vegetable gardens that are as important to the landscaping as they are to the dinner table. A 2018 garden is beautiful, bountiful, delicious, and sometimes, just like many other outdoor entertaining essentials, it’s moveable.
“Kitchen gardens today don’t have to take up a lot of space,” says Foulon, adding, “Plant selection can be based on aesthetics and/or how good it tastes. Rainbow chard looks great, but you can also mix in Boston lettuce and arugula. Whether vegetables or herbs, they can be grown in the ground or in pot planters, which are an attractive feature themselves and are reasonably affordable to change up. My own yard is small, but it has enough vegetables to keep us going. It looks like a riot of stuff, that looks almost tropical.”
“When it comes to making the most of your space, it also pays to think of how one ‘thing’ can be used in multiple ways,” Foulon adds. “Instead of a plain railing on your deck, why not modify a portion to be a bartop?”
While there is no shortage of ways to bring your own aesthetic to your sanctuary, textiles and dinnerware offer an affordable way to change up the look, and bring your unique personality to the backyard.
“Accessories like acrylic glassware, and outdoor rugs (polypropylene) are often a finishing touch,” says Yandreski. Hauser’s showroom is also brimming with plush throw pillows of every colour and pattern imaginable, all of which are manufactured by Hauser, in Canada.
“It’s important to note that many customers are conscious of where their items are made, and what they’re made from,” she adds. “The “made in Canada” aspect behind many of our products has been very important, and so has the use of environmentally conscious materials.”
“A lot can be done with upcycled and recycled furniture and vintage goods as well,” says Foulon. “It can be affordable. You can have two loungers and a milk crate and you’ve created a space. Even a hibachi grill can be a perfect solution. It’s all about taking it slow and having fun.”
“Ultimately, the overall theme with outdoor entertaining is that it’s personal,” he adds. “It’s your space. It’s a reflection of the owner and the user of the garden.What’s been important to clients is to create a sense of gathering in a natural, private setting — an intimate space that is your own personal oasis and an extension of your home.”
Photographs courtesy of Eden Gardenworks and Hauser.