Transform your backyard with high/low outdoor living ideas

Image: gorgeous backyard living space in the evening
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A renovation journey.

Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960s builder’s-box bungalow into the 21st century.

. . . . .

By Masha Koyen

According to landscaping experts, any backyard can be transformed into a lovely outdoor living space regardless of size or budget.

In our continuing Ready.Set.Reno! project series, we’ve partnered with a team of top renovation experts to help make your renovations easier — and safer. Learn how to transform a typical backyard into a livable outdoor space regardless of your budget, and hear valuable insider tips from landscape architect Bryce Kramer of The Landscape Company.

Outdoor “rooms”

Even small backyards become more livable when you create areas with purpose. Outdoor rooms are easily defined by the type of furniture you use.

  • High: Higher budgets can use features such as levels on a deck or garden structures such as pergolas or gazebos to create outdoor rooms.


One thing our landscaping expert, Bryce Kramer of The Landscape Company, notes, “Having a well-thought-out landscape plan with a proper "inch-for-inch" layout, including elevations BEFORE the construction begins, is the most important step in the landscape design process. A good plan is like insurance for everyone — a homeowner knows exactly what they are getting, including NOT an estimate, but a true cost of the project and the contractor is equipped with the exact scope of work down to the last spec."


  • Low: On a limited budget, you can use outdoor area rugs to create a feeling of separate spaces.

Shelter from the sun

Offering shelter from the sun is key to beautiful outdoor spaces. Shade also provides a sense of seclusion and privacy.

  • High: Building permanent structures such as gazebos or pergolas provide shady areas ideal for use any time of day. Roofing affixed to your home provides the same sense of permanence, without taking up too large a footprint.
  • Low: Large adjustable umbrellas do the trick for more modest budgets. You can also consider installing adjustable automatic awnings or hanging curtains to help block out sun at different times of the day.

Outdoor kitchens

Outdoor kitchens have been all the rage for years now. Despite their high price tag, you can still create an outdoor kitchen on a budget.

  • High: Today’s outdoor kitchens include all the comforts of home including granite countertops, pizza ovens, grilling surfaces, fridges, sit-down bars, formal dining areas, and more.
  • Low: Fear not! You can get that built-in feel for your grill using paving stones. They are highly versatile and can create a permanent counter and storage area that gives an outdoor kitchen feel without the exorbitant cost. The counter can also play double duty as a bar for entertaining.

Focal points

Trending focal points help create interest in boring backyards.

  • High: Fire and water features: Customized fire features range from intricate outdoor fireplaces to casual built-in fire pits complete with seating. From gurgling ponds and fountains to waterfalls and waterwalls, water features are serene while adding visual interest.
  • Arbours: Whether it’s an arbour with cascading roses or ivy over a well-positioned bench, arbours are a charming backyard feature.
  • Paths: Walkways leading to key areas of your garden guide people to your most comfortable areas while also adding texture.
  • Gazebos/pergolas: These structures offer comfortable spots for your living room or dining areas while also adding high-end architectural detailing.

  • Low: Firepits and fountains: You can find fire pits and fountains suited to your budget at your local home improvement or garden centre.
  • Walkways: Pea gravel or river stone walkways add texture while leading people to your favourite spots.
  • Tent gazebos: There are many designs and sizes of tent-style gazebos available to create an interesting garden feature ideal for entertaining.


Lighting can be hard-wired or solar powered, offering endless possibilities for any garden.

  • High: Spotlights draw attention to garden features, structures, trees and walls, while you can also add built-in lighting on pathways and steps for drama and safety.
  • Low: Add candles, lanterns, string lights and more to create your own unique outdoor ambiance.

As with any minor or major renovation project, planning in advance is key. But when it comes to landscape design projects, this is especially critical. Most reputable landscape companies, like The Landscape Company are booked for months in advance. “Reach out well in advance of your project. If you’d like to enjoy your beautiful outdoor space in the summer, plan ahead because even March may already be too late,” notes Bryce Kramer.

. . . . .

Watch for the project website and YouTube channel coming soon!

Keep in mind, that in today’s pandemic-era environment, world-wide supply chain issues are a reality, so plan your renovation well and be prepared. As things get underway, we’ll be sharing exciting before, during and after content including a video series featuring top experts, and you’ll be able to virtually tour the project at various stages of completion.

Masha Koyen is the founder of Content Vertical, copywriting and content strategy for the design-build industry.

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Ready Set Reno
Ready Set Reno

A Renovation Journey. Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960's builder's-box bungalow into the 21st century.

18 articles