Our outdoor spaces: When a pandemic keeps us at home, home expands outside

A gazebo is seen in a backyard surrounded by trees and plants in a lawn
Gazebos like this one by Christopher Simmonds Architect, 2H Interior Design and Cada Construction offer a blend of shade, fresh air and views of the outdoor space. Photo courtesy of Adrien Williams Photography.

By Patrick Langston, All Things Home

Winter, pandemic lockdowns, gnawing anxiety: no wonder we’re embracing the freedom of spring and outdoor living like never before. For many homeowners, that means shiny new decks, pergolas, backyard yoga retreats and other outdoor revamps as we rush to expand our living space this year.

“People want to bring the indoors out,” says Kyle Hills of Tradewind Construction. “They want to expand the four walls that they live in for six or eight months each year. They can’t go to patios or travel, so they’re trying to bring that kind of entertainment home.”

That accords with a recent HomeStars survey, which found 54 per cent of Canadian homeowners plan to improve their outdoor space this year with everything from sunrooms to landscaping.

Hills has seen an uptick in his outdoor business, including decks, which are ideal for both intimate and socially distanced gatherings. He’s also seeing quickening interest in pergolas, which provide fresh air, privacy and shade. 

Despite demand, Hills says clients booking a new deck in May should be relaxing on it later this season. He cautions about “sticker shock” — lumber prices have spiked during the pandemic because of material shortages — but, with vacation opportunities limited this summer, $8,000 to $10,000 for an eight-by-12-foot deck sounds like money well spent.

A backyard in Ottawa is seen with a table and chairs, manicured lawn and pergola.
A backyard design with space for cooking, dining and greenery creates zones for outdoor living.Photo courtesy of Hansen Lawn and Gardens.

Front yard or backyard?

Back in the day, passing a summer evening on your front porch was a thing. 

Air conditioning helped kill that neighbourly tradition, but front porches have been making a comeback, with about two-thirds of new American homes now built with one, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“There’s front yard people and backyard people,” says Fred MacMaster of summerporchottawa.com. The former “want to talk to their neighbours or watch their kids. Other people would never think of sitting in the front yard, so they build a deck in the back.” 

Not only are porches an ideal way to socialize from a distance, they help nurture community relationships. So, despite its ravages, the pandemic does have some benefits. 

A wooden porch in Ottawa is seen with two chairs on it looking out onto a street
Porches were common on older homes. They’re coming back in style. Photo courtesy of Summerporchottawa.com.

Comforts of food

Outdoor kitchens are another hot item. Many of Jesse Campbell’s clients at The Fireplace Center & Patio Shop have considered the investment for some time, taking the plunge now because they’ve stashed away funds over the past year and are home more. 

“It’s something even when the pandemic fades away, they’re going to continue enjoying for many years,” says Campbell.

A Napoleon Oasis kitchen, including built-in barbecue, cabinetry and a stone countertop, starts around $6,000, he says. For Campbell, relaxed outdoor dining equals stress relief in fraught times. 

“I love food and when I’m seeking comfort, food is my go-to.”

He says demand for outdoor kitchens means a three- to four-month wait for installation is likely.

A outdoor fireplace is seen at night with four black chairs around it
A fire pit creates a cosy atmosphere on a summer evening. Photo courtesy of The Fireplace Center & Patio Shop.

Greenery and serenity

If a freshly barbecued burger doesn’t relieve your pandemic blues, maybe you need to get in touch with your inner self outside. 

“More than ever, we need help with our mental health, and the outdoors has always brought that,” says Ed Hansen of Hansen Lawn and Gardens. “We’re seeing people who want to create an outdoor meditation area… in a shaded area that’s enveloped by plant material. There’s also a little better disconnect from technology (outside).”

Hansen is also seeing increased interest in plants that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, which are struggling with habitat loss and other threats. Websites such as the Ottawa Horticultural Society (ottawahort.org) are a good guide to selecting pollinator-friendly plants. 

Don’t want to spend all your time manicuring your yard? Not only will you be on trend (homeowners are backing away from the picture-perfect look, according to Hansen) but you’ll also help nature: Pollinators like spaces that are a bit messy, says the David Suzuki Foundation (davidsuzuki.org/project/pollinators). Going a bit unkempt this summer means you can spend more time chilling on your deck or caring for your vegetable garden, another booming trend as more of us realize that some food self-sufficiency is a good thing. 

A sunny pergola is seen in Ottawa at sunset
Pergolas like this red cedar structure are growing in popularity as backyard spaces that blend privacy with fresh air and shade. Photo courtesy of Tradewind Design Build.

Light up your life

Outdoor lighting improves your home’s safety and security but also highlights the best aspects of your property, including trees, ponds and even retaining walls, says Chad Yates of Yates Landscape Lighting.  “It extends your inside to your outside because when you’re inside you’re noticing all the things you like (about your yard).”

The most common outdoor lighting mistakes he sees? Solar lights (their brightness is inconsistent and insufficient) and inexpensive fixtures that won’t last. 

“If you’re not paying over $140, $150 per light, you’re doing it wrong.” 

Like everything about your treasured outdoor spaces, you get what you pay for. 


More outdoor trends 

Small-space food production: Space-saving systems such as Click and Grow let you grow herbs and vegetables on balconies and other small areas and move your farm indoors when the cold weather arrives. From $129.95. ca.clickandgrow.com

Pools: Pool installers are busier than ever this season. “Last year was absolutely ridiculous,” says Shawn Benson of Campbell Pools. “This year, multiply that by 10.” Benson says getting a pool installed this year is iffy. 

Pure whimsy: “Whimsical” was among the top Canadian garden searches from February 2020 to February 2021, according to Pinterest. That means lots of interest in elf figurines, signs saying “Hundred-Acre Wood” and little hideaways. Maybe pandemics breed escapism.

Water and fire: An older trend that keeps on giving, water features — whether a small one on a deck or a large pool with koi and plantings — bring grace and calm to your outdoor spaces. Firepits, fire bowls and outdoor fireplaces also remain popular because they create ambience and fireplaces can take the chill off a summer evening. 

She sheds: Like a man cave, only prettier and outside rather than inside, she sheds are popular backyard getaways for reading, art and socializing (safely distanced, of course). For ideas, just do an online search or check lowes.com/n/how-to/she-shed-room-ideas.


Patrick Langston is a long-time journalist and co-founder of AllThingsHome.ca, Ottawa’s trusted resource for home buyers and homeowners.

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