Globe Real Estate is following the construction of a new 2,700 square-foot home in an Etobicoke neighbourhood that’s become, like many Toronto residential enclaves, a hotbed of demolition and rebuilding activity.
As they stood last week in the midst of a semi-levelled expanse of scree, Tory Crowder and Kevin Devine gingerly explored the ever-present chicken-and-egg challenge of scheduling contractors.
For the past three weeks, Mr. Devine, owner of Above & Beyond Landscaping, has had a crew of workers executing the landscaping plan for the backyard of the new home that Ms. Crowder and her husband, Shawn Thomas, have been building for over a year. The space, which overlooks the Park Lawn Cemetery in eastern Etobicoke, will feature a narrow pool, a terrace, softscaping and a spacious pool house that doubles as Ms. Crowder’s home office.
So far, Mr. Devine’s landscapers have cleared out some low shrubs and small trees, hauled in about 30 tonnes of gravel down the alley on a compact Kubota trailer and piled 24 skids of multihued pavers out front.
Those elements are all part of Mr. Devine’s design brief. But another firm is supposed to build the rear deck and the fencing, which means the two sets of contractors will have to work out some kind of construction waltz, with each party alert to where the other steps.
“Now that it’s graded would be the ideal time to do the holes [for the fence posts],” Mr. Devine said diplomatically. But, he added, he’s not clear when the fence guys will show up. He struck a reassuring tone. “We can work around it.”
Ms. Crowder furrowed her brow. “Kevin, you’re worrying me.”
“We’re restricted in what we can do based on his timeline,” Mr. Devine responded. “The sooner he can get that fence dug, the sooner we can get the stone right up to the fence.”
The design principle that has animated Ms. Crowder and Mr. Thomas’s landscaping plan is to create visual connections linking the backyard to their home’s modernist architecture and its sleek, minimalist interiors. “Everything about this house will be a million different shades of grey,” Ms. Crowder jokingly said.
The home’s exteriors, which consist of stucco-like panels in a range of greys, and that motif will be carried through with the pavers and the coping stone surrounding the pool. “Choosing the stone was a huge ordeal,” Ms. Crowder admitted. The product they settled on was a Permacon in “rockland black.” “We loved the colour. We loved the look. But we were worried that it would be too hot.”
To mitigate the risk of excessive thermal loading on the hardscape, the couple selected a lighter grey for the pavers that will not only surround the pool area, but form a visual and material linkage from the front yard, down the alleyway, and all the way to the terrace at the back end of the yard.
Their thinking about colour has extended to the lining of the pool, which will be made from marblite, a ground stone product designed to reflect the sun. “We want to go with a very modern look,” Ms. Crowder said. “But we didn’t want the same look as we see everywhere.” They opted not to go with black – “too dramatic,” as she puts it – and chose instead a dolphin blue-grey.
A narrow sliver of land between the west side of the pool and the fence will have plantings, but Mr. Devine recommended they use ornamental grass embedded in a surface of small rocks rather than mulch. The reason: Mulch can be easily blown into the pool, creating maintenance problems for the drain and the pumps.
The deck, in turn, will pick up on some of the hardwood interiors, although Mr. Crowder and Mr. Thomas are still toying with the idea of painting the fences black. “We’re 90 per cent,” she said. “I want it to look unique and different.”
But the execution continues to be a challenge, not least because Ms. Crowder and Mr. Thomas opted to hire the various contractors themselves rather than ask their architect to provide a design/build package, which would have allowed them to avoid the Rubik’s cube dilemma of scheduling trades people to arrive in the right order with the minimal amount of delay.
The reason they did it themselves, however, came down to cost. “It would have been twice as much,” Ms. Crowder said. “We just couldn’t afford it.”
Mr. Devine, for his part, points out that on many jobs – design build or otherwise – landscapers and other contractors have to figure out how to not step on one another toes, especially in tight spaces with limited egress, as is the case with the Crowder-Thomas backyard. But, he points out, Above & Beyond specializes in working in confined spaces, so they’re familiar with the juggling.
So while Ms. Crowder has been fretting about getting the backyard landscaping completed, Mr. Devine appears more sanguine. “Generally speaking, as long as I can get their vision and have them pick out the materials, it doesn’t matter if I’m working with the homeowner or a general contractor.”