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From the ground up

In the seventh segment of a series following the construction of a Toronto home, owners Shawn Thomas and Tory Crowder turn their focus outdoors

Landscaping at the rear of the house will centre around a new pool.

Globe Real Estate is following the construction of a new 2700 sq.-ft home in an Etobicoke neighbourhood that's become, like many Toronto residential enclaves, a hotbed of demolition and rebuilding activity.

For all the months they've spent fixating on interior features such as doors, closet sizes and the location of a main-floor partition wall, Shawn Thomas and Tory Crowder are building their new home with the outback very much in mind.

Not cottage people, the Etobicoke couple frequently envision themselves spending languid weekend hours behind their new 2,700-square-foot modernist home – a space that abuts the Park Lawn cemetery and will contain a lap pool, spacious cabana, decks and up to three barbecues.

In fact, they've designed both floors mindful of their backyard lives, from expansive rear-facing windows down to subtle details, such as the installation of a small secondary sink next to sliding doors to the deck whose purpose in life will be as a convenient drop-off zone for dirty dishes from pool-side meals.

The couple plans to spend many weekends in the renovated backyard.

"The backyard is really important to us," Mr. Thomas, a wealth adviser, says. "It's one of the reasons we didn't make the house bigger." In fact, Ms. Crowder, a publicist, envisions using the cabana, which has a bathroom, showers and heating, as a home office.

Yet, the nature of residential design is such that the lion's share of the time and money they invested in this project has been directed to what's under the roof. Now, as the construction process grinds toward the finish line, Mr. Thomas and Ms. Crowder find themselves hustling to flesh out an affordable landscaping strategy that their contractors can execute as soon as the ground thaws. Their budget is about $50,000 and the goal is to ensure the space will be usable this summer.

But with a plan that includes new fences, hardscape, decking, lighting and planters, the work that takes place in the backyard over the next few months will mostly come down to logistics: As Mr. Thomas says, "Everything has an order to it."

While individual aesthetic choices and functionality will obviously determine how the space looks and feels, certain aspects of the landscaping are dictated by external factors.

For example, municipal regulations require that anyone with a backyard pool must erect a full height fence (two metres) around the perimeter – a safety-minded rule brought into sharp relief by the presence of children's play equipment in the yard directly to the west.

Surveying the current expanse of mud and raw concrete, Ms. Crowder points out that the family with the small children are happy about the fence, but the neighbours on the other side are less keen. The design options include costly cedar slats or a funky corrugated aluminum finish that, she says, likely won't go over all that well with her neighbours.

Along with the pool, the yard will feature a spacious cabana.

The second external factor is a pair of towering black walnut trees next door. While they provide shade, the walnuts that rain down from their branches release toxins in the soil that will limit the greenery that Ms. Crowder and Mr. Thomas choose for the planting beds that will run up both sides of the garden.

They have no such constraints on the long strip of space that will run alongside the pool, connecting the back deck to a small patio dining area at the end of the lot, nestled into a corner next to the pool house.

When the ground thaws, that stretch will be dug up for the installation of electrical and irrigation lines, and then covered over with ground cover, a coping stone border around the pool and finally interlock. While they're still choosing from the vast selection of products on the market, the supplier they'll likely go with is Permacon, a Montreal-based firm acquired seven years ago by an Atlanta-based building products giant.

As important, if not more, is the lighting that Ms. Crowder and Mr. Thomas want for this space, which will certainly function as a stage for social gatherings. At the beginning of the design process, Ms. Crowder had hired Dark Tools, a fast-growing Toronto lighting firm, to do all the interiors, but recently decided to retain them to do all the exteriors as well.

Patricia Clark, one of the firm's lighting designers, says a central objective was to create an enticing and romantic environment around the patio at the far end. "It's about using lighting technology to draw people back to that area," she says.

To do that, Ms. Clark has recommended 10 to 15 downward-facing fence lights, five or six stake lights to create a visual pathway toward that rear zone, six low bollard lights near the pool and the patio, as well as a few sconces affixed to the exterior wall of the pool house. The table, she adds, will be fitted out with a USB port so a "carrying light" can be plugged in there. "There's no overhang, so you can't get light from above." The lights will come from three firms – Eurofase and LiteLine, which are both Richmond Hill, Ont., suppliers, and Kichler, a Cleveland company.

The effect will be moody and atmospheric, with plenty of indirect light, but not so much as to block out the night sky. "You're going to want to sit around there," Ms. Clark predicts.

With the move-in date now set for late April, Ms. Crowder and Mr. Thomas are hustling to line up the proper sequence of contractors – four in all – to do all the backyard work. With spring around the corner, they knows they're going to be part of a city-wide scramble for landscapers as soon as the crocuses start to bloom. As Ms. Crowder says, "We really want to be at the front of the line if possible."

More in the series

Part 1: The first stages

Part 2: A modernist look with low-slope roof

Part 3: HVAC and plumbing installs complicate rebuild

Part 4: A dilemma: take a wall down or leave it up?

Part 5: Sliding pocket doors save floor space

Part 6: Kitchen designed around the coffee maker