It’s January in Edmonton, and a quick glance outside your window may find a once-lush and lively deck now slumbering peacefully under a thick batting of snow. Well, rise and shine – the dawn of a new year is a great time to shake your deck out of hibernation and turn it into a hopping hot spot, even as temperatures plummet. Sure, nobody wants to sit outside in -30 C wind chill, no matter how many hot toddies one has. But on days hovering around -10 C, a social gathering set against a snowy backdrop in the crisp, wintry air is an exhilarating rite of passage for prairie city dwellers.
To make the most of your urban outdoor living experience, Melanie Marshall of Melanie Marshall Creelman Interior Design offers tips for resuscitating a winter-weary deck or patio. Her own deck, which sits perched at the edge of a tree-lined ravine in St. Albert, is meant to be enjoyed year-round. “We have winter for six months of the year, and we should be able to use our outdoor space as much as possible,” says Marshall, who notes that even in winter, your exterior space can be as inviting as your interior space.
Spark the fire
A roaring fire is essential for any sub-zero soiree. Marshall’s monumental outdoor wood-burning fireplace ideally blends contemporary design with the rustic charm of burning logs and the convenience of natural gas. It’s a design focal point that leaves room for a view of the birch trees beyond. Plus, it’s fitted with a gas log starter so you don’t have to be a boy scout to get the fire going and keep it cheerfully burning.
Since we don’t all have a fireplace professionally built into the deck, portable ones of all sizes, styles and prices are the next best thing. For an elegant, eco-friendly solution, Marshall suggests looking at a model by EcoSmart Fire. They’re beautifully designed, fuss-free and fuelled with clean-burning bioethanol. Budget friendlier solutions include metal tables with built-in fire pits, fire bowls and chimneys – just take care to place these on a large frost-resistant stone or porcelain tile surface. Marshall places a large tile in front of her fireplace to protect the wood deck from any stray embers.
Configure the ideal set-up
Biting wind is an unwelcome party crasher, so arrange furnishings and other elements in such a way that creates a cozy enclave. Start by making sure your sofa and/or chairs are a comfortable distance from the fire and draped with plush throws for added warmth and texture. Tip: If you’re stoking a wood-burning fire, be sure to have logs nearby so that guests aren’t shivering while you trek off to a distant wood pile to replenish. Here, ample firewood is stacked in stylish pewter log holders right next to the fireplace.
In Marshall’s space, the height of the fence and walls are intended for privacy, but it also helps block wind from the seating areas. If you don’t have a fence, try flanking your seating area with tall potted cedars or winter planters (more on these later), which are pretty and practical.
Illuminate the space
Instead of lamenting the loss of daylight in the winter months, why not take advantage of it? The early onset of dusk is a chance to be creative with mood-enhancing ambient lighting. You already have a fire for physical warmth; now warm the space visually with twinkling fairy lights, luminous lanterns and glowing flameless candles.
Sit pretty all season long
Outdoor seating that stays put throughout the winter should have exterior-grade fabric that stands up to snow and ice, dries quickly and is resistant to fading from exposure to Alberta’s blazing sun. Also, outdoor furniture should be constructed with a non-combustible material that can withstand exposure to a blazing fireplace and won’t crack under the duress of extreme cold or temperature fluctuations.
Green it up with winter foliage
Decorative winter planters add a lovely touch of green amidst white snow and muted shades of natural wood and stone. Good winter planters are designed for freezing temperatures – and will stay green for weeks without watering so long as they remain frozen, according to Sheryl Beuerlein of In Bloom Custom Container Planting. For her winter deck, Marshall chose natural arrangements abundant with boughs of cedar and pine, and the birch logs in the planters echo the birch trees in the ravine.
Pur Living (11615 149 St., 780-809-9787, purliving.com) Saint Kitts custom outdoor sectional with cushions ($2,650)
Alberta Wholesale Fireplaces (5363 Gateway Blvd., 780-437-9966, albertawholesalefireplaces.com) Marquis Collection, Aurora series outdoor fireplace from Kingsman Fireplaces with custom surround ($1,950 for insert only; custom surround and installation extra)
Crate & Barrel (Southgate Centre, 780-436-1454, crateandbarrel.ca) Alton Pewter log holders ($119.95 each)
In Bloom Custom container planting (780-919-5257, email@example.com) 65-inch custom-designed “Caviar Black Chelsea” Crescent Garden planter ($550; $295 without black planter base)
Chocolate Exquisite (11238 104 Ave., 780-488-7852, chocolateexquisite.ca) Dark couverture chocolate chips for hot chocolate and baking ($15 per kilo)
Outdoor winter entertaining plows the way for refreshments that play on hot and cold taste
sensations. Here are a few of ideas to try – just keep your taste buds away from frozen schoolyard flagpoles, as some of us have learned.
1. Set up an ice wine tasting bar. This can be as simple as plunging your bottles into a nearby mound of snow and pouring samples into shot glasses sculpted from ice (silicon moulds such as Fred & Friends Cool Shooters Ice Trays are available at Chicken Scratch and other retailers).
2. Whip up mugs of classic hot chocolate. Start with good quality couverture, which is chocolate that packs a high percentage of cocoa butter, explains Dennis Yurkiwsky at Chocolate Exquisite. The cocoa butter content, which should ideally come in at about 53 per cent of the cocoa mass, lends a fuller, silkier texture to your hot chocolate that won’t become grainy as it cools. Simply pour 12 ounces of scalded or steamed milk over 30 grams of dark chocolate (about one-quarter of a cup) and stir. That’s it. No fussing with added sugar or cocoa powder – though a splash of Baileys never hurts.
3. Artfully arrange take-out sushi and sashimi – the varieties meant to be enjoyed chilled such as tuna, cucumber or avocado maki and salmon sashimi – on a platter of crushed ice set in the centre of your outdoor table. Serve with chilled sake or Japanese beer.
4. Go for a dip in a cheese or chocolate fondue. Indulging in steaming, melted morsels of deliciousness is a divine way to heat up a party.