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First glance

Front entrance ideas

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Front entrance ideas

Exterior landscape design by Samantha Kleinknecht • Photos: Alex Lukey

Toronto, and pretty much all of Ontario for that matter, is a sellers’ market. Demand is high, housing stock is low, and competition is cut-throat – and that’s putting it mildly. If you’re selling your home, you have the upper hand, but you should still do what you can to increase your investment value – and your overall selling price.

Did you know? According to a recent survey by the Ontario Real Estate Association, only two per cent of homebuyers said a home’s exterior and landscaping didn’t factor into their buying decision. That’s a whopping 98 per cent of people who consider a home’s curb appeal when shopping the market. Interesting, right?

Curb appeal is all about creating a desirable and inviting exterior, to catch people’s eye and make that first positive impression from the curb. Decades ago, most home-hunters would pile into their car every Saturday and Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m., and drive around looking for open houses. When something caught their eye, it was a must-see. That’s curb appeal. Today, curb appeal is more about attracting buyers online with great listings photos. Whether we’re talking in person or online, your home’s exterior is the first impression people get, and it will be a big factor in their decision to take a closer look or keep moving to the next, perhaps slightly nicer listing.

Here are some of my strategies to attract more buyers – and offers!


Depending on your home and its condition, this could be a big or a small job. but all things considered, it’s the most cost-effective way to freshen up your home. When it comes to choosing colours, don’t be too trendy. As we all know, trends come and go. Instead, opt for longevity and choose something in line with the neighbourhood aesthetic. Also, consider what’s happening next door. Avoid duplicating your neighbours’ colour schemes, which can make homes look odd side-by-side. Anything that’s peeling or appears discoloured will benefit from a fresh coat, including your front door and porch, shutters, window trim and garage.

Entrance area

Create an instant stylish welcome to the porch area with a new mailbox, light fixture and house numbers. make a seasonal vignette with planters flanking the door and walkway leading to the front door and porch.


When assessing your home’s curb appeal, don’t discount the importance of the yard. Outdoor space has become even more critical in the wake of the pandemic, which has prompted many homebuyers to look for homes with outdoor amenities. Manicured gardens, patios and decks have become huge selling features, especially in some inner-city neighbourhoods where access to green space is limited. Furthermore, landscaping is an upgrade that immediately increases your property value, and that value increases as your trees grow. During the warmer months, ensure the lawn is mowed, flowers planted, bushes and trees trimmed. Consider planting some hearty, cold-weather plants to bring life and detail to that bleak, wintery scene. Add outdoor lighting to highlight different areas and unique features.


Admittedly, this upgrade is less sexy than the others, but it’s just as important. nothing ages a home at first glance like a cracked driveway, broken front steps or displaced patio stones. If the exterior is uncared for, potential buyers may assume interior elements have not been well maintained. Furthermore, don’t risk deterring buyers or tempting them to lower their offers in anticipation of repairs. Correct these issues before putting your home on the market. Curb appeal is a critical part of the home selling process, and paying a little attention to your home’s exterior can go a long way to attracting more interested buyers and higher offers. Especially now, with in-person showings limited and more house-hunting being conducted online or from the street, curb appeal can be just the thing to tip the scales in your favour.

Heather Hadden, Principal at Hadden Homes, notable top real estate professional in the GTA is focused on providing comprehensive full-service support for all new and existing homeowners.


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5 Landscaping ideas and tips to help you reinvent your backyard

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5 Landscaping ideas and tips to help you reinvent your backyard

It’s a beautiful day when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. You go outside to enjoy the natural setting but your backyard is nothing like a welcoming place where you can reconnect with nature. If this scenario sounds familiar to you, your backyard most likely needs a complete refresh. Here are 5 landscaping ideas and tips to help you reinvent your backyard:

Get to know your property

First things first, before you even start to plan your landscaping project, you need to get to know your property. There are a number of characteristics that you must determine before you start planning the outdoor space of your property.

First of all, you need to determine the size of your backyard. Then, you need to see how much free space you can use in your project. For example, if there is an old huge tree in the middle of your outdoor space, you need to determine whether your landscaping project will be around the tree or whether you want to cut it down.

However, landscaping experts advise homeowners to avoid destroying the natural elements that already exist in their outdoor space. Instead, it is recommended to find a way to integrate them nicely in their landscaping projects.

Secondly, once you have determined the available space you can work with, it is time to decide what can be done about the gardening area. Start by determining what type of soil you have in your garden. For example, not all types of soils are suitable for grass, especially in sand wet areas. So, depending on the type of plants you want to have in your garden and the type of soil you need for them to grow, you need to use a topsoil volume and price calculator to determine how much soil you will need for your gardening project.

Next, another factor that will influence the gardening area of your outdoor space is the climate of your area. So, when choosing the plants for your gardening project, make sure you choose plants that can grow in an environment with your type of climate.

Use borrowed views

This is a pro tip and may sound more complicated than it is in reality. However, all that it takes is to take a look at your immediate surroundings and see if there is any spectacular view that you can include in your landscaping project.

For example, does your neighbor have a spectacular big old tree in their yard that is also visible from your backyard? If yes, you should certainly avoid to cover that view but rather use it in your project.

Using surrounding elements in your landscaping project can make a huge difference in the final results. If your surroundings already offer you such amazing elements, why not include them in your project? So, don’t raise that high brick fence but rather let the view be part of your outdoor experience.

Build pallets furniture

Pallet furniture is one of the newest and most popular trends in the landscaping industry. pallets are not only extremely cheap and easy to use in your outdoor projects, but they can also look extremely fashionable in your yard if you customize them properly. You can find a number of DIY projects on how to build outdoor furniture using pallets.

You can even build a fun swing for your kids and hang it on that large tree you have in your yard. Every garden needs a seating area in order for you to enjoy spending time in nature in your own backyard. So, you can use pallets to build benches and a table where you can have your breakfast or morning coffee.

If you also have a pool in your backyard, you can also use pallets to build a bar which can be extremely useful if you are planning to host a few pool parties this summer.

There is no limit to how many things you can build using pallets for your outdoor area. All you have to do is to use your imagination and create outdoor elements in a cheap and sustainable way.

Create an experience

Go outside in your backyard and close your eyes for a few seconds. Imagine what you would like to hear or what you would like to see when you open your eyes. Would you like to hear the calming sound of water? Then, you should certainly add a water feature in your garden. Would you like to think of your backyard as a corner where you can connect with nature in the concrete jungle? Then, you should plant more trees and flowers. That’s how you manage to make an outdoor space that gives a full experience of senses, not just a visual one.

There are several elements that you can include in your landscaping project such as a swimming pool, fountains, retaining walls, or fire pits that will create a full experience for the senses. There will be nothing more relaxing after a stressful day at work than to sit in your backyard with your family and enjoy the experience of natural elements that you have created.

Use outdoor lighting

Although lighting is hardly your priority in your landscaping project, you should really take this idea seriously. Outdoor lighting can contribute to the experience you create in your backyard more than you would even imagine right now.

Outdoor lighting isn’t only necessary to be able to see the walking path during dark nights. It can also enhance the way your garden looks offering a spectacular experience during the nighttime.

Whether you choose to use LED fairy lights, solar spotlights, or string lights, you need to calculate how much are you want to illuminate. Also, you can choose subtle lighting for the seating area of your outdoor which will create a more private setting for romantic dinners in your backyard.

Landscaping can seem intimidating when you are not a pro and you are just starting your first project. However, with a little bit of research and tips from experts, you can reshape the way your backyard will look.


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When it comes to planning home improvement projects, timing is everything

When it comes to planning home improvement projects, timing is everything

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When it comes to planning home improvement projects, timing is everything

PHOTOGRAPHY: Bigstock.com

Any homeowner who has already gone through a major renovation project knows that it can take weeks, months, or even years from the time you decide to sign a contract until the job is fully completed. Lining up the trades, ordering the various stock and custom materials, and going through the permit approval process are just a few of the components that can hold up completion.

Some renos require more prep time than others, while others are best to avoid once winter settles in. Here are four projects that you’ll want to have a lot of lead time to prepare for, or should simply wait until the warmer weather returns.


No matter how small the addition you plan to build is, you’ll almost certainly need to get approval from your municipality for what are known as “minor variances” to existing bylaws. These include setback requirements, restrictions on height, and capping the amount of square footage based on the size of the lot. The City of Toronto has a weeks-long backlog of permit applications waiting for approval from the Committee of Adjustment.

Even if you live in a community that’s processing building permits in a timely fashion, additions require a lot of time to coordinate.

Finally, if you haven’t already broken ground on the foundation, you’re going to have to wait until the spring thaw to do it now.


Window installation companies will tell you they can and do work throughout the year. And, if you have an emergency situation, such as a broken or extremely drafty window, you’re best to get it repaired as soon as possible. The installer will close the door or tarp off the room in question to reduce heat loss.

But if you’re looking to replace your entire home’s windows, you’d be better off waiting until spring. Yes, they can do the installation one room at a time. But mistakes and accidents happen. If a window frame was mis-measured or the glass breaks during installation (and I’ve seen it happen more than once), you could end up with a plywood window while the company tries to get a rush replacement order in.

Plus, the caulking used to seal the frame doesn’t flow or bind properly in extreme cold, and finesse work gets sloppy when you can’t feel your fingertips.

Finally, most of the exterior finishing work is done on ladders. Do you want to take on the liability risk if a ladder slips on the ice, particularly if you haven’t done your due diligence and checked that the company has all the proper licences and insurance?


If you need an emergency roof repair to prevent water leaking into your attic during winter warm spells, get it done as soon as possible. But if your entire roof is due for replacement, but it isn’t imminently critical, at this point you should wait until spring. For one, do you want to risk having your old roof removed just as a days’ long storm rolls into town, leaving your home protected from the elements by nothing more than a tarp?

Also, as with windows, the adhesives and caulking used to seal down a new roof require warmer temperatures to work properly. And, again, even if you’re sure your contractor’s insurance all checks out, would you be comfortable with someone working on your roof in icy conditions?

Landscaping and hardscaping

No legitimate landscaper is going to suggest planting trees or install retaining walls in a snow-covered yard. Once the ground is frozen, it’s impossible to do much of anything outside.

Most landscapers, if they’re not busy running winter snow removal businesses, like to spend the winter months finalizing contracts and project components to break ground once the frost is out. If you haven’t already, now is the time to reach out and start planning your yard for 2020.

CAPTION: Photography courtesy of Margaret Mulligan

Jim Caruk, Renovation Editor

We look forward to hearing from you and welcome your feedback. Do you have a reno or decor question for our team of experts?

Email editorial@renoanddecor.com


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5 Landscaping ideas to steal from Canada

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5 Landscaping ideas to steal from Canada

Canada is a country filled with breathtaking scenery. From sweeping plains to mountains covered in snow, its diverse landscapes are a joy to behold. Homes across Canada are just as complex as the landscape. Dwellings look different from each other, depending on where you go. In Nova Scotia, you’re likely to come across timber-framed houses, while in British Columbia you’ll likely see newly-built homes. Interestingly, residential landscaping is booming right now. People just can’t wait to get outdoors and make their piece of heaven more attractive. In case you were searching for landscaping ideas for your home, you’re in luck.

Here are five landscaping ideas to steal from Canada.

1. Hardscape your yard

Chances are that you’re not familiar with the concept of hardscaping. What you need to know is that it involves the use of man-made features in the surrounding environment. Examples include, but aren’t limited to, brick patios, stone walls and wood arbors. Basically, you use hard elements to add style and functionality to the outdoor space. Even if hardscaping may sound difficult, it couldn’t be simpler. You have the same landscaping principles you’ve been accustomed to. Most importantly, you’ll get the yard that you want while maximizing space and adding modern elements.

In Toronto, it’s not uncommon to see gardens featuring brick paths, various paving materials and wooden arbors. Research pays off when it comes to adding a completely new element to the environment. Take into account the entire area before making a decision. You can’t install just about any design element. When tackling the outdoor space, it’s a good idea to get the help of professionals. They will analyze every parcel of land to understand the ins and outs of the design. Moreover, a professional landscape designer will help you transform your ideas into actionable plans.

2. Landscape with lush greenery

Take advantage of nature. Why not, after all? Plants purify the air around the home, not to mention that they have an astounding visual impact. There is something about green plants that makes them so beautiful. There’s the symmetry and the color. Consider introducing greenery to your landscape. They’re perfectly suited for Canadian homes. Make sure your house boasts views of trees and lush greenery. When decorating with greenery keep in mind the following:

  • Combine green plants that have something in common: To achieve the perfect look, add greenery that shares something in common. You can use Japanese yew, boxwood hedges, English hedges, Hosta, and, of course, perennials.
  • Mount a wire grid: Wire mesh will make your project a lot easier to handle. You can create a mini greenhouse. Some wire grids come with mountable shelves that offer many opportunities for customization.
  • Buy natives locally: Needless to say, you shouldn’t purchase just any greenery. Florists deliver hand-picked fresh flowers. Get help from a local business. Be cautious about generic plants. Maybe what you’ll be planting isn’t really indigenous. Be very picky when it comes to your purchases.

3. Opt for pretty vignettes

Garden vignettes aren’t just plants – they’re small collections of things that touch the visual senses, including pots and metal panels. Let’s not forget about glass. You can use glass anywhere in the environment. Don’t waste your time thinking of whether to vignette. Just do it. vignettes are incredibly powerful landscape elements that look so good it’s impossible not to include them in your photos. Try to create a sort of escape. This way, you’ll enjoy the outdoor space even more.

4. Install artificial grass

Have you thought about landscaping with artificial grass? If not, there’s no better time than now to try. In Toronto, for instance, more and more homeowners are turning to artificial grass. Why? Because they are sick and tired of mud and weeds. Faux grass doesn’t require any kind of maintenance. All you have to do to make it look brand new is to remove the dust, dirt and leaves. In this sense, you can use a broom or a brush. Many companies install artificial grass in Toronto. They handle the project from start to finish, so you have a guarantee that the outdoor space will look great.

Since artificial grass doesn’t require special maintenance, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. If you didn’t know what more you could to reduce your carbon footprint, now you have the answer. Have artificial grass installed. There’s nothing better than having a true outdoor carpet. While it can be a little expensive, faux grass has a long lifespan. It doesn’t last a lifetime, but it will certainly keep you company for 25 years. Working artificial grass into your landscape isn’t hard. Since it’s so versatile, it can be placed virtually everywhere.

5. Plan for a grand entrance

An impressive entrance will welcome visitors into your abode and enhances visible parts of your property. The entrance should be designed to be easily reachable and reflect the informal nature of the home. And soften the lines of the raised foundation. Here’s an idea you should keep in mind: A groundwork of evergreen trees and shrubs. Time and space will be in contrast with the unchanging backdrop of the yard. If you head on over to Vermont, you’ll no doubt see this entry way design. The arrival experience is one of a kind.

Make sure that the evergreens are tall enough. Create a sense of harmony by using several shrubs and plants. Plant three or five on each side of the entrance. Owing to the fact that the environment depends on openness, you need to add a more enclosed space. The perfect choice would be an arbor or a gate. What you want is an entrance that offers a neat contrast with the plant color. Using planting pots can really make a difference.


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How to prepare and plan the perfect backyard for your clients – even if you’re not a landscaper

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How to prepare and plan the perfect backyard for your clients – even if you’re not a landscaper

Most contractors find backyard makeovers a “a pain in the butt,” says Toronto-based landscape designer Fausto Presta, so when clients ask for planning help, you’re best to at least develop a friendly relationship with a landscaper. Working with one is cost-effective, since some things are easier and cheaper to put in early, like gas and electric lines for BBQs, kitchens, outdoor lighting, or water features.

A lot depends on the client, though, says TV show host and landscape designer Carson Arthurs. He breaks down by generation: Baby boomers who like to garden and want someone to create the structure, but not the planting; hard-working Gen Xers happy to pay for someone to do the work; and “Millennials who have greater debt than the other two generations combined, and are very careful how they spend.”

However this plays out, you’ll want to have some working knowledge of basic backyard principles as well as a few of the latest trends.

Start at the beginning

Arthurs directs clients to sites like Houzz, so they can build a dream file to share with the contractor. “Often homeowners don’t know what they want until they see it,” he says. He finds they also need help with furniture and feature sizes, especially in small urban yards where space is a premium. He usually recommends they find the furniture and appliances first before designing the yard, and plan the yard around those elements.

He also recommends figuring out the privacy angles in the yard. Take a chair and sit in spots you have in mind for seating and look around. “You’d be surprised what you see – and more importantly who can see you – from that perspective.” This helps plan where the privacy hedge or fence should go.

For vegetable gardens, raised beds are the way to go. It’s easier to control the nutrients and moisture levels, plus they’re accessible for older clients.

Raised beds

If your clients are big into vegetable gardening, raised beds are the way to go. It’s easier to control the soil, nutrients, and moisture levels, plus they’re accessible for older clients. Soil in most back yards isn’t all that good and usually needs amending – raised beds offer the containment to make a good healthy soil mix.

You’ll want to site the bed where it gets at least six hours sunlight a day. Arthurs has a neat trick for determining the light levels – place a solar-powered dancing toy from the dollar store where the bed will go. Keep track of how long the toy dances to know hours of sunlight.

When it comes to building the bed, you can use pretty much anything – stone, corrugated metal, wood – as long as it works with the yard’s existing materials, says Arthurs. “But don’t forget that some materials negatively impact the soil, like railway ties, which leave toxic residue in the soil that nourishes the veg that end up on your dinner table.”

There are kits from big box stores but most landscape designers don’t like to use them because they look, well, a little kit-like. Consider instead well-placed large planters – terracotta or corten steel are two popular materials, come in any shape, and add visual interest to the yard.

Dimensions are important, Arthurs adds. “Up to eight feet long but no wider than four, because no matter how much yoga you do, that’s too big an expanse to bend over.”

Arthurs’s best tip? Line the bottom with flattened cardboard boxes. “In Canada, they’re soy-based so there’s no leeching of harmful chemicals, plus it prevents weeds from coming up through the soil below.”

Audio systems

Nothing like a little music wafting out over the deck on a lazy summer day as you’re snoozing in the hammock. Technology has made this very simple to do – just connect an app like Sonos, Spotify, or Amazon to a wireless system like Bose. Otherwise you’re into some serious wiring.

The environmental client

An environmental garden generally functions at a micro level of design – that is, it’s the kind of plants chosen – but some elements can be put in place to make that happen.

The two essentials to a sustainable garden are reducing water and pesticide use, says Presta. “Getting rid of the lawn is a start, and then choose drought-resistant plants that don’t need much water.”

Contractors can install sustainable watering systems, Presta says. “Those that spray mist use less water, and can be timed to come on at 3 am when the water will sink in the soil rather than evaporate like it does midday.”

Even greener practices include water retention systems. “An up and coming thing is taking water from the roof,” he says. “You dig a pit for a cistern then run the downspout into it. Then it needs a pump to circulate the water into the garden.”

Arthurs isn’t a fan of rain barrels, however, because homeowners tend to forget about them, because it’s difficult to circulate the water for the garden or washing the car and the water stagnates. Not a wise choice, with the reality of West Nile.

He is a fan of bee houses, though. These are manufactured for mason bees, which “don’t sting, are non-aggressive, solitary, and only lay their eggs there. But they’re great pollinators and you’re creating valuable habitat.”

The bees lay their eggs in tubes and seal the holes – the longer the tube the farther back they can push the eggs so birds can’t get at them.


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Landscape courses with Meredyth Hilton

Landscape courses with Meredyth Hilton

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Landscape courses with Meredyth Hilton

Meredyth Hilton knows gardens – she’s green and gifted! Plus, she’s an excellent teacher. Hilton’s five-week course will get you zinging into spring with a garden design you prepare yourself and ready to turn into reality.

“Our students learn the basics of garden design and plant placement,” said Hilton, a master gardener. “They bring the dimensions of their property and step by step come up with a scale drawing of their garden design that they can prepare and plant themselves or hire someone to do for them.”

The two hour classes are fun, and enable students to explore their personal design style and their likes and don’t likes in terms of use of space and particular plants. Hilton, of Hilton Design Department, is also is an owner of Artistic Gardens, an award-winning company with hundreds of stunning gardens to its credit throughout the GTA. Her teaching expertise includes stints at Centennial College, too.

And every sessions ends with a selection of hors d’oeuvres with wine!

Design Department is a design space and store in midtown Toronto that offers curated items including repurposed and refocused elements to enhance living space, as well as workshops and design classes. Combining new and old, the store offers unique decorative objects such as vintage prints, antique vases and custom-made cushions, as well as a selection of tropical plants and terrariums.

Classes will begin on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 – $450.


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Restoring a Heritage Home

Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

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Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

Transforming a heritage home into a real estate jewel through a renovation or restoration is a labour of love – it requires a commitment to architectural character and a willingness to meet the challenge of unexpected surprises along the way. If your client has hired you to preserve the look, but update certain areas, the following are five broad categories that you’ll want to investigate.


Age, general architectural style and condition

Learn as much as you can about the history of the building. The historical society can be a good resource. Also, check archives for any old permits, drawings, photos, or newspaper articles about former owners. Learning about the lives of the people who built and lived in the house can help with restoration decisions. Many styles of architecture have played a role in our history, from Queen Anne, Victorian to Colonial Revival. Occasionally, you might also find a true Arts and Crafts style home too. It’s worth documenting the details of the home and checking books at your local library (or on the Internet) to determine its exact style. By learning the age of the home, who its former occupants were and its architectural style, you’ll be able to more easily piece together the “historic” puzzle for your client.


Structure, electrical, plumbing, heating-cooling and drainage

As far as condition goes, it’s worth investing in the services of a home inspector who is knowledgeable about historic architecture. He or she will be able to create a report that identifies potential problem areas and suggest viable, cost-effective solutions.

Problems with infrastructure can range from knob and tube wiring to clay pipes in plumbing. Foundations can be problematic as well, as old concrete can settle and crack, causing the building to shift; a pencil or a marble placed on the floor may well provide you with a heads-up. Any horizontal cracks in the concrete indicate severe settling and could mean costly repairs. If you suspect any underlying issues with the structure, it’s best to have it inspected by a structural engineer.

Envelope, roof, insulation, walls, windows and doors

Before changing any of the elements that make up the envelope of the building, ensure that replacements or repairs will maintain the architectural character.

Windows and doors on old homes can be problematic due to rotten wood and energy inefficiency. Luckily, most historical boards recognize this and let owners replace them with more modern choices as long as the general character is the same. However, if you are fortunate enough to have windows with stained or art glass, consider hiring an expert to restore them.

Many older homes were originally insulated with horsehair or newspaper. Newer homes, but older than 1990 may also have vermiculite insulation which likely contains asbestos. In most cases, an investment is needed to remove the old insulation and properly insulate the walls, the attic and the roof. Energy rebates may be available for this.

Interior furniture, fixtures, materials and decorative trim

The interior design of a heritage property can be very detailed, and it’s important to decide which characteristics contribute to the value of the home. Ceiling details and interior trim — such as door stiles and rails, wainscoting and any decorative motifs — can be extremely valuable and worth preserving or restoring to its original state. Wallpaper patterns can be replicated and heritage paint colours are available.

Door and window hardware is often bronze, copper or crystal. Sometimes missing fixtures or ornate lighting can be found in architectural salvage stores.

The fireplace was the focus of many older homes. Oftentimes, mantel and hearth details were spectacular and included carved wood or marble. Make sure the home inspector is a bit of a detective as well and removes bits of paint in inconspicuous areas to see if you own a hidden treasure.

Landscaping, hardscape, plantings and style

The landscaping of a historic property can’t be overlooked. Many of our forebears brought their gardening skills with them from England, Italy and France, where gardens were outdoor living spaces. While it may be difficult to determine from an initial observation of what a garden may have once looked like, old photos can provide valuable clues.

Scent gardens, formal seating areas tucked into the shrubbery, and decorative ironwork gateways that framed views of other landscape elements. Gardens can give a heritage property context and take a historic home from stunning to truly spectacular.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for several HOMES Publishing Group publications.


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