Building the outdoor room of your dreams

Melissa Tolsma is blogging during the renovation she won last year as part of the RenoMe! with FortisBC contest.



By Melissa Tolsma

Small houses are wonderful in many ways. They inspire their dwellers to value every square foot, and to thoughtfully inhabit that space. With less than 1,000 square feet of indoor space, the addition of a 320 square-foot deck has expanded our living space considerably! The deck really does feel like an extension of the house already, and when the natural gas fire bowl is installed it will truly be the outdoor room of my dreams.

Part of the backyard transformation involved the removal of some old concrete, which left a fairly sizeable patch of compacted dirt that needed to be dealt with.  I had already decided to expand the lawn rather than replace the patio, so the next decision was whether to plant seed or buy turf.  Sowing seed would be cheaper, but pretty risky with a resident dog, guinea pigs, and eight year old involved. Instead, I arranged to have a yard of top soil delivered, and ordered up a bakers dozen rolls of sod from a turf farm just outside of town. Picking up the turf rolls saved me a few bucks, and they fit just fine in my trusty Matrix. A few hours later I had a lovely, lush instalawn!

Next, Brad Fraser from Jonker Custom Building came to sand down the deck and install the benches for the fire bowl area. Brad had previously sent me a picture of the impressive cedar slabs that he had picked up from the mill. He had let the wood dry for a couple of weeks before he crafted the benches in his workshop. These are not your average cedar picnic-table-style benches; they are stunning pieces of outdoor furniture.  Not only do they serve as seating for the fire pit, they wrap around two outside edges of the deck, creating the real sense of a room inside.  They invite you to not just sit on them, but stretch right out on your back and experience a whole new vista of sky and stars on a summer night.  We’ve already enjoyed several clear nights of star gazing this year.  I’m looking forward to being able to do this on clear fall and winter nights, too, warmed by the fire.

After Brad sanded the deck, I had to make one of the most agonizing decisions yet: to stain, or not to stain.  I like the silvery grey of weathered cedar, but I love the rich colour of the deck when it’s wet and the wood grain shows more.  The idea of not using chemicals, and allowing the cedar to age gracefully, protected by its natural oils, was appealing. However, the idea of staining, to get even a couple more years of use out of the deck and to be able to see the depth of the wood grain was also compelling.  After many hours of Internet research and patient counsel by Pam, the paint expert at Slegg Lumber in Nanaimo, I made the irreversible decision to stain.  On Brad’s and Pam’s advice I went with a low VOC linseed oil-based Sikkens stain in a delicious-sounding butternut shade.  The pigment would add UV protection and extend the life of the wood, while still allowing the grain to show. Now, when to stain? Internet and in-person advice is abundant and confusing. Some say wait a year, to let the cedar cure and the oils settle first. Others say do it right away to minimize UV damage and seal in the oils.  Ultimately, wasps made that decision for me. They seem to be just as intoxicated by the pungent cedar as humans, and they were munching away on the untreated fresh wood, using it to make their nests. They had already chomped some pretty big channels and pits in the wood, so I decided to stain sooner rather than later.  A couple of days of staining later, the deck looks great.  It still smells good, too—the linseed oil-based stain has a pleasant earthy scent to it.  The colour is a little darker than I had anticipated, but will probably fade a bit.  I haven’t stained the benches yet, as I like the contrast of the lighter cedar against the darker deck.  I will probably go with a natural Sikkens stain on the benches.

To further the backyard excitement around here, the fire bowl arrived from Solus Decor!  It came expertly packed in an impressive wooden box.  I felt like a kid on Christmas day as we unscrewed the side panel of the box to reveal the cast concrete bowl.  I had expected it to have a rough texture, but it surprised me with its silky smoothness, and the truffle colour is delectable.  This outdoor room is going to be a sensuous space!

The fire bowl installation is scheduled soon, and I am on the lookout for a few other furniture and décor pieces as finishing touches.  It’s good timing ­– many stores are selling off outdoor stuff at greatly discounted prices this time of year.  And, neighbours be forewarned, it’s also time to begin planning the deck launch party!

Just Posted

The Port Alberni Bombers are one of the newest teams in the VIJHL. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni Bombers to host first ID camp for roster spots

Roster spots for the Junior B team will be filled at the conclusion of the camp

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
SD70 chooses new name for AW Neill School in Port Alberni

New name honours Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples’ connection to region

Ron MacDonald fields questions at a news conference in Halifax on Sept. 27, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Finding ‘comfortable’ indigenous monitor tough task in Tofino-area shooting death

Julian Jones case hampered by difficulty finding a civilian comfortable with privacy protocols

Port Alberni RCMP officer in command Insp. Eric Rochette presents longtime community policing volunteer Louie Aumair with a OIC appreciation certificate. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni RCMP honour longtime volunteer

First responders receive support from broader community

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read