June 19, 2015
By Jason Cramp
Heidi Richter didn’t go to design school to learn her craft, and that’s just fine by her. A self-taught designer, the HGTV Canada stylist was her family’s go-to girl whenever something needed to be put together at home. It was Richter’s DIY philosophy that helped her get a volunteer gig on a home décor TV show in 2002. Soon enough, she landed a position as a design assistant and worked her way up to lead design stylist. Today, she is owner of HR Design Inc., a Toronto-based design/project management company. And when Richter’s not working with clients, she’s still getting her TV fix as the stylist on Disaster Decks, as well as stylist/project manager on Custom Built, both seen on HGTV Canada. It’s no wonder Pools, Spas & Patios checked in with this painter/carpenter/designer/project manager/stylist for her advice on making the most of your backyard space.
PSP: For backyards, why is it important to know the homeowner’s intended use of the space before beginning to decorate?
Richter: This is an essential point. Getting to know the wants and needs of a client and translating these into the appropriate placement and finishes of furnishings is the number one job of a designer/stylist. The time spent in establishing these guidelines ensures a client is going to be pleased with the end result.
PSP: What other factors come into play when choosing a particular style or colour scheme, etc.?
Richter: There are many important factors to consider. For instance, are there children or pets in the household? Do the clients entertain a lot? When those factors exist, you may choose to go with darker coloured, textured, or patterned textiles that won’t show wear and tear as easily as a light fabric without a pattern. Also, take a good look at the house, both inside and out, as you want to make sure there is a smooth transition from indoors to out.
PSP: What questions should the homeowner ask of an outdoor stylist before hiring him/her to decorate their outdoor space?
Richter: Before hiring a stylist, a homeowner should definitely ask some key questions, such as does the stylist charge an hourly or flat rate? You should also check whether they charge mark-ups on purchases. More importantly, however, when hiring someone that is going to design a space for you, listen to how many questions he or she asks. The more questions they ask, the more interested they are in learning what you like and how you live your life. As a result, you will get a finished space that accurately reflects you and your lifestyle. After all, your home is an extension of your personality.
PSP: How much planning is required on the part of the homeowner? What things should they consider to personalize their backyard space (e.g. shade elements, creating privacy, furniture options, and lighting, etc.)?
Richter: A prepared homeowner will spend a year planning the use of their backyard. It is important to watch your backyard throughout the seasons so you know where the sunny and shady areas are at different times of the year. Same goes for the damp and dry spots. You also want to note which existing plant life drops leaves or fruit. That way, when it comes time to design and style, these can be taken into consideration and appropriate design solutions can be applied.
PSP: How involved should the homeowner be during the decorating/accessorizing process? Is there a point at which they should ‘back off’ and let the stylist do their job, or should they stay as vigilant as possible?
Richter: A homeowner needs to be very involved at the beginning of the decorating/accessorizing process. This is when a very clear direction needs to be decided upon between the client and designer. Once this has been established, a client needs to put some trust in the person they’ve hired. There should definitely be input and approval on costly items or details that are more permanent and difficult to change; however, allow the designer some creative freedom. This is empowering, and allows them to feel ownership to put together the best finished product they can for a client.
PSP: Do you have some basic rules/advice you can share specific to stylizing and decorating a backyard?
Richter: There are some very basic guidelines that can be followed when styling a backyard. First, use items and finishes that suit your lifestyle, such as patterned or textured fabrics when there are children or pets, or low-maintenance cast aluminum or resin wicker frames for furniture when you have limited free time. Second, be sure to add lighting to extend the use of the yard into the evening. Candles, lanterns, deck lighting, and string lights can all help create wonderful ambiance when used correctly. And lastly, incorporate a heat source like a firepit or an outdoor heater to stretch out the patio season.
PSP: What, if any, special considerations should you make when the backyard space includes a swimming pool and/or hot tub?
Richter: If you have a hot tub or swimming pool, you may want to take the following into consideration:
1) The finishes and fabrics you choose need to be able to withstand the chemicals used in the maintenance of your pool or tub.
2) Incorporate non-slip floor surfaces around these areas.
3) Privacy is important, so consider installing fencing, decorative screens, draperies, or plant life to help create an oasis.
PSP: What are some simple budget-friendly ways to add style to a backyard space?
Richter: You don’t have to spend a fortune to update your backyard living space. You can easily freshen it up with new accent pillows, a few big lanterns, patio lights, or an arrangement of potted or hanging plants. Also, if you have rusted metal patio furniture or weathered, beat-up wooden furniture, a simple coat of paint will make it look like a brand new piece! A cost-effective umbrella and bistro set or lounge chair can create a cozy nook in an unused portion of your yard. You could also consider adding an inexpensive DIY water feature.
PSP: For those homeowners whose backyards already incorporate some decorations/accessories, what are some telltale signs their outdoor space is dated and in need of a new style?
Richter: You know your space is outdated and in need of a new style when you don’t love it anymore.
PSP: From where do you draw your design inspiration?
Richter: I design for my individual clients and draw inspiration from things they love. Did they honeymoon in Bali and can’t wait to go back? Well, in that case, I’ll add a little Indonesian flair. Does she reminisce about the family cottage? For that, I would add a few Adirondack chairs around a firepit where she and her family can roast marshmallows and tell stories. It is most important to me that the design suits the client and their needs, so my inspiration is drawn from the people for whom I am creating a living space.
Heidi Richter is the stylist on HGTV Canada’s Disaster Decks and stylist/project manager on Custom Built (a new series on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT that premiered in February). For more information on Richter, visit www.hrdesign.ca and www.hgtv.ca.
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