Backyard innovation

How to turn a long narrow backyard into a multi-functional, low maintenance spot, ideal for relaxing or entertaining

Photography by: Pierre Béland

Designed by MYTO

From the designer:

After renovating the interior spaces of this iiner-city Montreal family home several months earlier, all that was left for MYTO to do was to reinvent was the backyard.

The owners, a young couple living in the United States, wanted designer Martine Brisson and landscape architect Roxanne Miller to transform the outdoor space into a cosy and welcoming place, perfect for weekend get-togethers with friends.

To achieve that goal, Brisson had to overcome a challenge: designing furnishings suitable for the long 446 sq ft space.

“We had to work with this particular volume," says Brisson

"That inspired us to design linear furniture, stretched out like a ribbon along the entire length of the yard. So our table becomes a low seat under the Japanese maple, and a double chaise longue where the sunshine hits the ground."

The multifunctional furniture can be used in many different ways depending on the user’s mood and time of day – for having a meal, enjoying a cocktail, chatting, relaxing or even taking a nap.

MYTO also had to work with a prerequisite: the layout needed to be easy to maintain and able to withstand any weather.

“This house is our clients’ pied-à-terre. They like to visit with a few friends, and never have to tidy or maintain the garden when they’re there."

For the table, Brisson chose to combine an aluminum frame with a Ductal concrete top. This material, with just 1% porosity, is fully waterproof and humidity-resistant, and most importantly it is much lighter than conventional concrete.


Linear furniture, stretched out like a ribbon along architecture, concrete, plant, sculpture, tree, wall, gray, black
Linear furniture, stretched out like a ribbon along the entire length of the yard was designed to overcome the challenge of accomodating outdoor living in the restricted space.

“A half-inch of thickness is enough, whereas conventional concrete would have had to be two or three inches thick to achieve the same resistance.”

As Ductal concrete can also be tinted, the designer chose an almost-white grey, contrasting with the large, 24 x 24 black paving stones. The end result is that the furniture seems to emerge from the ground like a wave.

Around the table are rope chairs from Jardin de Ville. Small, battery-powered LED lanterns placed here and there light the space softly at night.

“The Follow Me lamps can be moved around without getting in the way. They help create a warm ambience without annoying the neighbours with overly intense light. And in the winter, they can be used inside,” Brisson adds.

Lastly, to enhance the intimate ambience and make the space completely private, the designer installed a wooden fence at the back of the yard. The wooden slats were cut at an angle to admit light while preventing passers-by in the back alley from peering into the courtyard.

Japanese-inspired vegetation

In addition to designing the furniture, MYTO faced another challenge: retaining the existing flower bed while showcasing the Japanese maple that has been growing in the yard for many years.

“We had to find vegetation that wouldn’t interfere with the tree’s roots,” says Roxanne Miller.

The horticulturist decided to plant drought-resistant and rustic plants; ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) moss at the foot of the Japanese maple (Acer japonicum), Pachysandra and other ground covers and especially, as it is MYTO’s signature, Hydrangea paniculata.

Shiny black pebbles were arranged on the ground to mark the boundary between the bed and the living area.

Alongside the flowerbed, the brick wall belonging to the neighbouring building gave the partners a special challenge.

The owners wanted designer Martine Brisson and landscape architecture, autumn, branch, building, deciduous, flower, leaf, maple, maple leaf, nature, plant, red, room, sky, tree, woody plant, brown
The owners wanted designer Martine Brisson and landscape architect Roxanne Miller to transform the outdoor space into a cosy and welcoming place, perfect for weekend get-togethers with friends.

“At first, the wall was covered in magnificent creeping vines and a big part of the design. But one day, the neighbour needed the vines removed to enable repairs to the brickwork.

"After that, the original roughcast surface reappeared. With its multiple colours – greys, greens and blues – it gave needed character to our yard, therefor we left it as-is,” says Miller.

To illuminate the space and echo the neighbour’s wall, the partners repainted the brick wall of the clients’ house, facing the yard. Once dark green, it is now a very light grey.

“This also had a positive impact on light levels inside the house,” the designer notes.

With plenty of shade in certain places, the yard was transformed into a minimalist layout and Japanese inspirations, and is now a perfect space for relaxing

“To bring it all together, by the end of the year we will plant another tree that represents MYTO’s signature design, (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) at the back of the yard, in front of the wooden fence,” Miller says.

Sep 17, 2019
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