July 18, 2012

Condo balconies an extension of home space

BY LISA VAN DE VEN

In years past, they’ve sometimes been ignored, under utilized and relegated to being used for storage. But now, they’re getting their day — or even entire summers — in the sun. As condo owners and developers start seeing the benefits of balconies, those square feet in the open air are emerging as one of a suite’s most important rooms. Unit sizes may be shrinking, but balconies are expanding, and for homeowners, that means a whole new space waiting for design flourishes.

“It’s an extension of your home,” says interior designer Dan Menchions. The partner with II By IV Design Associates works with developers to create spaces suited to the lifestyle of condo buyers. Balconies are becoming more and more a part of that, Menchions says, with many developers increasing the depth of their outside spaces. For condo owners, the balcony also provides the chance to bling out the outer room so they can entertain, eat and hang out all summer. But there are unique constraints that set the space apart from indoor rooms.

So where should your balcony design begin? With colour, says Andrew Bockner, co-designer of outdoor furniture specialists Andrew Richard Designs. In keeping with the balcony’s seasonal usage, he likes sassing the space with vibrant hues reminiscent of “a summer dress.” Bockner cites tangerine, pink and purple as some of the hot colours prevalent in outdoor spaces. “I think the outdoor space is a little less serious than inside,” he says.

For bigger balconies, creating designated lounge and eating areas with some separation in between is an option. If not, furniture choices — whether a daybed for after-work relaxation, or table and chairs for al fresco dining — will depend on how homeowners intend to use their extra room. Multi-functional furniture, Bockner explains, is also popular. And while city views are spectacular, this outdoor expert likes greenery to complement them. “Any kind of planting adds warmth,” he says. “I may be 30 storeys up, but I’m still outside and I’m going to make it feel that way. That’s why I love trees or planters.”

However, not all plants are best for a balcony environment. Bruno Duarte, the creative director and owner at Fresh Floral Creations, works on garden boxes for condominiums and suggests low-lying plants. For condo dwellers really high up — that’s you, floor 54 — fake foliage may even be the best route. “One thing a lot of people don’t take into consideration, especially for those big buildings, are plants that are too tall, because it’s way too windy,” Duarte says. “And if you use anything with blooms, like an hibiscus, you’re never going to see any blooms because the wind will just knock them right off.”

Balconies come with other considerations, adds designer Tania Richardson, principal partner with Tomas Pearce Interior Design Consulting. Storage is important: Furniture that can be left outside all winter long is a must if there’s nowhere else to store it. And the wind, besides messing with the flowers, means heavier furniture is often best. But take note of weight restrictions. “How much weight can go on that balcony?” Richardson asks. “I had one particular client who put a hot tub on his balcony … he had to work with the builder to make sure it was structurally sound.”

Despite those constraints, Richardson says there’s plenty of opportunity for balconies. “For years, people were underestimating the value of the balcony and using it as a storage for their bikes,” Richardson says. But today, just as they do inside, condo owners are adding their own personal touches, to expand their living spaces outward. Now, if only they could find a way to expand the summer.

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