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{Try} Design your own rustic retreat // Guest Post

{Try} Design your own Rustic Retreat

All photos by Ardis McDonald

When you grow up in rural Southwestern Ontario, you become quite accustomed to green space: yards the size of football fields and acre upon acre of trees. So, when this country gal bought a loft in the city, I quickly realized how much I missed… and needed… that green space! As much as I absolutely loved my loft, after about two years without a yard, it was time to buy a house with a yard.

After quite a search, I found my cottage in the city, one with a yard that lets me forget I’m within city limits. My green cocoon, so to say.

With its mature trees and large lawn space (for the city), I had an amazing blank slate to begin some projects to make it mine. I began by planting some hostas (Riverbend Gardens, Wroxeter; Mr. Chambers, Belmore), seeing as the yard gets a great deal of shade due to the mature trees. I then moved on to installing a patio (With the help of my brother (Mike McDonald Construction). Okay, he installed it all with very little assistance from me.). I have many more plans in the works, but we’ll get back to that later.

I’m not one for having things perfectly manicured when it comes to gardens and lawns. When you grow up with over five acres of lawn to cut and gardens to tend, a bit of rustic charm goes a long way! I have grape vines, Wisteria vines and vines I don’t even know the name of crawling all over the exterior of my property. I find it adds a softness, but also a bit of whimsical wildness, too.

I wanted the patio to also feel like it had been there for quite some time… an established feel. After putting it all together (From Sarah: look for an upcoming post with the details on Ardis’ deck!), I had that blank slate I was looking for to build from.I tend to gravitate towards neutrals as a base for larger items like the love seat and chairs (Hudson Bay Co.), tables (coffee table – my neighbour’s barn; Aberfoyle Market, Neustadt); side table crates (Kijiji; Aberfoyle Market; Rooster’s Perch Antiques, Clifford) and larger décor pieces such as the metal fire pit (Canadian Tire).

I also tend to use neutral planters (Home Depot; Guelph Farmer’s Market; Folmer Landscaping, Walkerton), in this case black and green (yes, outdoors, I would consider a lime green a neutral, much like the surroundings), so that every year, I can change up the plants to whatever colour palette I may choose. I also always use a mixture of rustic and more modern/clean lined pieces (whether it’s outside or inside my home) as I love how the two styles juxtapose against each other.


Then, it’s accessory time! For my day to day use, I tend to keep it neutral as well for the most part. Black and grey accessories such as the candle holders and lanterns (The Garage Home Décor, Belmore; August Skies Home Décor, Port Elgin; Target; HomeSense) and even neutral plants such as coleus, grasses and potato vine (Guelph Farmer’s Market; Folmer Landscaping,, Walkerton; local Mennonite greenhouses in the Belmore area). I then introduce pops of colour through pillows, throws, candles, entertaining pieces, flowers etc. Once you have the neutral base to start from, you can head in whatever direction you want!20140623-220750-79670102.jpgThis summer I’ve gravitated towards pinks, oranges and greens. The pillows (Finishing Touches for the Home, Wingham; The Garage, Belmore) not only make for comfy seating, but they liven up the space. The throws (Southampton Market; Achesons, Harriston and Orangeville) add a bit of luxury to the space and are perfect to help ward off the evening chill. Candles, candles and more candles are key! Especially as the sun is setting. The drinkware (Achesons, Harriston) also brings fun into entertaining and whether it’s glass or plastic, there are so many options available to really help make the entertaining experience your own.


Your turn!

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re designing your own bucolic backyard retreat:

  • Have a plan. Whether it’s an entire backyard makeover or an afternoon get-together with friends you are hosting in your backyard, be sure to have a plan. Plans allow you to get all of your ideas out on paper and see how they work (or may not work) together. I find that lists, plans and a calendar keeps me on track, makes things less stressful and helps me stay on budget.
  • What are you using your space for? For me, the patio is mainly used for lounging, reading and visiting with friends over drinks (versus my deck which is more of a dining space). I would consider my patio to be my outdoor living room. Always know what each space in your yard is going to be used for when planning the overall big picture.
  • Is this space mainly in the sun or shade or both? This helps you decide which plants will and will not work both in containers and planted in the ground. It also helps with the decision as to what type of furniture may be needed (ie; a pergola type piece to offer shade if the space is in direct sunlight all day).
  • Move things around. If you’re like me, you’re constantly re-organizing rooms inside your home. Do that outside too! Move furniture pieces around their space, take planters from one area over to another etc. Keep it fresh!


Ardis McDonald is an Ontario home stylist and blogger who calls her decor style “rustic chic.” She lives in what she refers to as a character home with a country feel. See more of her work and find out how to follow her on Instagram and so much more on her website,