This Trinity Bellwoods couple spent $75,000 transforming their new backyard into a cozy retreat

This Trinity Bellwoods couple spent $75,000 transforming their new backyard into a cozy retreat

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Fraser Fullard, an investment banker, and Martha Ziolkowski, an interior designer and ceramicist, bought their Trinity Bellwoods house in February, just before the pandemic kicked into high gear. Once it became clear that they’d be stuck at home for the foreseeable future, they embarked on a drastic backyard renovation, turning a sad patch of grass into a cozy 400-square-foot, cedar-filled escape with a stone fountain, fire pit and plenty of hidden storage. Here’s how they did it.

Fraser: Martha and I met on Bumble in 2018. I loved how happy she looked in all her photos, and her fantastic sense of adventure.

Martha: I was drawn to Fraser’s sarcastic humour. We bonded over our shared experience in the corporate grind, since I’d worked as an engineer and management consultant in my late 20s.

Fraser: Our relationship progressed quickly, and we bought a house at Yonge and St. Clair four months after we started dating. After two years, we started hunting for a new place in January.

Martha: We weren’t feeling the neighbourhood’s vibe. We’re in our early 30s, and we wanted to live somewhere more lively.

Fraser: We settled pretty quickly on Trinity Bellwoods. Martha grew up near High Park and has always loved the west end. We have lots of friends in the area, and we loved the idea of living closer to nightlife and great restaurants. Plus, access to the park would be great for our one-year-old Labradoodle, Oscar.

Martha: The housing market was pretty lean back in January, so it was a scary time to be looking. Anything that came up was selling fast and attracting bidding wars. We knew we had to move quickly if we wanted to get a place.

Fraser: In early February, we saw a a semi-detached, three-storey home with a basement unit and tenant. We fell in love with it the second we saw it. The house dates back to 1880, and the owners recently renovated it down to the studs, with a mix of heritage elements and modern comforts. Then they flipped the property as an investment.

Martha: It had a lot of warmth. We loved the charming wall of exposed brick on the main floor and the original railing upstairs. We also loved the master suite on the third floor, with a bedroom, walk-in closet and bathroom.

Fraser: We decided to put in an extra-strong offer so we could add a condition to walk away penalty-free if we weren’t able to sell our St. Clair home. There were about five other bids on the house, which was stressful. We traded the condition for a higher price, and they accepted our offer of $1,825,740, with an end-of-May closing date. The previous owners hadn’t touched the backyard, but that didn’t bother us. At first, our only focus was putting up some sort of gate so Oscar could safely run around. We planned to add a little more design and flair inside but leave the backyard as is.

Martha: Before we moved in, we painted everything white, updated all of the bathrooms with custom marble vanities, added a wood-burning fireplace to the living room, replaced all the lighting fixtures and installed a Sonos WiFi speaker system throughout.

Fraser: We ended up selling our St. Clair house without any issues and moved into the new place at the end of June.

Martha: Once we realized we’d be stuck at home for the rest of summer and likely fall, we decided to go full-throttle on making our outdoor space as livable as possible. There was a small patch of grass, which was sunken in some spots, with a pipeline running through the yard. It smelled terrible, and there were flies.

Working around the Covid restrictions over the summer was tricky—especially when it came to in-person meetings and who was allowed on the property. I worked closely with our landscape architect, Sander Freedman. I was inspired by a fountain I saw on Pinterest and wanted to bring in stone, wood and greenery to create a relaxing space. We also had an outdoor fire pit from Best Buy that we wanted in the centre of the space.

The dilapidated 400-square-foot backyard before the summer reno

Fraser: There was a lot of work to do. Construction started in late July with Peter Kim of J.B. Kim Landscaping, and his team worked until October. We poured in concrete for the base of the lounge area and along the side of the house.

Martha: The design evolved over the course of the project. I met with Peter practically every day. Originally everything was going to be made out of cedar, but Peter is an extremely creative metal worker, and he suggested we add architectural pieces, like fencing around our barbecue area.

Fraser: It made the space feel contemporary. There’s still a lot of cedar, but the black metal accents throughout add a great contrast. One challenge was creating space for our sporting equipment. We have a lot of bikes, golf clubs and skis—items you’d typically store in a garage or basement. But we didn’t have either, so we designed a storage area underneath the back porch. We spent a few weeks digging down to make room. Now it’s a full-height, weather-proof 75-square-foot space and the perfect place to store all our gear.

Martha: I love how peaceful the backyard is. When it was warmer, the sound of the water trickling out of the stone fountain really helped us bliss out after a long work day. And the uplighting adds such a great vibe when we look out from our kitchen in the evenings. The whole space feels airy and chill. We extended the Sonos audio system from the house into the back. I even ordered patio heaters so we can enjoy it throughout the rest of the winter.

Fraser: Before the latest lockdown, we hosted some socially distanced get-togethers, and the backyard felt like a true extension of the house. I love the idea of it being an outdoor room that flows naturally with our open-concept first floor. The additional 400 square feet in the backyard is definitely useful these days, with the two of us working from home.

Martha: We were scheduled to have an 80-person wedding at Langdon Hall in August, which fell through because of Covid. We decided to go up there anyway for four days in October, and eloped with just the two of us, our officiant and photographer. So, in a way, our new house and backyard helps make up for the big celebration and honeymoon that we weren’t able to have this year. We’d never have spent this much on the backyard renovation if it hadn’t been for Covid. The whole project cost about $75,000. But now that it’s finished, we use it every evening. We bundle up, turn on the Christmas music and sit together with wine.