10 Pool Design Ideas to Transform Your Backyard

A swimming pool can be a superb addition to your backyard. Not only does it provide a fantastic way to cool off and enjoy some exercise, but it’s also a great place for socializing. And the best news? Gone are the days of standard rectangular pools that look somewhat out of place.

New materials and building techniques have enabled imaginative designers to create endless pool designs. So, no matter your space, you can almost certainly find a pool to fit. Whether it blends in or stands out, the choice is yours.

Let’s take a look at ten fabulous pool design ideas:

1. The Natural Look

This design focuses on allowing your pool to fit in with the nature around it rather than standing out like a sore thumb. Remember, there are no straight lines in nature, so a curved pool design is best. Surround the water with natural elements such as rocks, pebbles and shrubs, and maybe even add a waterfall. Use local plants and trees to complete the look, or simply work with what is already there.

2. Shipping Container Pool

This innovative design allows you to quickly and easily add a pool to any space. Work with a professional company to create a heated pool that’s safe and attractive. It can either stand atop the ground, complete with viewing glass and steps up to it, or be dug into the soil.

3. Flower Pool

This colorful design sees your swimming pool bordered by a dazzling array of flowers. Sure to cause a splash, it not only looks fantastic but will smell great too. Care should be taken to prevent the pool water from reaching the plants; otherwise, you’re free to experiment. With proper planning, your pool can be surrounded by color throughout the season.

4. Desert Oasis

Create an oasis in the desert with this fabulous design that works great in hotter climates. Your pool sits amid a landscape of drought-tolerant plants and shrubs, with boulders and sand to complete the look. Add a palm tree for that classic vibe, and be sure to provide some shade, perhaps a canvas canopy.

5. Tropical Paradise

This is a top choice for subtropical climates and makes the most of the weather and plants that you’re likely to already have in your yard. Coral stone flagstones surround a brilliant, blue mood-lit pool, recreating the tropics’ bright white sands and sea. Further back, lush green tropical shrubs, grasses and trees complete the look.

6. Historical Restoration

If you own a historic house, why not create a pool that matches it? Use materials that would have been common when it was built, such as period clay tiles to match a Colonial home, for instance. And don’t forget to add the relevant features from the time, including fountains and spa areas.

7. To Infinity and Beyond

If you own the house on the hill and your yard commands a stunning view, it’s well worth creating a pool that takes it all in. Infinity pools are a great choice in these situations, allowing you to swim to the horizon and enjoy the view.

8. Rustic Retreat

Looking to capture the rustic feel of a Tuscan farmhouse? This design uses a curvilinear pool shape that fits naturally into the landscape. Surrounded by large natural stone paving slabs, pebbles and grasses with the occasional shrub, it oozes charm.

9. Enclosed Lap Pool

Designed for those looking to enjoy a little exercise all year-round, this heated pool is ideal for cooler climates. Rather than being outside, it’s enclosed in its own room, with large windows looking outside and providing natural light. As a narrow lap pool, it won’t take up much space either.

10. Rock Pool

With a cascading waterfall and natural rock flagstones surrounding the pool, you’ll feel as if you’re swimming in a secret cave! Large, free-standing boulders add to the effect, with the occasional shrub or fern to provide a little color. A rounded pool design works best in this case, adding to the rugged, natural look. For something a little special, why not add a rustic stone bridge?


The Pros and Cons of Open Kitchens

Open kitchens have had their heyday, but some think the trend could be waning as people spend more time at home and with each other. The design offers fantastic opportunities for families to connect but can also be seen as lacking privacy and making it difficult to establish “zones” in the home.

So, how can you decide whether an open kitchen design is something that will work for you and your lifestyle? Check out this list of pros and cons to see what benefits and drawbacks open kitchens can have.

Pro: Increased Interaction

One of the biggest advantages of having an open kitchen is the ability to interact with family and guests during meal preparation. While traditionally, you would have been tucked away in a closed kitchen to prep and cook, an open kitchen means no breaks in the conversation and an opportunity to socialize with everyone. By bringing the action into one space, you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the fun.

Pro: A Good View

If you have little ones, an open kitchen allows you to keep an eye on their activities while you make meals or clean up, ensuring that everyone’s on track and you don’t have to worry every time things get suspiciously quiet in the next room. An open kitchen offers opportunities for you to be involved in homework time, craft time or just “tell me about your day” time, all while getting meals ready for the family.

Pro: More Light

Open kitchens allow more light to flood the space, thanks to fewer walls closing things in. It can brighten the space and make it feel even more open, airy and cheerful. In addition, more natural light means the potential for fewer light fixtures being needed, so less energy consumption.

Pro: The Illusion of Space

Even in a smaller home, an open kitchen will make the room seem less closed in and more spacious. Without the constraints of walls, you can push the kitchen out further or bring things in closer, helping you make the most of your space. An even more open design can be achieved with fewer heavy cupboards and more open shelving or the use of cabinets with glass doors to lighten the look.

Con: More Noise

With open kitchens comes the potential for more noise due to the lack of walls keeping sounds contained. Whether it’s kids burning off energy in the loudest ways possible, lively conversation during after-dinner drinks, or the clinging and clanging of pots and pans during cooking, noise can travel easily in open kitchens. Bringing textiles such as rugs, mats and curtains into the mix can help, as can including textured ceilings and paneled screens to help absorb some sound.

Con: Messes on Display

With closed kitchen designs, hiding messes from guests is a lot easier. Unfortunately, open kitchens don’t really give you that option, so you end up having to choose between being extremely diligent about cleaning and organizing or being comfortable enough to say “don’t mind the mess.” Incorporating plenty of storage and organization options, eliminating clutterand using various cleaning tools to make it easier to manage messes are ways to keep your open kitchen looking great.

Con: Traveling Odors

When cooking in an open kitchen, food odors aren’t contained like in a closed kitchen and can travel to other areas of the home. This might be fine for smells like bread baking in the oven or a fresh pot of coffee brewing, but odors like used frying oil or cooked fish are likely not the ones you want moving into other spaces and possibly lingering there. Opening your windows, using your range hood and air fresheners should help.

Con: Limited Storage Space

Without additional walls to house storage options, open kitchens can make it more difficult to put away the things you need and keep everything from looking too messy. Incorporating an island with storage into the kitchen can be a good solution, or you can take advantage of ceiling space with hanging racks for things like pots and pans.

Check out This New Collection of Rooms with Breathtaking Views


We build homes in varied landscapes, but often a common thread among them is strategically placed windows that allow us to enjoy what the outside world has to offer. Even when indoors, we seek comfort in the natural world.

A room with a spectacular view quickly becomes a favorite place, whether it’s a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen or living room. We want to have glimpses of trees, water, sky and mountains when we’re gazing out the window deep in thought, and those glimpses are our focus, or when we’re going about our daily lives, and the glimpses simply act as amazing backdrops to everything else.

The outside world can also be an important source of inspiration for designing and decorating our indoor world. We take note of textures and colors, evoked feelings, and even sounds and scents, and attempt to bring those to life inside our homes to capture what we love about the outdoors. This new collection of rooms with breathtaking views has us feeling a deep appreciation for the world outside our doors, and we’re excited to share them with you!

1. A Skyview Spa

2. A Treed-In Sanctuary

3. A Child’s Perspective

4. A Never-Ending Cityscape

5. A Lakeside Escape

6. A Star-Filled Slumber

7. An Exotic Vista

8. A Mountainous Outlook

9. A Glimpse of Paradise

10. A Sophisticated Seascape

Feast Your Eyes on These Jaw-dropping Outdoor Living Spaces

Summertime is the perfect time to make the most of warm weather and get in touch with nature. And while walking on natural trails and spending time in lush parks are lovely activities, relaxing and taking in the beauty of the outdoors from the comfort of your home remains something truly special.

Just think of enjoying an invigorating cup of coffee on your porch at sunrise or savoring a nice al fresco dinner with the family on the patio while the sun sets. It makes you smile, doesn’t it? Top that off with some breathtaking surrounding decor and jaw-dropping landscaping, and you know you’ve got an exterior sanctuary to soothe your soul.

Since we can’t get enough of well-designed spaces, we’ve put together a list of ten stunning outdoor areas to calm the senses and, why not? offer inspiration for your future home remodeling projects. From manicured gardens to cozy retreats and chic backyards, feast your eyes on these amazing exterior areas and be prepared to experience outdoor living at its finest!

1. A Casual Setting Around the Fire

2. A Relaxing SPA-like Area

3. A Swinging Setup in the Garden

4. A Romantic Vintage Retreat

5. An Oriental Sanctuary

6. An Oasis under the Tree

7. A Calming Zen Deck

8. A Stylish Outdoor Lounge

9. A Cozy Escape

10. An Airy Cinema Set Up

How to maximize your bathroom storage


Overhead view of hands organized bathroom items in a drawer

It’s the first place you visit when you wake up, and the last stop you make before going to bed. We all wish our bathroom would look and feel like a spa… Yet, for most of us, it’s one room in the home that never seems to have enough storage. Here are some helpful tips and handy storage solutions to maximize the space in a small bathroom:

  • Trade in your under-sink cabinets for a set of deep drawers. You won’t be sorry. This will essentially double the amount of surface space you have to store your toiletries, make-up and other bathroom essentials. The top drawer can be customized to fit around the sink, while maximizing every square inch of space around it. If you do have cabinets, however, take advantage of the space on the inside of the doors by installing small hooks perfect for hanging flat, lightweight items (i.e. brushes and hand mirrors).
  • Make your mirror work double duty. A mirror can be functional in more ways than one. A medicine cabinet-style mirror is the perfect place to store first-aid items, hair accessories, and small things like cotton balls and Q-tips.  
  • Store only what is necessary. If you can, keep cleaning supplies in the laundry room or under the kitchen sink. Avoid storing a family pack of extra toilet paper in the bathroom. Keep 2-3 rolls close by and store the rest in the garage or laundry room. To free up space in a cabinet or drawer, place the extra rolls in a decorative basket on top of your toilet or on the side of your tub.
  • Use empty wall space wisely. Use the area above your toilet for storage. Installing a few floating shelves or a small cabinet for items you don’t use on a daily basis (i.e. guest toiletries or small towels) can help free up space under your sink.
  • Install a towel rack on an empty wall. While having containers, hot tools and other countertop items on display can make your bathroom look cluttered and messy, a stack of neatly folded towels on a floating wall rack can give your space the look and feel of a luxury hotel ensuite. 
  • Box it up. Use organizing containers to keep the items inside your cabinets and drawers neat and tidy. Use stackable bins with lids or pull-out drawers to maximize vertical space.

Maximize Your ROI with These Home Renovations

Too many homeowners, reinvesting money on fixing up their house presents a slippery slope. On one hand, there’s virtually no renovation that will offer a 100% return on the investment, whether $5,000 or $50,000 is budgeted.

Then again, home improvements increase the overall value of the property while also making the house more enjoyable to live in. Most experts agree that if the money is available, building equity in your home is one of the smartest investments a person can make and there are various ways these projects can pay you back.

Improve Energy Efficiency

Upgrades that help a home become more energy efficient potentially offer a three pronged ROI – they increase property value, lower utility bills, and are eligible for government tax breaks. In addition, the house will have purer air quality and will be more comfortable without drafts or warm air leaking out. Some of the best projects for improving efficiency include:

•    Window and Door Replacement / Restoration – While window replacement is typically listed as a project with a great ROI, that’s really only true for homes built after World War II. Replacing windows in older homes actually decreases their value but in newer dwellings can save up to $400 annually. Installing a new steel entry door remains the top renovation project for 2014, offering a 96.6% return.

•    Energy Star Appliance Upgrade – The effectiveness of replacing household appliances depends on the age of the old equipment. For instance, a new refrigerator will use about half as much energy as one that’s 10 years old, while a washing machine upgrade can save about $100 per year. This might not seem like a lot but if the annual cost deductions are measured over 10-15 years the savings can be quite significant. Plus, tax credits of about 10% of the total cost can be acquired after purchase.

Other energy efficient upgrades include adding insulation to a basement or attic and installing programmable thermostats.

Curb Appeal Renovations

Improving the look of your home is also a big selling point and the following investments for prettying up the property make your home more attractive – to both you and a potential buyer.

•    Garage Door Replacement – Replacing an old, damaged, or bland garage door consistently offers one of the best ROI, around 85% on a $1,500 project.

•    Siding and Shutters – New vinyl siding will give your house a fresh new look and will recoup almost 80% of your investment. Shutters add detail and can be salvaged or reclaimed for maximum return.

•    Aluminum Fence – A classy looking aluminum fence will improve the curb appeal of the home while also offering a return of investment around 65%. The fence also adds security and aluminum is maintenance free compared to wood or wrought iron.

Other types of landscaping will get you around 50 – 75% but should be limited to usable space such as a backyard barbecue or pergola. Shrubs, mulch, and trees add value but also require upkeep.

Quality of Living Remodeling

The benefits of quality of living upgrades are hard to measure in only dollars and cents. Enjoying your whole home could be considered priceless but these projects are a good place to start:

•    Attic Bedroom – Adding functionality to ‘dead’ space greatly improves quality of living. Turning an attic into a bedroom is great for a child to have their own space or for a spot for guests to sleep. It’s a roughly $50,000 job for electricity, framing windows and walls, insulation, and finishing but buyers love extra bedrooms and the ROI is almost 85%.

•    Deck (Wood) – A deck could have both peace of mind and curb appeal value as it aesthetically adds living space to the exterior of your home. A $10,000 deck offers a return of a whopping 88%.

•    Home Office – The cost versus value report for 2014 lists a home office as only a 48% ROI. That being said, if a home office enables you to telecommute and save gas money as well as vehicle wear and tear while eradicating a long drive back and forth to work, then the return is much higher.

The one thing to remember about reinvesting in your home is that since barely anything offers a 100% ROI, it’s not always recommended to renovate just to sell. Because of this it’s important to take energy efficiency, curb appeal, and quality of living projects into account for what you’ll enjoy the most while still making money… someday.

Author Bio

Christian Sculthorp is a marketing representative for the Ottawa General Contractors, a full service home renovation and custom home company. He’s passionate about getting people great bang for their buck – whether it’s through marketing or home renos.

How to Start a Vegetable Garden in 8 Steps



1. Pick Your Location

Take a look at your garden and observe how much light it gets throughout the day. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight to grow. However, not all plants need the same amount of light, which can work to your advantage. For example, a garden that receives full sun is perfect for growing tomatoes, peppers, squash or strawberries. Meanwhile, a garden that receives partial shade is better suited for crops such as cabbage, carrots, kale, broccoli and spinach.

2. Check Your Local Hardiness Zone

Your local hardiness zone will decide what you can grow and when. In warmer, frost-free climates, you can grow whatever you want whenever the mood takes you. For example, in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 12, you can start sowing tomatoes as early as January. But in cooler climates, you will need to wait until the frost has passed.

You can find your plant hardiness zone here: for the U.S., for Canada

3. Decide Which Plants to Grow

If you’re a beginner vegetable gardener, you’ll want to pace yourself and start with easy, low-maintenance crops. Some of the best choices include herbs, leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce, onions, garlic, green beans, beets and radishes. Once you get a feel for your garden and how your plants grow, you can move on to more challenging vegetables, such as asparagus, corn, artichokes, cauliflower or exotic crops such as kiwi or Asian eggplants.

4. Buy Gardening Supplies

Every gardener should have the following tools in their “arsenal”:

  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Garden fork
  • Hand trowel
  • Gardening scissors or pruners
  • Gardening gloves
  • Wheelbarrow
  • A long hose for easy watering
  • Saw and drill, if you’re building garden beds and supports
  • Seedling trays if you’re planning to start your vegetable seeds indoors.

Always go for quality tools and avoid buying plastic utensils. They may be cheaper, but they’re not durable, and you run the risk of them breaking when you need them most.

5. Test and Amend the Soil

The ideal pH range for growing most vegetables is between 6.0 and 7.5. For acidic soil, you can improve the pH through liming. For alkaline soils, you can lower the pH by adding sulfur and sulfates. You will also need to improve soils that are either clay-heavy or too sandy. The best way to do so is by using natural soil amendments such as compost, manure, pine bark and dried leaves, which will provide drainage as well as give your plants a nutrient boost.

6. Prepare the Planting Site

Decide on your layout: you can plant your vegetables in rows, a grid pattern, even a spiral. Also, take a moment to decide if you’ll sow your plants directly in the soil or if using raised garden beds or straw bales might be easier for you.

Use a shovel, fork and rake to clear and tidy up your planting site as best you can. This includes weeds and fallen leaves, but also rocks and other debris. For stubborn weeds, try covering the plot with a thick plastic tarp for a few weeks. Then remove the dead weeds, dig up the soil to a depth of one foot and incorporate plenty of compost and manure.

In a large vegetable garden, you’ll also want to make sure watering doesn’t take too much of your time. An irrigation system with a timer will help, but you can also make a simple drip feed system using soaker hoses. If you’re growing climbing plants such as beans, squash or cucumbers, you’ll also need to set trellises or other supports in place.

7. Sow and Maintain Your Garden

Once the weather gets warm enough, you can start sowing your vegetables. Check the instructions on the seed packet for the recommended spacing. Most vegetable seeds will germinate in about two weeks. Keep your seedlings well-watered, weed regularly and check for pests and diseases every day. As your vegetables grow, add some mulch to your garden to help preserve soil moisture. One month after your seeds have sprouted, you can also use a balanced organic fertilizer to give your plants a boost.

8. Get Ready to Harvest

Before you know it, all your hard work will pay off, and it’s time to think about harvesting. Leafy greens are typically ready in a month. Bush beans, green onions, cucumbers, beets and kale take around two months to mature. For tomatoes, peppers or squash, you’ll need to wait about three months. Harvest your vegetables regularly, and don’t forget about preserving some for the winter months.

Apple Cider Vinegar Uses Around the House

In the old days, vinegar was the go-to house cleaning product. And, as we all strive to become more environmentally-minded in recent years, it looks like it’s making a comeback. Not only is it versatile, but as far as multi-purpose cleaning products go, apple cider vinegar ticks all the right boxes: it’s cheap, effective, and above all, eco-friendly.

Here are ten ways you can use apple cider vinegar in your home.

The Ultimate Mold Remover

Getting rid of black mold can be a real challenge — but not if you have a bottle of apple cider vinegar lying about. Simply mix equal parts water and vinegar, spray the solution on the mold, and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Then scrub the surface, rinse with water, and that’s it, you’re done!

If you have mildew in your home, you can also use vinegar to get rid of it. It’s fast, efficient and less dangerous to use compared to bleach.

No-Streak Window Cleaner

A water and apple cider vinegar solution will help you clean your windows like a charm. Not only does it remove grime and stains, but it also leaves no streaks behind. To boost your window cleaning game, you can also use old newspapers for smudge-free results.


Apple cider vinegar is a fantastic odor-remover. You can use it in your kitchen to remove strong cooking smells by simmering it in a pot for 20 to 30 minutes. Vinegar can also remove unpleasant odors like cigarette smoke or even pet urine. Fill a spray bottle with a 1:1 water and vinegar mix and use it to mist the air lightly, or spray it directly on surfaces with an unpleasant smell.

Quick and Easy Drain Declogger

Blocked sink or shower drain? A bit of baking soda and apple cider vinegar is all you need. First, pour a pot or kettle-full of boiling water down the drain. Then, pour in a cup of baking soda, a cup of vinegar and cover the drain with a plug. You’ll hear the mixture work its magic instantly. Leave the plug in for another 10 minutes, then use another pot of hot water to rinse the drain.

Floor Cleaner

You can use apple cider vinegar to mop ceramic tiles, laminate and vinyl floors. This will help freshen them up, remove stains and unpleasant smells, and also act as a mild disinfectant. Also, by regularly mopping your kitchen floors with water and a touch of vinegar, you’re far less likely to have problems with ants later on.

Stain Remover

The acidic nature of apple cider vinegar makes it your ally in stain removal. You can use it to get rid of stains in the bathroom, on upholstery, carpets, curtains, even clothes. It’s safer to use than bleach and much more gentle on the fabrics.

Here are some of the stains you can remove with vinegar:

  • Hard water stains
  • Soap scum
  • Tea and coffee
  • Tomato and ketchup
  • Grass
  • Sweat
  • Blood
  • Ink and crayon
  • Rust

You can also add a touch of vinegar when doing laundry in a washing machine. This way, you’ll help remove stains as well as that old, musty washing machine smell.

A word of caution: if adding vinegar to your laundry, avoid using bleach, as this will create toxic chlorine gas.

Effective Fruit Fly Trap

Fruit flies love the smell of vinegar. Unfortunately for them — but luckily for you — this will prove very helpful. Use a mix of water, dish soap and vinegar placed in a jar to attract them, and they will stick to the mixture. If you have houseplants plagued by fungus gnats, this solution works wonders against them as well.

Mild Disinfectant

Vinegar is effective against some germs and bacteria. You can use it with great success to sanitize kitchen utensils such as cutlery, jars and glasses, sponges and cloths, or your chopping board.

All-Natural Pet Deterrent

If you have a room or part of the house you’d rather keep pet-free, this is a natural, chemical-free way to do so. Use apple cider vinegar to keep pets out of cabinets and cupboards, away from the garbage bin, or even prevent them from chewing cables and furniture. Dogs and cats hate the smell of vinegar, so they won’t be tempted to check those areas again any time soon.

Homemade Herbicide

If you’re looking for a chemical-free weed-remover, look no further than apple cider vinegar. Use it to get rid of stubborn weeds growing in pavement cracks, along fences, driveways, even in mulch. Vinegar also works as a great against mushrooms. Just be careful using it too close to shrubs, flowers, or in your vegetable garden, as it can also harm those plants.

Prepare your home for the spring thaw


Purple crocuses growing through the snow on a bright early spring day

The air is warmer, the days are getting longer, and after an exceptionally snowy winter, the grass is starting to reveal itself. Spring is upon us, which means all that snow is going to melt. Be sure to take these important steps to protect your home and prevent major water damage during the thaw.

  • Clear away any snow and ice from your home’s foundation, including window wells, to avoid leaks and possibly flooding as it melts.
  • Take a closer look. Seal and repair any cracks in your walls, foundation and around windows, to ensure moisture does not penetrate the building. If you discover a leak, even a small one, consider contacting a professional. Water damage can escalate quickly and repairs are costly. 
  • Clear out built-up ice and debris from your eavestroughs and downspouts. This is an integral part of your home’s water draining system, and if the flow is clogged, it can result in major damage. If there is a drain on the street near your property, be sure to clear any leaves and garbage away from the grate so melting snow from the road can flow freely. 
  • Beware of overhead leaks. If your roof is in need of repair, this is likely the time you will become aware of it. You may start to see water spots form on your ceiling. Do not ignore the signs! These spots are an indication of a water leak caused by damage to the roof. Don’t forget to check for leaks in the attic as well.
  • Before you turn on the air conditioning for the first time this season, inspect the unit to ensure it is functioning properly. This is also the perfect time to replace your furnace filter and change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

For more on how to prepare your home for the season, check out our Spring Cleaning 101 blog post.

Essential home features for Canadians planning to age in place

High cost of living in senior care facilities a driving factor for those who want to remain in their homes longer


Elderly couple laughing and smiling in their kitchen while preparing a meal

The home that Canadians expect to spend their golden years in is often purchased well before retirement. But, with those days so far in the future, it can be difficult to imagine which features would be essential at that time. 

Royal LePage recently surveyed its network of senior housing experts and found that while not all Canadian seniors are looking for the same features in a property they can stay in long term, most remain eager to stay in their own homes as they get older.

“More and more, Canadians are choosing to right-size rather than down-size as they age,” said Caroline Baile, real estate broker, Royal LePage Sussex, and certified ASA™ (Accredited Seniors Agent). “Some mature buyers are looking for a turn-key condominium, so they can spend less time on maintenance and more time traveling after retirement. Others may choose to move from a two-storey home to a bungalow to avoid stairs as they age, or into a multi-generational property that offers the option to live with family. Others will opt to renovate their existing properties to accommodate their changing needs.”

Survey highlights:

  • 43% of survey respondents say a fully-equipped main-floor living space is essential for seniors planning to age in place.
  • 42% of respondents say a front and rear entrance with no steps and a walk-in tub are essential.
  • Almost all Royal LePage experts surveyed (94%) say purchasing a home close to family is top of mind for this buyer demographic.
  • 74% of respondents say older Canadians are increasingly interested in aging in place due to concerns over the high financial cost of living in senior care facilities.