Ultimate Toronto Backyard for Eating and Entertaining

July 12, 2018

Landscape designer Joel Loblaw creates uber hosts Sebastien and Sheila Centner's backyard paradise at home.

OUR HOMES Toronto & York RegionA version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of  OUR HOMES The City of Toronto, p.52. Find local businesses in our Toronto-York Region directory. 

Sebastien Centner and Joel Loblaw.
When you plan and cater more than 900 events a year for high-profile companies like Hugo Boss, BMW and Porsche – and have hosted public figures such as Martha Stewart, President Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt – entertaining is serious business. Sebastien and Sheila Centner spend their days directing Eatertainment Special Events & Catering, and when it came time to design the backyard space at their Toronto home, they had big prerequisites for it to fulfill.
They needed a space to easily and comfortably host everything from formal parties to casual barbecues. “We wanted to have lots of functional areas like a bar, a barbecue and a fridge,” says Sebastien. “And we also wanted to strike some kind of balance, where we have all these areas and people don’t feel crowded, but where they always feel like they’re part of the party, too.”
That's why they connected with landscape designer Joel Loblaw, known for his creative urban landscapes at Joel Loblaw Inc. The project was a meeting of creative and organized minds. And the end result is delicious.
(We share with you the Centner's summer party menu!)
“The fundamentals of how Joel and I approach projects is the same,” says Sebastien. “We work to understand a client’s vision, we plan every last foreseeable detail, and we budget carefully and accurately.” Parties that seem relaxed and effortless – just like beautiful outdoor spaces with easy flow – only happen with a clear vision and meticulous minding of the details.
For practicality and convenience, the Loblaw team built a deck right off the kitchen for year-round barbecuing. Joel's business partner and sister Lindsy Gregory handled many details. “The idea of rooms made so much sense here,” says Joel. There’s also a bar-top table nearby so guests can perch on a stool, sip a cocktail and chat with the chef.
In the dining area, keeping things versatile was a priority. “We get bored really easily,” admits Sebastien. “One of the things Joel and Lindsy did that we love is they thought to include these benches in the design,” he says. “We hate being confined to doing things a certain way, and especially because we host so much, it can be challenging.”
The table can be pulled to one side of the room, and a bench used for seating. “When we do that, suddenly we have this open space that could be a dance floor, or just a little extra room for a larger crowd.” He adds, “That really excited us because it gives us so much flexibility.”
Tucked into a corner of the dining space is an intentionally understated kitchen. “When Sebastien said they wanted some kind of kitchen, I started to get a little nervous because outdoor cabinetry doesn’t always work that well,” says Joel. He proposed a custom-made cedar unit that’s practical – it houses an ice machine, a spot for garbage, storage space and lighting controls – but also casual and versatile.
“We’ve used the countertop area as a bar, for a full buffet set up, for clearing, for so many different things,” says Sebastien. “And then when you’re not using it for one of those things, it just kind of disappears.”
Beyond the dining area is a spot for lounging, decked out with comfortable furniture and a fire pit. Dark grey stone underfoot visually connects the space to the dining area, but there’s also a little defined separation thanks to subtle gradation and a low hedge. 
The couple have two young adult sons. A sports court complete with a basketball net is tucked at the edge of the property. It’s something visitors might not notice right away, and that’s by design. “Toning down the sports court was one of our challenges,” says Joel. “That’s where the cedars were really helpful in disguising that area a bit.”
With four distinct areas to the yard, colour helps tie them together. “It’s all connected with one pathway of white stone,” says Joel. “As soon as you step out the door, there’s the 100-foot view all the way to the sports court.” He adds, “Almost everything else in this design scheme is grey, and white is one of the strongest colours in a landscape, so it’s a distinct way of carrying a person’s eye down the site.” 
“If someone asked me right now if I would change anything about my backyard,” says Sebastien, “I would honestly say I can’t think of a thing.”