Sometimes the fates converge, and you find yourself working on a dream project. Let me start by saying I love, love, love designing gardens around mid-century modern homes. So when I arrived at an appointment to meet my future clients and saw their home, I have to say I got a little excited. Then I met my clients, who are awesome, saw the beautiful work they had done to their open floor plan interior, and listened to their wish lists for their garden, and my heart melted a little. Their outdoor space was begging to be incorporated into their lifestyle! I was beyond happy and excited when I got the call that they had chosen to work with me on their project.
For the most part, the garden designed itself. While old and a bit dilapidated, the site had good bones and a circulation pattern that couldn’t be altered much. In other words, the spaces or garden rooms were identified; I just had to develop them. The main challenge in the front garden was an extremely unsafe entry. A previous owner had installed Saltillo tiles on the existing concrete entry. They were mossy and slippery, unevenly sloped and some of the tiles were popping off. The hand rail was slightly wobbly wood in dire need of sanding. It had disaster written all over it! The home is situated near the top of a steep slope, but there is enough flat space to allow for a quaint seating area for the homeowners to connect with their neighbors.
Before: Back entry
After: Back entry
The back yard has multiple access points; there were three sets of doors off of the house; a side path from the front garden; and a unique second street entry at the back of the house required sort of a second entry from the street and access from the detached garage from that street. There are three main useable areas in the back garden in which to incorporate my clients’ wish list that included: an outdoor kitchen, a quiet peaceful garden space off of the master bedroom, space for entertaining fairly large groups of friends and family, a fire element and a water element, a place to grow food, and safety (the Saltillo tiles were continued throughout the garden) that included new fencing with locked gates, lighting and hand rails.
Before: Dangerous front entry stairs
After: Safe front entry stairs
The biggest challenge in making the front entry safe was raised by building codes that came into being after the house was constructed. We had to push the entry staircase toward the house to accommodate setbacks, and that in turn required us to build a wall on the upslope. The stairs followed the natural grade on the original design and did not require a wall. It was a happy accident, though. The wall turned out beautiful and really anchors the front garden and compliments the home. The homeowners elected not to tackle a large portion of their slope that is covered in ivy, and the staircase separates the ivy and landscaped areas nicely.
These homeowners are not dyed-in-the-wool modernists, but have a fun, almost whimsical eclectic, contemporary approach. Hardscape material selections were made to tie into the house. We used a combination of precut stone, random stone, gravel and aggregate tile details, and a combination of ledge stone and stucco walls. I originally designed a stone fireplace, but the homeowners elected to use a bold stucco color to tie the elements together. I always tell my clients that they get to live in their garden long after I’m gone. I have many ideas and strong opinions, but they are the ultimate voice in how their garden evolves.
Before: Stucco wall and tile patio
After: Fireplace and bench
Some of my favorite elements in the garden are the cantilevered fireplace with a succulent garden on top and the barbecue countertop and matching bench. We used a single slab of Brazilian slate (it’s huge) for the countertop, which like granite allows for a mostly seamless countertop. We left the surface natural and used a sealer to prevent staining and honed the edges so they’re smooth and bring out the deep color of the stone. We had a metal frame fabricated and used the leftover stone to create a bench that ties into the fireplace. It’s a great place to sit on a chilly night.
I always say I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to work with extraordinary people – both my clients and coworkers to create beautiful useable spaces. This project was the epitome of why I so love what I do.