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New Life for Empty Nets

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Our clients came to us to help them fill the space in the backyard left unused in the absence of their two kids, one of whom is off to law school, and the other has simply moved into her own place. Their barbeque area was uninspiring, and the pool patio was too narrow to accommodate their chaise lounges and (bare)foot traffic.

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We worked with their designer to bring out the cottage style of the home’s architecture.  And sometimes, we have to say goodbye to some of our favorite proposed elements before we feel  that they’ve gotten a fair chance to been seen in their intended context.  We were loath to part with these beautiful large cement planters, seen at center of this sketch, but the client saw them in person and felt that they were too reminiscent of a corporate atrium.  Which is fair, they are not uncommon in such places, but our designers still lament that they never got to display them all overgrown as intended.


Me, with the bottoms obscured they remind me of Super Mario Bros., that classic video game where hero plumbers travel through sewer pipes to other worlds.  I see them connecting this backyard to imaginary wonderlands in some cross between Bill and Ted’s adventure and the Chronicles of Narnia.  But that’s probably just me.

It is not as if the end result was greatly damaged by the omission (in fact we are quite proud of it!), and we are certainly not the ones who must walk by those planters on a daily basis, yet that somehow can’t stop us from cultivating an affection for the space as it develops under our hand. 


We argue at length over the orientation of those pavers, which are all from a single block of concrete we formed and then custom-fractured to create that look, and we try every single setting and orientation for those chaise lounges, which will sooner or later be displaced by some unknown visitor, perhaps never to be replaced.  We care about these details.


We replaced the hedge with a higher fence for better privacy, and matched the coping along the front of the house to the color of the new pool deck.  The grill area was redone with stainless steel storage drawers and a single piece, bluestone counter top that cleans easier and has more counter space.


The basketball court was replaced with an inviting lounge and patio area, a firepit, sofa and lovely, voluminous wicker armchairs (notice the handle recesses, woven into the backs of the chairs for easier movement?).

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Our design altered this yard so drastically that not a single plant was left unchanged from the previous layout, excepting the birch tree in the far corner of the yard, do you remember what it looked like when we started?



To that tree, we added two more birch, to suit the client’s taste for them, and created our own, California version of an ‘English country garden,’ full of color and life, but using predominantly native and drought tolerant plant selections.


Just look at the result!  The original birch is thriving, and I just might want to curl up on that sofa in the sunshine and take a catnap!