A Blank Slate
You’ve heard of the “bridge to nowhere”? Well, before these Arlington homeowners consulted landscape architect Howard Cohen, they had the patio doors to nowhere. The builder of their new home had finished his job at the back door. There weren’t even steps to the yard. Viewed from inside the house those patio doors framed a view of a flat, featureless expanse of lawn.
The homeowners say they’d been living in the house for several years when they decided it was time to do something with their “blank slate” of a yard. They wanted to create an outdoor living space that would that would possess a “wow factor” without appearing to be pretentious or over done. They carefully interviewed several landscape architects and landscaping contractors before deciding that Cohen would be the landscape architect to take on their project:
We went to three homes that Howard did and each -while not exactly the look we wanted- had a certain element of natural beauty that we wanted. Each one was different, but each seemed right for the size of the yard. Howard’s designs just exude natural eloquence.
Design Challenges on a Flat Site
Due to the extreme flatness of the site, drainage was a concern. Cohen explained to the homeowners that plants might get too much moisture because flat sites don’t drain as well as those with some slope. To create visual interest and a healthier environment for the plants, the landscape architect designed raised planting beds (so the roots could drain) and a knee wall bordering the main patio area.
Just beyond the patio he specified an outdoor fireplace pavilion –also raised a few steps up. These subtle elevation changes help define space and lead the eye toward focal points as you move through the landscape. The steps leading up to the fireplace pavilion, Cohen says, “create a sense of arrival at a different place.”
The Heart of the Landscape Design
The heart of this landscape project is the fireplace pavilion. The owners wanted to have easy access to their yard and a place to sit and relax. Originally, they’d thought of adding a porch off the back of the house. Like the yard, the rear elevation of the house was rather featureless and they wanted to add some architectural detail. Instead, the landscape architect designed an arbor to frame the doors to the yard and changed the porch idea into a pavilion—which put the new sitting space fully out in the yard.
Just looking out at the yard is inner joy to me. Howard creates this sense that you are escaping your outside surroundings and you are in your own private haven.
Listening & Learning
The owners describe themselves as “meticulous people.” Cohen agrees. He says his clients asked questions about everything:
They were good researchers—which made it easier for me to know I was hitting the mark with what they wanted. I got some new insights from that experience with them. Howard Cohen, Landscape Architect
Sometimes there are little details we may not notice because clients don’t bring them to our attention. When we laid out the Pennsylvania flagstone for their new patio, the clients wanted to know why it was all scratched up. Cohen explained that is just the way flagstone looks. The clients didn’t like it. Cohen said it was easy to fix. He’d torch it. When we cut flagstone we wave a torch along the edge of the cut. The stone softens from the heat and smooths out the saw marks. So Cohen asked his crew to use this technique to smooth out scratch marks on the flagstone. He says that wouldn’t have thought of this if they clients hadn’t asked about it. Now he’s applying the smoothing technique to all their flagstone patios.
Finishing Touch: A Basalt Fountain
This wasn’t part of the original design program, but the owners admitted that they’d always wanted a garden fountain. Cohen came up with the idea of using a block of columnar basalt, a one-of-a-kind type of stone that emanates primitive beauty.
Basalt emerges from the earth in vertical columns. It is an igneous rock formed by the rapid cooling of magma flows. This fountain stone was pre-drilled for plumbing by Stone Forest Inc. The Santa Fe company specializes in the design of garden ornaments, sculpture and fountains.
This landscape design project is a good example of what can be done with a “small” yard. Before meeting Cohen, the owners may have thought their yard too small to require the expertise of a landscape architect and a large design build company. As it turned out, the size of the space doesn’t preclude the value of creative design and rigorous construction management.
So, if your back yard is smallish, there’s no reason to think that it won’t be able to accommodate big landscape design ideas. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our landscape architects.