Outdoor Rooms Carmel Valley
There was the good news: a lovely house on a sizable corner lot.
Then there was the not-so-good news: a chunk of the real estate sloped steeply down to the street on two sides, while most of the Carmel Valley property’s level space was occupied by the house.
The band of land around three sides of the home was relatively narrow and not landscaped for the outdoor living that home owners Jennifer Lafontaine and Vic Desanti desired. Nor was there a play space suitable for their 5-year-old daughter.
For Barry Thau, of Eco Minded Solutions, the remedy was to rely largely on creating a sense of visual rather than actual space. His series of outdoor “rooms,”each dedicated to a specific activity, integrate with the interior of the house and flow naturally from one to another without feeling cramped or cluttered.
“We tried to choose, simple, elegant materials that add some texture, a little color,” Thau said.
One side yard had room for a lap pool and raised spa, both made with ledgestone. A small lounge area anchors one end of the space. A loose hedge of non-invasive bamboo(Bambusamultiplex ‘AlphonseKarr’) and giant bird of paradise contribute to the tropical ambiance. Originally, the kitchen and living room at the back of the house looked out on “a little patio with a lot of plants encroaching on the space,” Thau said.
After clearing out and paving the area, he relegated the plants – succulents, salvia, and other easy-care, low-water-usage species – to a narrow bed at the base of the house.
“The plants add a little softness, but they don’t encroach on the space,” Thau said.
Landscape Designer in San Diego Barry Thau created a series of compact “rooms” with a sense of space. Seating areas are within conversation range for easy entertaining. Indian laurel fig (Ficus nitida) planted against the back wall will grow to screen the area from the neighboring lot.
A small lounge area provides a place to gather and relax in front of a custom fountain, which is a ledgestone wall, six feet in height and width but shallow in depth. Water flows into a rectangular basin topped with flagstone caps that can provide extra seating for larger groups. Just a few steps away, Thau added a large barbecue and a granite-topped bar with comfortable seating for four.
A slightly more formal dining table is within easy conversation range. The transformation of the remaining side yard,which was just a walk-way, into a play area required physically enlarging the existing space. A six-foot-tall wall, which blocked the view, came to within a few feet from the house, Lafontaine said.
Thau expanded the width of the area by eight to 10 feet, bringing in additional soil to level the section. He replaced the old block wall with a lower retaining wall topped with an iron rail to open the area. The project, which took about five months, increased the area to about 700 square feet, approximately three times its former size.
Clean and durable artificial turf tops the revised space. “Initially it’s a little more of a price point, but you end up saving on water and maintenance,” Thau said. Part of this yard gets full sun while part is always in shade, which makes balancing the irrigation for a grass lawn a challenge.
“It looks like a completely different space,” Lafontaine said, “and it’s usable all year round. We really like it.”
Unlike the landscaping within the walls, the more public exterior is abundantly planted. Near the entry, kangaroo paw, flaxes and bougainvillea thrive along side a large umbrella
tree (Schefflera actinophylla), saved from the previous landscape because it contributes a screen between properties.
“If it has formand function,we try not to waste existing plant material,” Thau said.
The botanical largess continues on the slopes forming two sides of the corner lot, where a variety of succulents Russian sage, carpet roses and numerous others compose a mosaic
of shapes and textures.
Small trees – ficus, a queen palm, a Swan Hill olive – serve as visual anchor points. “The intention was to have different areas always flowering,”
The foliage itself exhibits a range of colors, from the acid yellow of licorice plants (Helichrysum), to blue senecio, to almost-black Aeonium Schwarzkopf. The design is generally low-maintenance, and watering needs are low.The slope also catches runoff from above.
There can be joy in both abundance and simplicity. “In the front, where we really have the space, we can develop the landscaping palette,” Thau said. “But sometimes less is more. Creating all these ‘rooms’ and not having it feel cluttered was probably the biggest challenge. I’m happy about how we utilized the space, and how it all worked together. ”
The house opens to this inviting lounge area, backed by a ledgestone fountain. The different “outdoor rooms” flow easily into each other. Clean, modern lines and restrained use of plants integrate visually with the house and contribute to an open feeling. BILL WECHTER •
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