2005 Winner Excelsior Award





Creating a landscape that is bold and accessible out of one which was bland and lacking in function had to be the primary intention in designing the above project. Since the whole exterior space required attention, it was important to come up with a design that had maximum impact with as cost-effective a budget as possible. By leaving the swimming pool, lawn and main patio areas in their original locations, we were able to give those areas complete facelifts generating incredible results, and still have the budget to focus on other vital components of the landscape such as the hillside, planting, carpentry, masonry and more. This strategy often allowed for an ‘unfolding’ of design elements as the project progressed, such as utilizing excavated native stone and stone samples to create the visual and aural distraction of a tumbling brook between two small, existing pine trees. The idea there, was that this water feature adeptly disguised a rather unpleasant concrete covered pipe that runs down the hill and through the property to the v-ditch and catchment basin. Older ranch style homes in this area are often challenged with similar obstacles and so it was rewarding to demonstrate some potential solutions to these local landscapes without compromising the natural environment further.

A key objective in our design was to make the house and garden area more private at the front and more secure for the children living there. Raising the sloped front yard in front of the two bedroom windows allowed for a wall and fence to be constructed which formed a screen and noise buffer from the street and from the neighbors’ driveway. Lush planting softened the view from both inside and outside the yard. Our intention was to create a distinctive entryway to the home incorporating a sense of flow between the front and back yards. The courtyard now has a unique feel to it and can make you forget you are entering a 60’s ranch home in the suburbs. On the opposite side of the new concrete driveway, old hedges and shrubs were removed and a berm was created around an old existing rock. Deer-resistant plants interspersed with rocks and boulders are anchored by a young ash tree.

Concentration was put on drainage, due to the positioning of the house and garden areas at the base of the open space hillside. A comprehensive drainage system was installed throughout the property, specifically behind retaining walls, under lawns, around perimeters of both the house and the garden, and included ensuring that roof rainwater is being collected and discharged directly to the street rain gutter.

The hillside was pushed back almost 5 feet to create a wider patio space around the pool, and two old railroad tie staircases, one at either end of the hillside, were removed along with an environmentally unsound and visually unattractive pressure-treated wooden retaining wall. By transferring the pool equipment behind the new Tuscan stone wall, further patio space was obtained. Curving the wall created interest and movement, while the expansive and welcoming stone staircase beckons you to walk up and see what is up there on the hillside. Previously virtually defunct, the hillside now has layers of virtues. In spite of the v-ditch running its length, stepping stones and pathways invite you to meander and explore the deck and view of Mount Tamalpais, the rose garden, the vegetable and fruit garden, the babbling brook and finally to the restful hammock house.

Dramatic improvements were made to the existing pool which was completely stripped to the shell and remodeled, using natural tones and textures to complement the surrounding Arizona flagstone patio and stone walls. Planters cut in around the pool and set with boulders and choice plants are stunning in the daytime and beautifully lit in the evening by the low voltage system that serves the lower areas of the yard and the hammock house. Note the ‘candle nooks’ in the wall behind the pool for dusk ambience. The additions of solar panels to heat the water, along with a salt-water system result in a swimming pool of the new millennia.

The gravel area on the north side of the house is intended for a future play area or service area. On the south side, the concrete was extended and enhanced with planting to create a pleasant yet serviceable side yard.

Irrigation is state-of-the-art and the plants the system supports are varied. Except for a few specimen plants, all the plants are newly planted with an accent on different sun and shade conditions and the attraction of humming birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects – a garden to encourage nature to come and visit, and to stay.
A plethora of fruit trees and vines augments the pleasures to be found here and at the peak of the summer the plants are overwhelming in their beauty, color, fragrance and fruit.

We intended to bring something special to this one third acre lot, with its hilly perspective and out-of-date features, and certainly what was achieved here may not fit all budgets. However, this project demonstrates a variety of possibilities and inspirations for bringing the ordinary to the extraordinary, whether on a large or small scale and we enjoyed immensely the whole process.

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