Grown-Up Outdoor Oasis
With the kids gone, the homeowners reclaim their outdoor living space with help from Jeff Tohl.
With a playground, tricycle path and basketball hoop all taken down, there was now room for grown-up fun — sitting by a fireplace, eating outdoors and having great views with a hot tub nearby. Even the family dog loves his new choice of places to sniff and explore. Designer Jeff Tohl of The Architecture Studio Inc., shares with us how he created an outdoor getaway.
Describe the homeowners' wishlist.
Now that the children were grown, the homeowners' main goal in redesigning the terrace was to make it more of an adult entertaining space with an outdoor fireplace, built-in dining area and living room space.
What were the homeowners' design problems?
The single largest issue was creating an outdoor living space that related to the indoors and was geared to adults not children. Prior incarnations of the space had been as a playground, tricycle path and basketball hoop.
What was your biggest obstacle in this space?
As the outdoor space was much higher than the sidewalk — it was 33 feet above the street — the biggest challenge was figuring out how to get material up to and out of the space. When demolishing the previous deck, we realized it would be cheaper to keep the concrete debris onsite, so we used that for an upper terrace. If we had gone the traditional route and built a standard fireplace, we would have encountered lots of difficulties. Instead, we built a gas-fed hearth with an interesting hearth.
How does the end result match up with your original vision?
We had spent such a long time discussing where we wanted things and how we were going to accomplish it that by the time we got to the final game plan, everything ended up better than we expected. Full disclosure: the home belongs to an architect.
What lessons did you learn?
The biggest lesson we learned was to simplify, simplify, simplify. The challenge was to design a few simple elements that would make powerful design statements. The yard has three major elements: a raised planter with a large Yucca tree in it that conceals the stair to the upper yard; a raised concrete hearth with a fireplace that creates visual focus; and a planter wall that runs along the high retaining wall, diminishing its scale and creating opportunities for planting, which is important, because it prevents the family dog from digging.
What are the "hidden gems"?
There are several hidden gems in this plan. The way the fireplace hearth, made of raw industrial panels, has rusted out and has a patina of different colors of rust. The diversity of plants in the yard ranges from the sculptural Yucca plant and the succulents in the lower planter to the Dr. Seuss tree with its unique trunk and branch structure, as well as a mixture of succulents and other flowering plants growing together in the vertical planter. The small fountain was created by the architect homeowner from a couple of basalt columns.