A Backyard Culinary Oasis

How do you fit an outdoor kitchen and dining porch, mudroom, lap pool with a waterfall and a patio into a 5,600-square-foot yard when a detached garage already occupies a significant portion of this total area?

Designing the culinary oasis that won Silver in Qualified Remodeler’s 2010 Master Design Awards Outdoor Living category was “like solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle,” according to Donna Southwick, architect with Home ReBuilders, the Atlanta-based firm that provided design/build services for this project.“We needed to fit all the pieces cleanly together, so it didn’t look like this addition was just tacked on.”

Fortunately, the homeowners had a clear vision. As busy professionals who travel frequently, they enjoy using their home to the fullest when they are in town. They wanted a well-designed outdoor space where they could cook and dine al fresco, entertain guests, relax, or simply plunge into a pool to cool off after a long hike or bike ride. They also needed to add a mudroom and expand their breakfast room to make it more usable.

Connecting Outdoor Spaces

The existing 1920s-era home had been altered in the past, resulting in an interesting collage of forms and materials. The exterior cladding blended dark-red and slate-gray brick with a lighter gray stucco and white wood trim. A 2-story addition loomed over a short, elevated deck that created an awkward transition from the house to the backyard. An exterior staircase providing access to the basement had to be preserved and a side-yard setback respected. These constraints dictated where two edges of the new porch had to be located.

“We were intrigued by the opportunity to use a creative palette of materials to better connect the home to the backyard while smoothing the flow between the interior and exterior spaces and providing plenty of room for the homeowners to cook and entertain,” says Bill Bartlett, Home ReBuilder’s owner and account manager for this project.

The design addresses these goals by masterfully using a variety of stone, optimizing the layout and configuration of outdoor spaces, improving the efficiency of circulation and using lighting appropriate
for the activities occurring in each area.

“Like many houses in [its] Morningside neighborhood, this home has a granite foundation,” Southwick explains. “So there was a strong precedent for using stone to connect it to the earth.”

Selecting stone with colorations and textures that complemented the brick, stucco and new stainlesssteel kitchen equipment was critical. The stone work on the pool walls was completed by a separate pool contractor so an exact match was required for the patio and reconstructed pathways. The kitchen countertop and wall cap are granite. Bluestone was used for the porch’s floor and step risers, and stacked fieldstone was used for the vertical surfaces of the porch and steps.

“The clients wanted more texture and pop on the front face of the appliance island,” Southwick says. After reviewing a range of samples, they chose a stone tile that worked well with the stacked stone base of the porch. The stone tile came premounted to 12- by 18-inch sheets of rigid board that had to be meticulously fit together to ensure the finished surface was seamless, making the stone tiles appear as if they had been laid one at time.

To comply with code and appliance-installation requirements, the base of the counter was constructed using noncombustible steel studs and cementitious panel board. The stone tile boards then were adhered to this substrate.

Matching the existing exterior finishes also proved challenging. “Brick is used everywhere in Atlanta so we had a lot of options,” Southwick says. She reviewed these options onsite with the clients to pick the best match for brick and mortar. Because a previous addition prohibited the use of brick for some sections of the exterior wall, the design replicates existing stucco details on two of the walls near the outdoor cooking area.

Efficient Circulation

With the lot size, side-yard setback, outdoor staircase and lap pool setting rigid boundaries for the porch addition, Home ReBuilders had to accomplish a lot in a tightly constrained area. The kitchen equipment is efficiently configured to provide a food preparation area that meets the owners’ needs without being excessive. The remainder of the covered porch easily accommodates a long dining table with six chairs. Additional seating is located beneath the new arbor, which provides much-needed shading for the nearby windows while creating a visual bridge between the outdoor kitchen and the mudroom addition.

Hardscaping throughout the backyard was redone or added to create comfortable transitions and clear pathways between spaces. The porch addition includes three sets of steps: one leads from the food-preparation and dining
areas to the side yard where the trash bins are located (making cleanup a breeze); a second set of steps provides access from the porch to the pool via the patio; and the third set connects the mudroom addition to the detached garage and driveway at the back of the corner lot.

“Because most of the lawn was being eliminated, we decided to add some greenery by planting mini mondo grass between the patio pavers,” Southwick says. This provides a soft transition between the porch and pool—from visual and tactile standpoints—because mini mondo is hearty, dense and “fluffy for the feet.” It also requires very little maintenance because it remains 3- to 4-inches tall without needing to be mowed.

The design also features multiple lighting sources that were selected for functional, aesthetic and practical reasons. Recessed cans are carefully positioned over the outdoor kitchen’s countertop to reduce shadows. Mini spotlights with a copper finish illuminate the perimeter of the porch, providing ambient illumination and accentuating architectural details, such as the v-groove wood ceiling. Column-mounted lanterns light gathering areas and the steps that lead to the pool. All of the fixtures use standard bulbs, so the homeowners can easily find replacements at the local hardware store.

Thoughtful Collaboration

The variety of materials, textures and equipment needed to accomplish this project made precise execution and fine craftsmanship absolutely essential during each step of the phased construction process.

“The clients had high expectations,” Southwick says. “They wanted a good, quality design and our job was to make it happen. This was a complex puzzle that required a big collaborative effort. All the planning was completed in advance. A lot of the work on the pool was concurrent with ours. The pool contractor dug the pool at the same time we dug the foundations. The concrete work happened about the same time, as well. Then the finishing pool work dovetailed with ours.”

“We are happy with the fit and flow of the spaces,” Southwick notes. “Most importantly, the homeowners are thrilled. They invited the entire neighborhood over for a fourth of July party after the construction was finished.”

“They’ve already hired us to complete another project,” Bartlett adds. “What matters most to us is the good relationship we’ve developed with the homeowners. With 30 years of experience working in the Atlanta Metro Area, we know happy clients and continued patronage are the real measures of success.”

Fast Facts 2010 Master Design Awards Outdoor Living Silver Winner

  • Location: Atlanta
  • Remodeler: Home ReBuilders, Atlanta, www.homerebuilders.com
    • Bill Bartlett, president/owner/account manager
    • Donna Southwick, architect
    • Lisa Grisham and Kim Wingard, designers
    • Andy Tolley, project manager
  • Landscaper: Poulos Lawn Service, Decatur, Ga., (404) 325-7603
  • Pool contractor: Artistic Pools Inc., Atlanta, www.artisticpools.com

Specified Products

Stone: brick, bluestone and stacked fieldstone
Granite countertop: peacock polished
Island substrate: James Hardie Building Products Inc., www.jameshardie.com
Outdoor grill, side burner and stainless-steel cab inet doors: KitchenAid, www.kitchenaid.com
Ventilation: Vent-A-Hood, www.ventahood.com
Sink and faucet: Kohler, www.us.kohler.com

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