Prime Positioning

In Nashville, Tenn., one home enjoyed a beauty and distinction that abruptly ended when residents and guests stepped into the rear yard. There, they encountered a large L-shaped terrace and landscape marred by disjointed elements and scattered plantings. Poor past remodels skewed the environment, shifting the existing pool off center from plan and leaving ill-defined spaces.

The homeowners had worked separately with Wills Co. of Nashville and Wade Weissmann Architecture of Brown Deer, Wis., on their other properties and brought the two companies together to renovate the outdoor living space. Wendell Harmer, co-owner and general manager of Wills Co., says it proved to be an ideal collaboration. “We function as a design/build firm, and the architects helped maintain that process. At one point, we accomplished everything on the owners’ wish list; but when we discovered we were over budget, there was a lot of back and forth to adhere to the intent of the project. In the end, we reined in the budget and actually came out with better results,” Harmer asserts.

According to Eric Slavin, Wade Weissmann Architecture’s lead designer for the project, the new outdoor space provided more than a physical extension of the house. “The homeowners had a sophisticated design aesthetic that was evident in the home, but there was previously no way to bring that outside,” he says. “This project not only enhanced their living environment; it brought their personalities outdoors.”

Anchoring the Plan

To more clearly define the area, the architects designed an independent folly — a small ornamental structure popular in 18th century English and French landscapes. Although follies originally were considered fanciful because they served no obvious purpose, this folly achieves multiple objectives. The designers used it as an object to anchor one corner of the yard and form a perfectly square open courtyard off the home’s existing terrace. A fence hugs the far edge of the folly to separate the more contemplative space of the courtyard from the pool and to provide a protective enclosure for the owners’ dogs.

Standing as a small pavilion, the folly’s interior is equipped with a television, service bar, small refrigerator, dishwasher and fireplace for intimate dinner parties, football games or simply as a miniature retreat outside the house. “It was so fun to design a small-scaled building that had to be incredibly well-resolved to complement the home and bring clarity to the landscape plan,” recalls Wade Weissmann, owner and principal of Wade Weissmann Architecture. “It’s a jewel-box of a building.” Made of stone and brick punctuated by windows, the entire shell is solid, load-bearing masonry. The Wills Co. erected a steel structure first and then built the masonry skin, each piece of which had to be meticulously fabricated to precisely fit together like a puzzle. “The shop drawings were so efficient; we worked together to make sure all seams were perfect, all details and radiuses were resolved, and the pinning was precise,” Weissmann says.

Locating noisy mechanical equipment in the yard was not an acceptable option, so the folly relies on energy-efficient geothermal heating and contains a walk-in crawl space beneath the floor for equipment. The flat-topped structure supports a copper octagonal dome in keeping with the scale of the house.

Diverse Entertainment

With the folly in place at the southeast corner of the courtyard lawn, the plan positions a series of small living spaces on the perimeter of the open square. The spaces are connected to each other and frame the courtyard through a walkway of large rectangular Indiana limestone pavers. Green grasses grow up between the pavers like dotted lines to blur the distinction between hard- and soft-scapes.

The home has a large back loggia that opens onto the courtyard. At the southern end, a new dining area features an Indiana limestone table. Custom-made, the solid limestone table had to be craned into place atop a terrace of locally sourced gray Crab Orchard stone. Low walls of white-painted brick topped with limestone frame the dining area. A walkway lined by a series of cropped trees connects this terrace to the folly.

Centered across from the house and courtyard rests a discreet frog pond lined in limestone and set into another Crab Orchard stone terrace. A custom-designed limestone bench includes a flat “shelf” carved into the back as a place to set beverages. The pond allows the owners and their children to raise and catch tadpoles or simply sit and enjoy the sound of the bubbling water.

A long garage wall extending east of the northern end of the house creates the structure’s L-shape, and an existing portico at the far end was updated. The vestibule behind the portico is a cabana house with changing rooms, a bathroom and outdoor shower with easy access to the pool. The flat-topped brick garage was painted white to match the house, and the team planted espaliered fruit trees along the length of the garage to visually incorporate it into the landscape. “In addition, we added 18 in. in height to make a parapet wall and curved it at each end,” describes Ridley Wills, co-owner and design director of Wills Co. “All of these changes turned this wall into an asset and helped integrate the backyard into one cohesive whole.”

Originally, the courtyard had shrubs that limited outdoor entertaining. With the new open grass courtyard, the owners now have much more flexibility for entertaining large numbers of guests.

The team increased the depth and length of the home’s outdoor terrace to more than double its size and covered the space to create a loggia. The furnished area includes a fireplace, dining and seating sections and a painted wood ceiling accentuated by hand-hewn Douglas fir beams. Retractable screens are cleverly concealed in the rack above the loggia’s openings to offer protection from insects. The screens can be manually controlled, but once deployed, they also contain sensors that rise automatically when someone approaches to allow exit and entry.

The Deep End

To visually obscure where the offset pool begins and ends, the plan raised the lawn and placed the pool two steps down from the courtyard and further separated with the fence. An update gave the pool a darker, gray blue interior and new waterline tile.

“The darker color inside the pool allows the surface to really reflect, making it act more as a garden element than a pool,” Weissmann explains. The same limestone and Crab Orchard stone combination used in the upper landscape surrounds the pool. “At the same time, we wanted to celebrate the pool and enhance the space around it.” The designers added four zinc urns at the pool corners and centered the furnishings at either end for seating and dining areas.

The yard renovation became an award-winning space. “The project unified all these elements and solved multiple challenges within the budget,” Wills says. “Now, the owners have an outdoor living environment they can truly enjoy.”

KJ Fields writes from Portland, Ore., about remodeling and design.

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