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.
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.