Local Designers and architects share how they crafted outdoor spaces that make us want to pull up a lounge chair, pour a cocktail, and soak up some rays.
– Modern Marvel –
Jason Taylor, Nick Viazzo, & Nicolas Mariscal
Taylor Viazzo Architects
The homeowners wanted to turn their backyard into a grand space for entertaining, cooking, and play. What they got checks off everything on their want list, including a pool house that is multifunctional as a space where they can lounge, eat, shower, dance, and paint.
The challenge was that the yard sits on a rocky terrain with more than 100 feet of slope. The town prohibits building on steep slopes, leaving only a narrow strip of flat land beside the pool that was too small to be useful. To compound the problem, the available flat land was supported by an old rubble retaining wall that was slowly failing. To solve this, the team created a new floor space by cantilevering the structure out over the slope. New concrete and segmental block retaining walls stabilized the site and reconfigured the patios.
The Pool House Design
The two-story pool-house structure packs multiple functions into 2,150 square feet. It is connected to 5,230 square feet of patio, pool, spa, stairs, and planting beds. An operable glass wall allows the ground floor to serve as a shaded extension of the outdoor-pool area, complete with a bar, food-prep area, wood-burning pizza oven, and fireplace. “At night,” says architect Jason Taylor, “the yard comes to life, with an array of strategically aimed LEDs that highlight the structures without causing light pollution. But when the chairs move aside and the spotlights hit the disco ball, the real party begins.”
The Landscape Design
“The pool house was really only half of our design,” says Jason. “A study of the old patios and retaining walls that buttressed the plateau of the yard revealed major structural issues. Almost everything was slowly sliding downhill. With the fortunate exception of the pool, we had to redesign and rebuild most of the yard.”
The landscape designer, Barbara Taylor, who also happens to be Jason’s mother, worked with the team to develop the configuration of new concrete terrace and pool patio.
“The new patios give the owners ample space for dining, play, and entertaining,” says Jason. “At night, landscape lighting shoots through the blades and plumes, casting dramatic shadows on the concrete.”
“Since the pool cantilevers out over the steep hillside, it’s farthest edge starts more than 30 feet above the ground. This is where we put the shower,” says Jason. “With the forest canopy for privacy, we were able to make the shower’s outer wall from glass. This leads to the really fun experience of showering in the treetops.”
Contractor: Freeform Construction
Structural Engineer: Disalvo Engineering Group
Landscape Designer: Barbara Taylor
Lighting Designer: Patdo Light Studio
– Rustic & Regal –
Carol Kurth, FAIA, ASID
Christine Lent, AIA
Tina Schwab, Design Team Associate
Samantha Marino, Design Team Liaison
Carol Kurth Architecture + Carol Kurth Interiors
This new construction was built to evoke the essence of a modern treehouse. Lovingly called Treetop Lodge, it is sited atop rocky terrain in a natural-woodland setting. The team was tasked with creating a warm, inviting, and comfortable home as a weekend retreat.
A screened dining-and-entertaining deck is framed by a sheltered, vaulted skylighted roof, detailed with timber framing that appears to go from interior to exterior, creating a visual flow. The outdoor area includes a campfire pit and terrace, and spa amenities that include a hot tub and waterfall. “Twin ‘swing’ beds were designed by the team and provide a relaxed mood,” adds Carol Kurth, FAIA, ASID of Carol Kurth Architecture + Carol Kurth Interiors.
“Siting the house so that it seems to emerge from its rock material makes it feel like it’s one with its environment,” says Kurth. “It was one of my favorite parts of the project.”
The exterior of the house uses stone, reclaimed timbers, and siding that work with natural elements indigenous to the site. “The exterior stain color is inspired by the bark of the treetops; the stone is a carefully crafted blend of New York and Pennsylvania stones, and the tonal furniture palette create a serene backdrop for relaxation amidst the trees,” says Kurth.
Taking in the View
“I envisioned this weekend sanctuary as a home emerging from the rock,” says Kurth. “The outdoor spaces were thoughtfully conceived to sit under a woodland canopy of trees. The firepit was designed to be located at the pinnacle of the patio, so it is visible from multiple vantage points, including a great spot to warm up on a cool evening, adjacent to the spa area with hot tub and waterfall.”
General Contractor: Tom Yaroscak, Legacy Development Northeast
Structural Engineer: Scott Erricson, PE, E2 Engineering
Site Engineering: Sabri Barriser, PE, Bibbo Associates
Site Work: Scott Mahr, SRM Construction
Landscaping Consultant: Michael W. Olivieri, ASLA, CNLP, Michael and Sons Nurseries, Inc.
Energy Consultant/HERS Rater: Tony Lisanti
Geothermal Consultant: Chris Ryen, GEO
Surveyor: H. Stanley Johnson
Wetlands and Soils Consulting: Paul J. Jaehnig
Hardware: Baldwin Hardware
Swings: New England Antique Lumber
Exterior and Interior Trusses: South End Reclaimed
Windows: Marvin Windows
Stone Supplier: Bedford Stone and Masonry
Stone Masons: Luigi Rogliano, Rogliano Construction
– Luxury on the Water –
Gunn Landscape Architecture
The homeowners loved that the property overlooks beautiful Long Island Sound and wanted to enhance their connection to it. What was a dated, circulate patio located on a stretch of waterfront is now a breathtaking multifunctional outdoor space for the family to relax, cook, and entertain, simultaneously taking care of some landscaping challenges.
Gunn Landscape Architecture created a space with clean angular lines, including a raised deck and arbor with planters that offer a more formal dining spot, while on the lower level, a lounge area with a fireplace was created as a restful setting for informal entertaining. The adjacent swimming pool includes a built-in console and contemporary furnishings, providing the family with everything they need to relax. Plantings such as Northern bayberry, salt spray rose, echinacea, French lavender, meadow sage, and thyme thrive in the garden and provide relaxing fragrances.
There was a 942 sq. ft. pool that the homeowners wanted to be viewed from the dining area and connected via a path. Prior to the demolition, there was an old paving that collected dirt and debris. Gunn’s design built up the sea wall, removed the scrub and weeds, which blocked sightlines, and added different levels so that varying vistas could be enjoyed.
The team designed a outdoor kitchen with an Argentinian-style Kalamazoo grill, stainless-steel backsplash and hood, along with cedar cabinets, to fit underneath the rear porch so that the cooking area, which is near the interior kitchen, could be located close to the dining and entertaining areas.
Gunn designed the retaining walls, patio area, poolside, and steps to be made of poured concrete and limestone pavers. This was complemented by the ipe features, including the deck, bench, and steel arbor with ipe cladding.
“My favorite part is the horizontal aspects of the design, which mimic the water and let the eye seamlessly move from one to the other,” says Gunn.
Gunn Landscape Architecture
– Natural Beauty –
Absolute Green Homes, Inc.
Where there was once leftover lawn that had eroded due to a steep incline of the terrain is now multiple terraces, thanks to a stone retaining wall. This amazing backyard includes one deck, two patios, one firepit, a harbor, a dock, a fireplace/brick-oven-pizza combination, a built-in gas grill, a small vegetable garden, and more than 200 feet of walkways to navigate all there is to offer.
The space looks out onto the Truesdale Lake with a western view, where Sylvain Côté, the homeowner and designer, can see the sunset or watch wildlife.
Côté says this depends on how many guests he’s entertaining. “If there are several of us, the firepit by the lake is best; if it’s just two or four of us, definitely the fireplace,” says Côté. “I recently added a new seating area right next to the fireplace, with barstools and an eight-foot-long stone countertop at bar-height overlooking the lake, and it’s just an incredible spot to watch the day winding down and to enjoy dinner.”
“When designing any space — whether indoor or outdoor — I envision myself using it, either working in it or just enjoying it,” says Côté. “I picture myself there with friends and guests, particularly with how the space will flow, even with a larger crowd. Lighting is also one of my top priorities and sadly often overlooked.
“I think when designing outdoor spaces, you want it to look as organic as possible, something that blends with nature, almost like it was grown out of the ground.”
Côté avoided using concrete and mortar as much as possible in this design, instead using stone. “Stone walls built in a dry stack manner, without or with very little ‘invisible’ mortar, and a ‘floating’ patio, without any mortar at all, is a big step toward that goal. Not using mortar at all is more forgiving and actually greatly reduces the maintenance and increases the life expectancy.”
– Backyard Haven –
Tara Kantor Interiors
This Scarsdale home, which is owned and designed by Tara Kantor of Tara Kantor Interiors, sits on just over an acre of property. Several distinct areas make up the backyard, including a pool room with folding Nano doors that open up to the pool and outdoor grilling area, a covered patio with lounge furniture, dining area complete with storage, and fireplace, a ping-pong table, and a large grassy area for the kids to play.
Kantor was able to design the entire house from scratch, including the backyard. “We knew right from the beginning we wanted the pool area to be close to the house and that we wanted some kind of indoor/outdoor entertaining space,” says Kantor. “We wanted a space where we could be with our friends and family in a connected space with amazing flow and convenience. Whether it’s my husband and my kids swimming in the pool while I grill Friday-night skirt steak or having 10 families over for Labor Day, we enjoy and appreciate the space to its fullest.”
Just as an indoor space should reflect a person’s lifestyle and aesthetic, so should an outdoor space. “There is something personal and unique for each client,” says Kantor. “For example, if you like to make s’mores, adding a firepit is a great idea. I love to play ping-pong, so I have an indoor/outdoor ping-pong table.”
Flow of the space and maximizing seating is also key, according to Kantor. “I think sofas and sectionals are replacing lounge chairs, and with good reason. First, people don’t sit in the sun as much anymore, but more importantly, sofas and sectionals are more conducive to having conversations and keeping people close together.”
“There are certain materials that have greater longevity than others, including bleach-cleanable fabrics, marine vinyl, powder-coated steel, and teak,” says Kantor. “My sectional, which looks like it was custom-designed, as it fits the space so perfectly, is actually from Restoration Hardware, and the indoor/outdoor white-terry fabric is bleach-cleanable! The upholstery of the pool lounge chairs is covered in a marine vinyl, which is the same type of vinyl boats use.”
Contractors: Murphy Brothers Contracting
Landscaping: Materia Designs
Cabinetry: John Johnstone
Stone and Tile: Marble America, Stone in Outdoor Server, Guetta Building
Architect: Leonard Brandes Architects
– Dining Alfresco –
Conte & Conte Landscape Architect
Prior to renovation, this was a somewhat-underutilized space between the house and the barn on the property. The verdant slope was too steep for any recreational activity; however, the previous owner had been a gardener and had impressively planted many shade loving plants, such as hostas, which were relocated in the reworking of the space. The most dominant feature in the landscape was the very old regal American beech tree, which provided a natural canopy to the space and whose scarred trunk spoke for the age and history of the property.
“The primary goal of the homeowners was to create a welcoming and comfortable outdoor space for large family gatherings,” says Cleo Abram-Horsburgh, RLA, ASLA of Conte & Conte. “Part of the house’s renovation work was converting the old loft into entertainment space for all ages, and the landscape was envisioned for guests to spill out into a cozy outdoor living room, dining and kitchen area, and a hilltop campfire pit for roasting marshmallows.”
Made For a Chef
The outdoor kitchen is equipped with top-of-the-line appliances, including a Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire grill, a professional-grade grill that can also cook with charcoal and wood. Cabinetry, refrigerator, and freezer (all Kalamazoo Signature series) are built right into the stone and have weather-tight seals that allow them to store dinnerware and cooking tools outside year-round. A built-in wine-cooling tub is a fun feature for parties.
Unlike other backyard spaces that look out to a view, the main space of this view is actually directed in. “The site is cut deep into the hillside, with the old barn presiding at the top, and the new retaining walls and plantings surrounding the lower terraces,” says Abram-Horsburgh.” The visual scale of the space is greatly enhanced by the layering of the terraces, which delineate the foreground, middle ground, and background. As used in artwork, the different planes add depth to the landscape.”
“I recommend working with a good landscape architect, like Conte and Conte,” says Jimmy Crisp, founder of Crisp Architects. “After that, it is about making a space that is either so easy to get to, that it is natural to interact with it, like interior space, or make an outdoor space that is so compelling that it is worth the walk and is treated as a destination.”
Abrams-Horsburgh adds, “Every landscape has unique constraints that may appear daunting but are likely to become the most interesting part of the design. Analyze possible ways the space works with lifestyle, what elements would draw people outside but also remember to value the potential views from inside,” she advises. “Through each window there is an opportunity for a work of Mother Nature’s art.”
Conte & Conte Landscape Architect