Hidden just off Ward Parkway is a garden designed for entertaining a crowd, or relaxing just for two
When LesLee Huttie Smith and her husband, Pete Smith, moved into their current home on Westover Road, “the bones were beautiful,” says Huttie Smith. “The house had a wonderful structure. The outside is still exactly the same now as it was then, but it needed updating to reflect our lifestyle.” The original owners, who built the home in 1979, had five children and designed the interior for their family’s needs, so the Smiths knew they would need to do some interior work to make the home their own.
It was a three-phase process that lasted several years, with a constant parade of trucks and cars coming and going (“We had a Dumpster out there for so long,” remembers Huttie Smith now). Naturally enough, during that time the owners didn’t spend much time in the yard, as they knew its design would need to come last, once the heavy lifting was done. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking about it.
The Smiths worked with Meredith Quinn of 360 Architecure on all the architecture for the interior of their home, so as they were going through the planning and building process for the interior, they were also thinking about how to make the exterior a part of their lives. The family entertains a great deal—friends, charities, family including kids and grandkids—so they knew that they wanted to be able to use the backyard as an extension of their indoor living space. But there were challenges.
“Modern is very hard to do because it shows everything,” notes Huttie Smith, of the cool lines and open spaces both within and outside their home.
So, once they got the house right, they knew that they would have to apply the same look, feel, and attention to detail to the outdoor living space. Huttie Smith and Quinn discussed how best to use the area.
Because they entertain so often, they knew that they wanted to create a main decking area with several levels, so that groups of varying sizes could gather comfortably, whether two or 200. Also, because the house is modern in style, they knew they didn’t want to use traditional wooden decking, which has a more rustic appeal than the urban, contemporary look they favored.
After considering these challenges, as well as the fact that the goal was to create a circular flow from indoors to out, Quinn created a plan for the deck, which would take up most of the yard and allow both for a huge tree which grew in the center of the yard, and for the group of trees and plantings in a raised island, a pre-existing feature of the yard.
They also decided to wall off an extraneous garage entrance and to remove the stairs leading to it, which provided much more deck space and the clear flow they needed in the back of the house. And then they were ready to roll. In the first summer, over about three months, they built the deck—created in dark-gray planking to complement the black floors of the house—around the tree and under the island, and began to plan the vegetation.
And then, the large featured tree-in-the-deck died. Leaving the Smiths with a choice to either cut it down and have a hole in their deck, or to cut it down and totally redo the deck. With the problem-solving spirit endemic to the couple, they chose the former—and had a piece of glass cut to fit around the space exactly. They dragged their Holly Hunt dining table over the hole, embraced the feature lighting emanating from it, and called it good.
Less simple a solution were the plants. “I had a vision of what I wanted,” says Huttie Smith “I have a good eye. I know what I want things to look like, but I have a brown thumb.” Luckily though, Alleen VanBebber, a Master Gardener friend, was on hand to help.
“She was very kind,” Huttie Smith remembers. “She would say, ‘I know that’s what you want to grow there, but I don’t think that’s going to grow there,’ and that was a huge help.” So, the plans came together. She assembled a team, including John Floyd Grumbles of Floyd’s Restoration, who “really, really knows plants, and who managed to give me grass for the first time ever,” she says.
“It took a team,” she says now. “My friends told me what would grow and what wouldn’t, I told my guys where things should go, once I knew what I could grow, and John told them how they should go in in order for them to grow.” And grow they did. Now, the space is a lush, dappled green haven with punctuations of bright floral oases.
And, for the first summer, that was that. But the Smiths realized once they were outside really using their yard that they were missing something. Because the yard goes right up a neighbor’s driveway on one side and Ward Parkway on the other, the couple soon noted that they needed to create some sort of privacy and separation. What they needed, they came to see, was a wall.
“But we didn’t want it to look like some sort of prison,” says Huttie Smith. “We wanted it to be a high wall, but not look like we were keeping things out—and it needed to be in the style of the house.”
Then when entertaining their friend (and objet provider) John Francis of JNF Design, they explained their issue to him. “He said, ‘I have an idea!’ and it was brilliant,” says Huttie Smith.
His thought — to make numerous, unconnected, walls which would have open “window” spaces within them that would be linked by rows of arbor vitae—was perfect for the nature of the home. They border the dry creek bed installed by Ted Seiter with All About Landscaping. Now the walls surround the gardens with a coolly modern angularity, flush with green plantings and sporting chic metal tops, which mirror the deck’s edgings, and the metal in the glass-and-metal garden door, which anchors the far wall.
That door was the final piece of the puzzle. The family had been searching for just the right piece—one that would be true both to the house and the garden but had not been able to find it anywhere. So a custom-designed door from Bratton Corporation was the perfect solution. Now, coming from the street or the driveway, the frosted glass-and-metal door opens to a secret garden that is the best of many worlds—traditional, modern, contemporary and casually elegant.