THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON RODALE’S ORGANIC LIFE.
A redesigned space becomes useable, stylish, and beautiful.
The redesign of this Chicago back yard is a great example of how defined shapes can dramatically improve the look and function of a property. The original landscape had multiple problems: The deck didn’t function to its full ability; the garage was less than attractive; and the play spaces weren’t being used by the children in the family, who had outgrown them. And, as in many other urban yards, there were too many views of neighboring structures.
The new design creates a series of clearly defined garden rooms and makes the small lot seem larger. The outdoor spaces vary in character and use: an open lawn, a woodland pathway, a spot for dining. Like the house itself—a two-story Victorian with a contemporary addition in back—the garden melds modern and traditional styles. The garden layout takes its cues from the geometric, clean-lined addition and the home’s interiors. Traditional plants and materials harmonize with the home’s Victorian architecture.
Set the mood. The open spaces flanking the house are perfect for gardens that ease the transition from public to private space. On the east side, we added small ornamental trees, shade-loving plants, and a meandering gravel pathway to make this journey an experience. Views of what lie ahead are revealed slowly. Sketching the initial concept directly onto a “before” photo helps to visualize what the new landscape will look like with plants added.
1. DRESS UP A PLAIN GARAGE
Instead of using the budget on structural or facade changes to the garage, we proposed a series of framed wire trellises to make the facade visually interesting. This simple change, paired with improved foundation plantings and a flagstone patio for dining, turns an area that was once ignored into an invitation.
2. DESIGN FOR FUNCTIONALITY
The original deck extended the full width of the house, but its lack of a railing made seating slightly uncomfortable and unsafe. We returned some of the deck space to the earth with new plantings and added a contemporary-style railing. The new deck offers a small seating area that overlooks the back yard. The grill, moved to the side of the deck, is still convenient to the kitchen but no longer part of the view from inside.
3. DRAW A CLEAR SHAPE
The bold oval lawn calls attention to one of the yard’s greatest assets, a mature tree that brings a sense of history and age to the garden, in addition to shade. Stone paving emphasizes the oval shape and clarifies circulation through the space.
4. CREATE GARDEN ROOMS
Plantings on the west side of the house outline a crisply drawn rectangular lawn. Trees and shrubs screen some views. The foundation plantings along the house balance those along the fence, further defining the lawn shape. Giving this space clear edges helps turn it into an outdoor room that functions as a destination within the garden.