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Mid Century Modern Landscape Design Starts With the Right Fence

Woodstock Mid Century Modern Landscape Design Remodel starts with the right fence.

 

Mid century modern landscape in Woodstock neighborhood

I got a phone call from Larry and Jan.  I could tell we were a great match from the first phone call.

Before photo shows amazing windows and view of existing white fence and landscape.

This 1955 home sits on the corner. The white vinyl fence was on my goodbye list before I finished parking. It dominated the house and made some of the landscape problems 500% worse. It was new and expensive. I hoped they would not be appalled to learn I wanted it gone.

I walked into their house and I swear it felt like the house gave me a hello hug. There is a sense of a cape cod beach house owned for generations hidden in this modern mid-century. I could almost smell the pie.

Jan is a fabric artist and Larry has a keen appreciation of design and how things work together. This was going to be fun!

After landscape design mid century modern woodstock neighborhood

After design and installation of just right fence

The great room is all windows and makes the landscape outside of the home an intimate part of the inside of the home. The basement was beautifully finished with significant day light windows. They loved the light. My landscape plan would need to protect the light coming in from those windows.

My clients are neighborhood oriented. They like being across from the grade school and seeing kids come and go with their families. Yes, people could see them through some of those wonderful windows and no it didn’t bother them.

Clients Wish List

Before landscape design the fence accentuates the long line of the house

Before our Landscape Design in a Day

Maximize view from inside the home by adding year round colorful plants

Summer flowers and hydrangeas and hostas for Jan

Create a more inviting entry

Expand the back porch for BBQ and access to a new covered deck or patio

Use a coral bark maple given to them as a housewarming gift

Covered outdoor dining area for 8

There was some thought to having no fence at all or keeping the fence that came with the house

Designers Take

The right fence would be the hero for this design. A fence connects to the architecture of a house more than any arrangement of plants. Even a tree, unless it’s huge does not have the trans-formative power of a fence. Get it wrong and it will bring the entire landscape and home down to its level. The right fence needs to be subordinate to the house and work with the style of the home not detract from it or cheapen it.

Getting It Right

The right fence would be the hero for this landscape design

We all loved the design layout drawing that broke the straight lines of the fence and made space for plantings along the sidewalk. I worked through several versions of this design and my clients selected their favorite. They loved the fence I found on the Houzz site. It was a happy day when I saw the existing white vinyl fence being hauled off for donation to Habitat for Humanity Restore.

Covered Dining Area and Deck

We enlarged the back porch and brought a large covered dining area around the back corner of the house. The deck and cover stops before we get to the array of windows. I didn’t want to see deck furniture or lose light. The deck cover is a louvered roof system from Cardinal Motorized Pergolas. Larry and Jan were very pleased with their representative Kathy Hammer.

Jan preferred a flagstone entry path. It would look best with the original concrete porch side yard walk and brick planters. The flagstone would add contrast and create visual softening.

Synthetic Lawn, Planters and a Bench

Mid century modern landscape design with a flagstone path and benchRaised planters answered Jan’s desire for herbs and a few edibles. The proportions of the planter, and an attractive construction, integrate nicely with the overall design.

Synthetic lawn is easy care and got their grandchild’s stamp of approval.

Installation

We moved into the installation phase without completing a planting plan because we knew we wanted to tweak the fence and path placements on site. I would never do this unless I have a long term working relationship with the contractor. I’ve seen many fantastic designs go down in sad smoke because a contractor redesigned and installed what he wanted.

I introduced my favorite landscape contractor, Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors and Victor Vincell,a building contractor with a most excellent eye and know how. The five of us, clients, designer and contractors worked together and a happy installation followed. The planting plan was completed and installed including a large Coral Bark Maple.

Finishing Touches Add Entry Appeal

Mid Century modern landscape style is simple and colorful

Colorful sidewalk plantings with a balance of evergreens and deciduous shrubs and perennials created full season interest.

We went with a flagstone path (over modern slab pavers) for the entry and kept the original concrete porch and path. Keeping these elements worked well with the original brick planters which were painted a charcoal to go with the new colors of the house. The flagstone added a natural effect.

The clients replaced the skinny gutters (which didn’t handle the volume of winter rain water properly anyway) with nice big fat ones. It was amazing to me how this change amplified the modern style. The house body, trim and brick planters were painted, and the fence carefully stained to work well with the new colors.

The clients selected a bench to give the north side path a destination and provided me with a list of street tree options for their parking strips.  I selected Nyssa Sylvatica -Black Tupelo, two ‘After Burner’ for red leaves and one ‘Tupelo Tower’ for orange gold leaves. They were planted just in time to see their beautiful fall color.

Client Comments

Here is what Jan and Larry had to say about their experience.

“We loved our experience with Carol Lindsay of Landscape Design in a Day.  She understood us and our house and exceeded our expectations. The difference in the welcoming appeal of the house and the usability of the landscape is night and day. Her unique collaborative design process worked well for us. She suggested Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors to install and our experience with Donna was also over the top excellent.”

I love to work with landscapes in city neighborhoods.  Finding the right balance of privacy and adding value to the home and the neighborhood is a joy.  I’ve visited Jan and Larry and the friendly house several times since then.  It always feels warm and cozy.

Landscape Remodel for Woodlawn Neighborhood Back Yard

Woodlawn neighborhood before photo of landscape design projectLandscape Remodel for Woodlawn Neighborhood Back Yard

My new clients have a corner lot in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. They were referred by their friend Julia whose Rose City neighborhood landscape I had designed. The flow of this back yard just didn’t work.  They didn’t have anywhere to enjoy sitting outside. They tried to imagine a new design but the house and property would not cooperate. I have felt this sort of surliness from a house in the past. The house crosses its arms and says I will not let you change me. Okay that’s a little weird but this was one of those times.

Designers Site Assessment

The yard area between the driveway and kitchen door on the west side is small and well past its maximum uses. It has the back porch, a planting area with a fig tree, a basement door, a garage door and a door to the mud room and kitchen. Each door requires transportation space to access it. They were trying to use the small back porch to BBQ and sit out on but in addition to being way too small, it was hot as Hades in the summer. The sunny south side yard was narrow but had no easy access to the kitchen. The door you see above leads to the basement, not the house, so they did not use the side yard.

Landscape designers know that a great design is all about how you move through a space and this yard needed someone to treat it like the Rubik cube it was and explore what was possible.

Client Want List

split level deck maximizes space in small NE Portland back yardThey wanted a place to BBQ and sit outside in cool shade.  Their small porch radiated heat and baked in the summer. They wanted shade and plantings that would bring birds and life into the landscape, plants for low water and oh did I mention SHADE? They wanted to want to use their south side yard for something but it had no easy access to the kitchen and had an extensive french drain to work around. They wanted absolutely no lawn and any new plantings to be low maintenance.

Design Solutions

We created many different layouts for the property searching for the best use of space. We all liked the design that replaced the tiny existing porch with a multi-level deck/porch. We  took out the planting bed with the fig tree. This allowed us to add a new lower level “dining” deck all the way to the fence and put the BBQ function on the upper level. Dan could not believe how much wasted space they had in the old layout and how much room they gained in the new one. But how would we provide shade to this baking area?

Getting great shade exactly where my clients wanted it was challenging. Designing overhead cover options for the new expanded 2 level porch was going to add another 8 to 15 grand. Our obvious choices were:

an arbor with canvas shade cloth – expensive

a large retractable awning – expensive

a very large tree (price tag installed at 8 to 10 grand)

After landscape design brings life to narrow side yard

Progress photo from D & J Landscape Contractors shows our two young shade trees and the partially completed new deck

The answer came from an unexpected place.

South Side Yard to the Rescue

After Alana and I flipped several layout drawings every which way, we discovered there was a perfect spot just around the house corner begging to be a small patio. We could plant a tree between this small patio sitting area and the SW sun to provide shade the very first summer. Our clients could use their new dining deck the first year on cooler days and use the new side yard patio for hot days. This small stone patio will have shade quickly. Which left us free to purchase our primary shade tree (to shade the porch) at an affordable size. We planted a 3″ caliper tree at about 12′ feet tall.

It will be 5 years before this tree provides much cooling. They will have to use an umbrella now and in ten years they will have the shade they want.

(Alana Chau was my apprentice for this Landscape Design in a Day and is now my design associate.)

The dry well and french drains were a little tricky for us. By law, landscape designers cannot make changes to drainage or make recommendations. We had to create solutions that would not disturb the drains. We knew our favorite licensed landscape contractor, Donna Burdick, would be able to simplify some of the restrictions we were given by our clients regarding the existing drain systems. Happily, our clients decided to hire Donna of D & J Landscape Contractors for the install.  She had installed the design for their friend Julia as well. Donna was able to improve the grade and lessen the volume of water to the dry well which gave us more room for our plantings.

New side yard patios create faster shade for clientsThe Side Yard Comes to Life

By adding a small stone patio along the side of the house and making a raised garden bed for the plants, we gave our clients a reason to enjoy their side yard which previously had been a dead zone. Dan says, “it’s so much better being back here because it is so much more alive. Now there are birds and bees in the garden.”  This planting area includes pollinator friendly cone flower, lavander and nearby native plants such as vine maple, ocean spray, salal and sword fern. We included a manzanita for hummingbirds and winter flowers.

Trees 

I confess I agonized over the selection. I wanted to use a Kentucky Coffee tree for its fast shade and strong wood but could not find one big enough to start with. I also toyed with an unusual evergreen oak but it grew too slowly. I finally went with a Japanese Elm, Zelkoua serrata ‘City Sprite’ because I could find it in the perfect size for planting and it would not get too wide for the space between the garage and the second story of the house. The “surprise patio” tree is a Cornelian Cherry, proper name is Cornus Mas and it is an unusual form of dogwood. It’s a wonderful tree for birds, handles hot sun well or part shade and will be a smaller round headed tree.

After residentail landscape design creates spacious and welcoming entry

Welcome home entry area has room to move an attractive gate and a (white tag) dwarf fig tree.

The Family Entry

Before driveway leaves little room for entry to the back yard

Before our Landscape Design in a Day process, the driveway space is a little tight.

The driveway didn’t have enough room to get out of the car comfortably because of the location of the fence and gate. I have to comment that my clients were fine with the tight access from the car. I am the one that felt it was too tight. It was hard for them to believe that giving up 18″ of their precious deck dining area could possibly be smart. However, they were  sure they only needed room for 4 people on the dining deck and that 90% of the time it would be 2. That gave me a stronger reason to gently push my idea about a spacious entry area from the driveway. Christie was the one who parked in the driveway and I think maybe she thought I was nuts at first. Happily they went for adding the additional space to the driveway area which gave us room to set the new gate at a welcoming 45 degree angle. They still had comfortable access into their new back yard whether carrying groceries or something more complicated. They lost their existing fig tree to the new dining deck –  it was extra sweet to find the perfect spot for a fig tree in the new design.

Materials used in the design

Variegated Lavender Blue stone for the dry set flagstone patio and path

Cedar decking 2 x 6

Deck stain brand is Storm – color is cedar

1/4″ minus compacted crushed rock for the paths

Woodlawn home gets Mossy rock delivery for new landscapeMossy rock for the raised planting bed -It has a rustic feel to it that I like and it will moss up nicely.  It also has the advantage of being lighter than basalt so easier for the contractors to bring in and use.

Check out the beautiful gate!!!

Cable railing for the deck; Dan says the open cable railing makes the whole garden feel like one space including the deck. He loves it.

 

 

 

Laurelhurst Neighborhood Home Gets a New Backyard

Laurelhurst home landscape design creates functional space and room for plants.

Beautiful new backyard for this Laurelhurst Home

Clients Wish List

This client is a gardener extraordinaire. She had several beloved existing plants to work into the design, and a list of favorite plants.  The planting plan would be a collaborative design effort that would ensure her garden was colorful and encouraged hummingbirds and pollinators to visit.  The planting plan would be focused on summer and fall with full season interest plants situated for views from important windows.  Everything else would be for enjoying while outdoors.  She wanted her new garden to be a place that she could live in all summer and fall.

Her current backyard was not a friendly place to be in although it had beautiful plantings.  The existing sitting area was a narrow and awkward small deck.  Happily, it was old and rotting, so designing a comfortable sitting area right off the kitchen door didn’t mean removing a deck that still had years of life in it. She also wanted a bit more privacy on that upper deck.

She wanted a patio that could be multi-purpose –  seating or BBQ station or lounging with rooms for colorful plants in pots like Cuphea (Firecracker Plant).  Cuphea attracts hummingbirds like crazy in the summer and she always has a pot or two to enjoy.

Kebony Fence and gate for Laurelhurst neighborhood home.

Gate solution – Kebony instead of wood graces this Victor Vencill fence design in Laurelhurst neighborhood.

 

Designers Perspective

We love designing for city proprieties.  One of the challenges of the site is the short distance between the corner of the garage and the corner of the house. This is a classic spacial problem we often encounter with houses in old Portland neighborhoods like Laurelhurst.  It’s tricky for homeowners to figure out how to get a comfortable access path into the back yard without crowding out a useful back porch space.  We needed a ground level gate,  comfortable access to the garage and a big enough upper deck to accommodate a 4-person table.  The solution was a gate that opened out toward the driveway and also relocated the stairs to the house further away from this congested area.

Privacy

To create privacy for the upper deck from the neighbor’s yard, we designed a planter (flush with the deck).  Clumping bamboo will brighten the deck and provide the privacy needed.

Laurelhurst home gets creative and functional backyard landscape design

Before lower deck ate up space for plantings.

The large lower deck was ripped out and we opted for a smaller flagstone patio. The patio is at the same level as the garden and gives more space for plants, which this homeowner is keen on. The two materials also creates visual appeal by providing different colors and textures for different garden “rooms”.

Stairs Matter

Because the sliding glass door is so much higher than the backyard, 6 steps are needed to get down to ground level.  The key to increasing useful space that is more inviting is to stretch out our 6 steps and turn them.

Smart use of space for backyard landscape design in Laurelhurst neighborhood, Portland, Oregon

After Design-Flagstone patio and Kebony deck creates functional space for two sitting areas.

While having stairs go straight isn’t wrong, we made a landing to easily access the stone patio on one side and the path for strolling through the lush and colorful hummingbird garden on the other.  Our client liked this simple and unique solution. If you turn right, you get to a lovely stone patio. If you turn left, you get to stroll through the beautiful hummingbird garden.

 

Laurelhurst back yard remodel before photo

Before – With the old deck removed, it’s easy to see how much space was wasted with the old layout.

Around the corner into the side yard, we opted for a budget friendly  low fence. We selected  Fi Bar cedar chips from Mt Scott Fuel for our path and for around the plants.  A generous helping of cedar chips makes for good weed suppression.  The plantings here will be seen from the dining room.  We used a few larger native shrubs to bring butterflies and other beneficial creatures.

Landscape design creates clients dream garden in Laurelhurst neighborhood

After photo-final day of installation. Notice the borrowed view of the neighbors trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plants

The client’s must-have plants included an assortment of salvias,  natives and other pollinator plants.

Salvia Guarantica 'Black and Blue' is just one of the plants kept from the original garden in Laurelhurst neighborhood backyard garden.

One of the Homeowner’s Salvia plants – She loves to share clumps with friends and neighbors.

Her favorite salvias include S. guaranitica, S. microphylla, and S. patens.

Big native shrubs included Red-Flowering Current (Ribes sanguineum) and Dwarf Vine Maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’).

Besides the salvias, we added the Yuletide Camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’), which is like hummingbird candy in winter. It is positioned perfectly so that the clients can see it through their sliding glass door in the winter where it will flower for months.

Installation

Large curve in path will allow room for Adirondack chairs in Laurelhurst neighborhood backyard.

Designer/Contractor Team Alana Chau, Associate Designer LDIAD with Sam from D & J Landscape Contractors.

We referred the installation of the garden to D&J Landscape Contractors .

Materials

The client introduced us to a product called Kebony – a wood that is grown sustainably and treated with a natural preservative. It is made from pine instead of the more commonly used cedar.

Kebony has been used in Europe for many years and is now available in the US. It starts as a warm brown that will take on silver tones as it ages.  The installation of the product might cost about 25% more but according to their website, it requires no maintenance and has a 30 year warranty!

The railing is stainless steel cabling by Precision Rail of Oregon.

The patios were made using irregular bluestone flagstone and compacted crushed rock.

FiBar cedar chips were used for the side yard path.

Contact us

Would you like to create an inviting backyard to watch the hummingbirds and relax?  We would love to work with you.  Call us at 503-223-2426 or use our contact form.

No Lawn Back Yard Landscape Design in Grant Park

Grant Park back porch and patio need a re design.

Before landscape design

Read More →

Deck Design for West Slope Modern Home is a Perfect Fit

Before Modern Deck Design West Slope Portland Oregon

So what would you do with such a mound? This back yard was too complex for these DIYers. Check out the gully!

 

Deck Design for West Slope Modern Home is a Perfect Fit

My new clients love architecture and have a great appreciation of modern design. Their new home is a beautifully designed ultra modern split level in the West Slope neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.  If you have preconceived notions about modern toss them out right here.  Wow what a great house.  My clients wanted to design their own landscape woodland sanctuary but the problems with the unusual site, especially in the back yard, had them baffled. Finding a landscape designer who sees her clients as design partners felt just right so they contacted me for a Landscape Design in a Day. Collaboration wins the day……… Full disclosure……….this property was too difficult to create in the same time frame as my more typical Landscape Design in a Day.  It took several appointments and many more hours to reach the right design.

Before modern landscape design in West Slope Portland Oregon with designer.

Me (Carol) conferring with clients. photo by Alana Chau

Clients Wish List

Easy access to the backyard from the house

What to do with the steep mound by the back doors?

Create a large enough entertainment area that is easy to access from the house

Create privacy from the adjacent park without blocking the view into the park

Block the view of 20′ concrete wall up the hill at the rear of the property. It loomed over the property

Create a planting plan for the steep shady hillside that provides year round color, and native plants for birds

Design an edibles garden for their narrow south side yard and create easier access to it

After modern deck design in West Slope Portland Oregon

Construction progress photo

Designers ‘Take’ on Difficult Site

I’ve never seen a property like this one in 25 years of Portland landscapes. The back yard is separated into two sloped spaces, an uphill and a downhill divided by a gully.

There is no functional access from the house to the back yard. Reaching the back yard requires negotiating down a steep muddy slope. The only level area is too small to use and also skews the proportions of the house. The house feels as if it’s floating and not remotely connected to the site. How could we pull this property into an integrated whole?

It’s a tough one and deserves my Difficult Site Award. The house is truly amazing and I love the challenge of making the outsides match the value of the insides. Once we get the design just right and it is installed, the back yard will be a jewel…….and yep it’s going to be a lot of work.

modern deck stairs and planter for modern home in West Slope Portland OregonMulti Level Deck Solution

I knew a multi-level deck would solve our 3 biggest problems.

  •  Create a pleasant and functional way to access both sides of the property
  •  Make two rooms for entertaining and enjoying the out of doors
  •  It will visually integrate the house to the land
  •  The large built in deck planters add a modern element that is proportional to the 8′ tall glass doors. They bring the view of year round interest plants and visiting birds to eye level from inside the house and give us a nifty way to organize our stairs.

The house is fantastic and modern so the deck design must be up to par.  One way to do that is to give our deck interesting angles rather than a rectangle thrust straight out into space.  Another way is to repeat the color of the house exterior in the planters and to skirt the deck to match the siding of the house. Integration is the mantra for this design.

Our deck design created several functional areas. The upper deck is for BBQ and intimate seating and sets up the transportation flow to the lower deck and north side yard. The stairs down to the lower deck is set at an angle creating both interest and best use of square footage for entertaining areas. The lower deck is for larger group dining. Their stairs help handle the grade issue (hide the steep mound) and allow us to easily reach the edibles garden.

Modern Deck Design in progress for West Slope HomeMaterials

Trex Contour Chateau Grey – deck walls and planters

Cable railing

DIY Projects

Next, they tackled the deck installation which required professionals and significant expense. Now that the deck is mostly completed, boulders will be installed in a rockery style around the deck. Planting this area will follow which my clients will DIY.

The next project is the hillside. They hope to install the hillside paths and finish installing their woodland planting plan on their own. Understory trees and shrubs will soften the view of the 20′ concrete wall and provide for birds. Forest floor plants like Salal, Vancouveria and Trillium will feed birds and pollinators alike. The narrow south side yard was the only location with enough sun for the edibles garden. They installed this garden right away, satisfying their gardening itch.

Client Comments

“We are grateful that our painstaking research of local landscape designers led us to Carol and Alana.  After a preliminary questionnaire to elicit our preferences, Carol and Alana spent significant quality time assessing our space and then sitting down with us at the dining table to begin their detailed and highly-tailored design process. We look forward to seeing our plants and gardens grow over the coming years and thoroughly trust that Carol and Alana have set us down the path of greatest success.”

Thank you to my collaborators; my clients and my design associate Alana Chau. For more information on how we can help your landscape design, contact us!