An Urban Retreat
Written by Blair Farris
Photography by Raymond Grubb
When the new owners purchased their Charleston-style house, they were not daunted by the small lot with far reaching vines, overgrown trees and shrubs, lack of privacy and seemingly little space to accommodate their long, programmatic wish list. After living in New York and London, the couple was ready to call Charlotte, N.C. home again and move back to the neighborhood where the husband grew up. They called on their old friend, Charlotte-based garden designer, Laurie Durden. Laurie collaborated with her clients to create an urban retreat for their family of six, with four growing boys and a dog.
“There were many practical requirements to tackle, including additional parking, privacy in the front and back yards, a swimming pool, play space for their lacrosse-playing boys, entertaining space, and a garden for the owner to grow the flowers she loves so much. We used every inch of the property to accommodate nearly everything on their wish list. I think we were all little surprised by how much we could include in the plan and by how spacious the property felt,” commented Laurie.
The front of the property was divided into two separate spaces, each enclosed by hedges. The motor court is constructed of hand-molded brick from The Old Carolina Brick Company in savannah grey and colored concrete creating an immediate classic feeling. The paving pattern minimizes the scale of the parking and defines the entrance to the house. The distinctive hand-wrought iron arch and gas lantern signify that the visitor has arrived.
An enclosed garden was created in the front of the house that simultaneously welcomes the neighbors, creates views from the interior and yet provides screening for the owners’ privacy. A traditional southern palette of boxwoods, camellias, cherries and Little Gem magnolias were used to enclose the property from the sidewalk and street creating a more urban than suburban space. Strategic screening in the front with a retaining wall that also acts as a bench is the perfect place for the boys to hang out and wait for their neighborhood friends. There is a small entrance into the front garden that is centered directly on a striking urn planted for year-round interest. The front beds are overflowing with Autumn ferns, foxglove and lenten rose to provide seasonal interest and beauty to the structure.
In the rear garden, the 8′ perimeter wall continues the Charleston theme. To diminish the scale of the wall, Laurie designed arched, inset panels with open brickwork that allow for airflow for healthy plants and people while providing the desired privacy. Climbing fig fills the arches at the pool to give texture, accentuate the arches and minimize the wall. The imperfect mortar application makes the wall appear authentic and aged. With the permission of the neighbors, Laurie cleverly added a back gate as a shortcut to the boys’ school bus stop. The terrace off the house is made of brick in a ninety-degree herringbone pattern with random limestone pavers. The limestone breaks up the space and gives the feel of different rooms.
The elegant pool is edged with a 3″ thick limestone coping and contains swim jets and a spa tucked behind the sitting area on the pool terrace. The focal point of the pool area is a fountain wall that also serves to hide the pool equipment from sight and sound. The lion’s head fountain is a nod to the three boys with Leo as their astrological sign. The family spends many hours lounging and playing in the pool. With the dining area adjoining the pool, the
design is efficient and functional for daily life and special occasions.
The rear lawn serves as a mini lacrosse field for the boys. The lawn is edged with an ogee brick curb and the lawn panel is a perfect place for the boys to play and the family to entertain. The planting beds around the lawn are planted with boxwoods and other evergreens to give the garden structure, but a profusion of perennials gives the garden a romantic touch. Some of the classic perennials include peonies, roses, dahlias, hydrangeas, anenomes, verbena, salvia, and cleome. Jasmine vines and climbing roses soften the crisp edges and provide a beautiful fragrance for the backyard. Laurie worked with her clients to design custom benches along the loggia edge that are used as seating and also as a railing, again using every space wisely. The stone urns placed at the back of the yard draw the eye across the lawn and are planted with lush seasonal color.
Furnishings are functional and flexible to accommodate the family on a daily basis, but easily expand for larger parties. The handmade signature blue bench at the rear of the yard references the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C. The bench is classic, but whimsical lending the garden a bit of playfulness.
The garden was meant to look mature and fit in with the neighborhood at its installation, but as all gardens are never really finished, with patience there will be amendments and changes along the way that provide a wonderful reward.