What do you do when your front yard is converted into a garage and your garden needs salvaging? Santa Barbara-based Grace Design Associates might be just the people to come to your rescue.
Grace Design Associates is an award winning landscape firm based in Santa Barbara, California. With over twenty-five years of designing and building beautiful gardens, designer Margie Grace founded the firm in 2000. She has won several awards including the 2009 “International Landscape Designer of the Year Award” from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
In 2006, Grace received a call from a frantic Montecito (California) resident whose husband had paved the front yard and converted the gardens into a parking lot.
Over the former gardens, a new garage, carport, drive and parking area had been installed. “It fell to us to transform the heavily compacted, rocky grounds into a garden and a home once again,” says Grace.
The client was not fussy about her own plans for the garden. All she wanted was a specific colour palette and some fruit trees – those were her only wishes. It seemed easy enough, but as the team were to find out, the actual landscaping was going to take a lot of skill and planning.
With the access to the front door cut off by construction, the house could now be approached only through the new parking area. The front door had faded into insignificance; more prominent was a side-door that led to the laundry room.
Giving the front door its rightful status was important. This was the starting point for the redesign, which now also included an outdoor sitting area so that the family and visitors could enjoy the new garden.
The house sits on thirteen acres of land surrounded by trees with ocean views on one side and hilly terrain on the other. “The most challenging part of this project was the existing driveway that took up most of the front yard,” says Kalie Brown, Assistant Designer at Grace Design Associates. “Our solution was to create a walled garden at the entry to separate the motor court from the entry courtyard and maximise use of both spaces.”
A new stucco wall was built to define the two distinct spaces: the “motor court” and the “entry garden.” A flagstone path now leads from the motor court through the entry garden and ends at antique doors which are a clear welcome to the house.
“With the driveway in the front yard, there was no way to tell which door was the front door, so visitors were always walking up to the bedroom door or through the garage,” says Brown. The side door was replaced with an antique iron screen so there was no room for confusion anymore.
In the side patio area, three new olive trees were planted along an existing olive tree. The olive trees create a soft ‘roof’ over the side patio, the motor court and the entry garden.
On the motor court side, a “gallery wall” of vines drapes over one side and enhances a display of large, dramatic pots with sculptural plants. Past the antique doors and into the walled garden, it is magic.
A glazed green pot-fountain adds a quiet, soothing element of flowing water and large aqua-glazed pots in vibrant colours (one of Grace’s favourite accessories) liven up the space. In the urns, delphiniums cavort with Mexican feather grass, adding even more colour and texture to the arrangement.
A stone bench which curves around a copse of yuccas, not only serves as comfortable seating but it also doubles up as a retaining wall. A trio of decorative, distressed steel fish hang from the Yuccas. “Our client was from Texas, USA and she has an affinity for this sort of antique, sculptures and trinkets,” says Brown.
In the verandah, the owner’s chinoiserie cabinet was given pride of place. The wood posts, beams, rafters and ceiling of the veranda were painted with colours to match the chinoiserie, thus bridging the indoors with the outdoors artistically.
In one far corner, a new orchard and statue garden houses fruit trees and the client’s art collection (including “Heidi”, a funky red cow by Texan-artist Brad Braune bought at a charity auction).
This garden won the Builder of the Year Award for Best Landscape and Hardscape from the Santa Barbara Contractors Association a few year ago. It is not hard to imagine why – a look at the pictures tells you that this is now a serene, contemplative space that is bound to give the family much pleasure.
“By creating a grander courtyard and separating the cars, we were able to control circulation more effectively and create a beautiful doorway experience,” says Brown. When the access to a house itself elicits the ‘Wow’ factor, then it is a guarantee that what follows only adds to the magic.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Holly Lepere