THE “BACK” STORY
A petite backyard in Queens was in dire need of a new look, smarter use of limited space, and more structurally-sound construction. The shared garage had a sagging roof, crumbling walls, and a ugly block facade. While there were some overgrown trees on the property the backyard was very drab and lacking any real greenery. The stoop to the raised porch was lopsided and the canopy covering the porch was in desperate need of updating. The clients were interested in outdoor cooking and entertaining for small groups, using the space at night, and greening and softening the edges of the yard to provide an attractive border and privacy from the alleyway behind and the neighbors.
DEMOLITION BEGINS AND THE MAIN SPACE TAKES SHAPE
The garage became a harrowing task to rectify, as asbestos was discovered in the rooftop materials, and it being a shared structure, cooperation with the neighbors was mandatory. Permits were obtained, the asbestos was taken care of by an environmental firm and the garage was demolished and carted away.
The large arborvitae at the rear of the yard had to be removed, due to their encroaching size and the light that they blocked from the space. The Japanese maple was kept however, for it was healthy and its curvy truck provided an interesting effect against the fencing. New plantings were adding into every corner and edge of the backyard – a raised bed against the house hosts an array of perennials and ferns, a small bed opposite the kitchen island has vines which will grow along the new fence and soften that narrow pathway, a second bed along that fence and at the rear of the yard provides evergreen interest and privacy from the alley behind, finally tiny little beds at the base of the 4 iron trellis posts contain ivy which will grow up and over the structure throughout the year to offer shade and seasonal interest.
The stoop, landing, and steps to the basement received all new materials. Stucco risers with blue stone treads create an elegant entry from the garden into the house, along with stucco cheek walls with bluestone cap stones. Step lights were installed into each so they can be easily navigated at night and add to the ambiance of the space. The stoop canopy was replaced with a natural cedar railing and overhead structure covered by an opaque corrugated fiberglass roof that allows light to penetrate the previously dark sitting area on the landing.
OUTDOOR COOKING AND ENTERTAINING
While entertaining, the clients can utilize the outdoor kitchen island which was designed to host a grill, refrigerator, storage, and bar seating, as well as provide ample serving space. It was important to the clients that the “grillmaster” be allowed to share in the occasion, so the dining area was placed next to the island and they are able to converse with those seated at the dining table and at the bar seamlessly. The dining area is demarcated by a prefabricated iron trellis in which custom lighting has been hung to illuminate the table well into the evening.
AN “AWARD-WINNING” FINAL RESULT
Drastic changes to the small backyard have made a world of difference and the space is almost unrecognizable from what it used to be! One of the interesting facts about this project is that eco-friendly materials were used on many elements…the pavers in the dining area are permeable to reduce surface run-off, the concrete used for foundations and walkways was a special eco-friendly mix, and all of the landscape lighting is low-voltage and LED which will consume very little energy.
In the end, the project provided the homeowners with exactly what they envisioned…a larger space with all the amenities they hoped to include in their outdoor “lounge”. This project recently was awarded a SILVER design award in the MINISCAPE division (spaces <2,000 sf) at the LINLA 2013 Landscape Design/Build Environmental Enhancement Awards.
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