A Backyard Retreat Worthy of a Resort

by bkrigbaum@solagroup.com

The owners of a two-story, 14-year-old colonial in Northern Rhode Island wanted to create outdoor living areas with a resort-like feel for their family and guests. The backyard of their two-acre site included an existing plain-Jane pressure-treated deck, a gently rolling lawn bordered by trees behind the house and a fabulous view to the southeast. The project included a three-season porch, a larger curved two-level deck, a curved cedar pergola, a bluestone terrace, a rustic stone fire pit, landscaping and lighting.

Design considerations included blending the new structures with the existing house to appear as though they have always been there. Care was taken in designing transitions from the two-story house to porch, porch to deck, deck to terrace, terrace to yard, rectilinear to organic, high to low, and man-made to natural. Retaining views was important to the owners, who also wanted a variety of shady and sunny areas.

Porch for Dining and Sitting

The owners wanted a porch big enough for dining and sitting areas, with an open, light and airy feel. The 16- by 20-ft. porch was nestled into an inside corner formed by the exterior walls of the kitchen at the end and office on the side. The porch extends 8 ft. beyond the office, giving exterior exposure — light, breezes and views — on three sides. Locating the porch in this corner takes advantage of the views while limiting obstruction of views from other areas.

The bead board ceiling is vaulted and illuminated with cove lights. An arch-top window placed in the gable end, transoms, screen panels and six skylights provide daylight into the adjacent kitchen window. Designing the porch in this corner, with the rooflines tied into the office at one end and dining bay window roof at the other, blends in with the existing house and mitigates the awkward out-of-place office shed roof by hiding it from view. Roofing, siding and trim to match existing materials and an arch-top window similar to the current family room window further strengthen the idea that the porch has always been there.

The existing rectilinear deck and benches appeared stuck on the house and limited access to the yard. The deck was enlarged, and broad steps were added to enhance the connection to the yard. Large sweeping curves form the edges of the decks, transitioning from an upper deck to a lower deck and from deck to terrace. The linear pattern of the decking is softened with curved edges.

Curved Pergola

A custom-designed curved pergola follows the edge of the curved deck. Tuscan columns supporting the curved pergola beam frame views of the yard and countryside beyond. The pergola ties into and extends along the gable end of the porch, unifying the design and aiding in the transition from orthogonal to organic.

A curved bluestone terrace connects the curved deck to the lawn. The curved shape of the terrace is made of rectilinear bluestone pieces. Variegated color and random pattern help emphasize transition to organic and the terrace’s role as a transitional element.

Rustic Fire Pit

The back edge of the property is heavily wooded, forming a natural privacy buffer between houses. An existing hollow at the edge of the lawn formed by a curved treeline was the perfect spot for a rustic fire pit. The 28-ft. diameter stone fire pit was nestled into the hollow under the tree canopy. Two-ft.-wide by 1.5-ft.-high stone walls (measured on the interior) form the perimeter of the fire pit. The lawn slopes away from the house and the fire pit is set into the ground, making the fire pit unobtrusive when viewed from the porch and deck. The stone walls appear as if they grew out of the lawn. Access to the fire pit is via three wide, curved steps down onto a flagstone floor. Views of the porch, deck and countryside from this cozy spot are spectacular.

The project is a great example of the incredible transformation of a developer-type house and its typical rectilinear/orthogonal deck. Thoughtful design has turned this plain-Jane backyard into a resort-like oasis with a beautiful, flowing organic feel.

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