Monday, May 10, 2010

Extending Living Spaces to the Outdoors -- Revisited

On Saturday, May 9, the Washington Post ran a truncated version of a piece I wrote on trends in backyard patio design. It was explained that because of advertising in the issue, the piece would have had to "jump" twice, meaning it would occupy more than two pages. And that, I was told, "is fatal. Readers hate them." 
As a result, the words and works of several wonderful contributors were cut short or completely cut out. I've already posted the article as it ran in the paper. What follows is the piece as it was written: 

Jack Stein and Peter Meccariello had just finished renovating their  narrow Victorian in Capitol Hill's Eastern Market neighborhood when they caught an episode of Landscapers’ Challenge on HGTV.
On a whim, they applied to the show for a backyard overhaul and faster than you can say crabgrass, the show's producer called and the home owners found themselves choosing between three garden designers to transform their jungle into an urban paradise.
“We wanted water close to the house that we could see and hear,” said Meccariello, recalling their fantasy list. “And a grill area.”
“And definitely space to relax,” said Stein, along with annual and perennial flowering plants and shrubs that could stand up to the frolics of their aptly-named Jack Russell terrier, Pounce. 
Both were also intrigued by lighting and how the 40-foot garden would look at night through the row of French doors lining the back of the house, part of their newly extended kitchen and family room, a space designed to make the indoors blend seamlessly into the garden.
The first plan they received was modeled after an Italian palazzo with a fountain and pergola in the center. The second looked like a Hollywood movie set: “Rudolph Valentino might have lived here,” Stein laughed. “It had a moat!”
The third, designed by Guy Williams of DCA Landscape Architects, was perfect. “Guy provided a seamless transition from interior to exterior,” said Meccariello. Just what the couple desired.
Williams created a dramatic waterfall with a "'rain curtain" over a koi pond, and two semi-circular patios rimmed with stone seating. A curving path meanders like a river between them, bordered by small trees, shrubs and perennials--all very low maintenance. Midway, and out of sight from the house, is the grill.
It's equally enchanting at night when subtle spot-lighting at the top of their katsura tree dapples the garden with a pattern of tiny heart-shaped leaves.
Though the Capitol Hill garden was completed three years ago, it's right in line with many of today's most popular trends in garden design, from the built-in furniture to the waterfall.  (You can see it yourself, since it's featured on this year's Capitol Hill House & Garden Tour held May 10th and 11th).
The 2010 Outdoor Trends Survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects takes the nations pulse in matters of garden design. As it happens, in Washington we want it all: built-in furniture, kitchens, fire pits and fireplaces, spas and pools and indoor/outdoor saunas, and rain gardens.
"Decorative water," is the term ASLA spokesman Jim Lapides uses for a list of watery features that also includes small ponds and splash pools, which is not a pool or a pond but a few feet of water that you can wallow in, like a pig.
Has any backyard trend become passé?  "No." he says.
And so ubiquitous are they all that you can even pick up a hot tub and a sauna at Target.
If there's a change, it's that this year the economy has put a cramp in the immediate gratification you get from installing it all at once.
Homeowners are still putting in outdoor kitchens, but they're delaying the granite counters. They're building in furniture, but putting off the purchase of a space heater. "It's less about accessories and more about the functional space," Lapides said. "People are still planning around the eventual purchase of all of the extras."
The bottom line desire, at both ends of the economic spectrum, is for an outdoor room for lounging, entertaining, and play.
“Back in the 50s and 60s houses ended at the back wall,” said Scott Fritz, half of the husband and wife landscape design team of Fritz and Gignoux. “People now want to open the back of the house so it flows out to the garden, it’s really mixed use.”
For a recently completed project in Bethesda, the couple took 3/4 of an acre and created a virtual theme park and country club for an athletic family of six — and their three dogs.
French doors now open to landscaped terraces and pergolas for dining, sunning and shade. To keep the four kids happy and occupied during long summer vacations, there’s a swimming pool and a lawn for lacrosse.

There's also a pool house  that has practical aspects — with its own kitchen and laundry, the mess from a mob of teenagers is kept out of the main house.  “If each kid has a friend over it gets to be a pretty big crowd,” said Fritz.
Heating the pool and, of course, the spa extends the family’s enjoyment well into Autumn. There’s even a fireplace for s’mores and watching the frost gather on wet heads.
Mark McFadden, who handles high-end homes like this for Washington Fine Properties, calls outdoor entertaining, “Huge!”
McFadden recently listed a five-bedroom seven-bath home in Great Falls for $5,795,000. All it seems to be missing is a chandelier in the garage.
“It’s spectacular,” he said. “They’ve incorporated lifestyle elements the market will respond to.”
Set on about six acres, the property includes terraces and arbors, a guest house, a stable, a riding ring, a pool and a pool house.
The home incorporates a virtual punch list of the hottest garden accoutrements including fountains and water features, custom lighting, a grill station for cooking, and a pergola — a sheltered sitting area so you can be outside regardless of the weather.
 “The potential for outdoor enjoyment,” McFadden said, “definitely enhances the home’s salability. It’s not just about the interior of the home anymore. People are bringing their lifestyle out into the backyard.”
Spreads such as this can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Lapides, and at this level you might get your money back when you sell  (though, we wonder, would you care?)
If you're parting with a home that's not so rarified, you might want to reconsider that swimming pool with the floating tiki bar that you saw on HGTV last week.
It might be on trend, but will it help you sell your house?
Not so much, said McFadden. Patios and gardens should be “more neutral and homogenous — not buyer specific. Vanilla sells.”
As refreshing as pools can be, Gail Montplaisir, president of Taurus Development, a custom building firm, considers their merits questionable when it comes to resale. "Real estate agents will tell you they frequently lower the value of homes--becoming a money sink."

That's an important consideration in a transient area like Washington, she said, "where resale is foremost in people's minds even if they don't have any immediate plans to leave."

Meanwhile, Montplaisir and her husband, architect Norman Smith, have a pool in their country home near Culpeper, Virginia, and are installing one on the terrace of their city condominium, "For me it's a must have, but when someone comes and looks at a property it's a detractor," she said.
"Patios and gardens should be “more neutral and homogenous — not buyer specific," McFadden added. "Vanilla sells.”
 “A Santa Fe or Miami Vice look in Northwest Washington — even in Dupont Circle — that’s not going to fly,” he said, adding whimsically, “Unless, of course, you’re from Miami.”
Going too far out can even incur a penalty: “People will negotiate a lower price, thinking: They put it in for $100,000, I’ll need $20,000 to remove it, and $100,000 to reinstall it.
“At the other extreme, a blank slate can leave house hunters cold. “People buy exactly what they see, not what can be,” said Phyllis Jane Young, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker’s Capitol Hill office.

Sweeping a realtor’s arm across the back forty and conjuring a vision of burbling fountains and frolicking turtles won’t cut it. “Most people can’t visualize a beautiful design and what it will do to enrich the value of the home,” she added.
While good design is a not a matter of spending a lot of money, she suggests that if you're selling your home you "pay a good landscape designer who understands architecture, the plants, the hardscape and the best way of combining them.

"If someone has done a really good job, people see it as a lifestyle, an ambiance. You can't quantify that. They buy the whole package," she said.
But if your home is at the lower end of the market, your mulch level might be more important to your wallet at resale than an outdoor kitchen .  
Real estate agent Jennifer Walker of McEnearney Associates handles many homes in the $600,000 and under range, low priced for the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria where she specializes. 

At Walker's end of the market, homeowners looking to upgrade their properties for sale will find that "fresh mulch is the number one help," she said. "You're not seeing a lot of  built in kitchens. I wouldn't have them spend the money on anything like that because they won't get it back.

After mulch, it's edging the flower beds, trimming back overgrown trees, "and we usually throw in some pansies to get people some color. Pansies," she said, "make people happy."

1 comment:

  1. Between your version and the WP's version there's only one thing to say: night and day contrast!


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