Story: Katie Cox | Photography: Rett Peek | Styling: Chip Jones |
With a mission to transform their backyard into a living and entertaining area, a Little Rock couple created a multi-purpose outdoor space for their large family
“Family is priority,” homeowner Debbie Rees says. With four grown children and eight grandchildren, space is important to Debbie and her husband John. “We wanted a place we can all be together and let the grandkids enjoy being at Nana and Papa’s!” They also wanted to be able to entertain outdoors. “We are outside people. I like to say my favorite room is outside. I like to be out there as much as possible,” she adds.
When the couple began construction on their home 14 years ago, the full vision of the backyard was not what it is today. “It has evolved,” Rees explains. “We started with the pool, fireplace, a little bit of furniture, and it went from there.” As the couple lived in the home, they were better able to identify their needs. “We love to entertain. Between weddings, showers, birthdays, and family dinners, we are always having parties and people at our home,” she explains.
With a large set of doors opening from the living room to the backyard, the family found themselves naturally flowing outdoors when together. This is when they realized there was an opportunity to enhance the flow. With a good foundation already in place, the Rees family called on trusted partners from The Good Earth Garden Center and Providence Design to bring the new vision to life.
“We’ve worked with Good Earth for a long time, and knew they could transform our backyard into exactly what we wanted. And we love working with our dear friends Mona and Talena [of Providence Design]. They have worked in the interior of our home, so we wanted to bring the inside out,” Rees says.
The expansive yard allows not only for the pool and fireplace, but also a covered porch, dining space, multiple sitting areas, a playground, and a stately arbor equipped with swinging benches and a rustic chandelier. The details of these specific outdoor areas simulate rooms you would find inside the home. Perhaps that is because Mona Thompson and Talena Ray of Providence Design approached these areas with the same objective they have for interior rooms: to create cozy, comfortable spots for adults and kids alike. “When the space allows, as in this project, separate living areas or ‘garden rooms’ can create an intimate atmosphere. Smaller spaces seem cozier. The separate areas in a larger landscape allow us to create that feeling and give the homeowner the opportunity to entertain larger groups of people,” Ray says.
Furniture plays a big role in defining the different spaces throughout the yard. A dining set is nestled near the pool for family dinners, while a sitting area near the fireplace allows for some much needed warmth after a chilly swim. “We really enjoy our fireplace, and since the pool is heated, I have so many pictures of my grandkids congregated around the fireplace wrapped in towels after begging to swim on a cooler day,” Rees adds. On the covered porch, rocking chairs add charm and provide comfortable seating. “At different stages, we added accent pieces, fabrics, upholstery, and pillows,” Ray adds. The team brought in blues and grays to help tie the outdoor fabrics with the interior color scheme.
Even with so many spaces to choose from, it’s clear which area is the favorite. “I love my porch!” Rees exclaims. A place for the couple to unwind has always been important. “At our old house, we had an outdoor swing. It was our spot. At this home, it’s become our porch. That’s our time together. We sit and talk, and admire the green space behind us. It’s a relaxing spot where we can take a deep breath.” With the addition of heaters and a television, it’s become a daily routine for the two. “And John and I love our rocking chairs,” she adds. “We really do treat it like it’s another room.”
The family’s love of togetherness and the usability of the spaces were also key factors when it came to the landscape design of this backyard retreat. Jennifer Gibson and Julie Curtis of The Good Earth Garden Center considered the purpose of the defined areas to dictate the landscaping. “There are both sun and shade areas within the space, which means we get to use a variety of annuals and tropical plants. By combining sun-loving succulents with shade-loving caladiums under mature Japanese maples, it is the best of both worlds,” Gibson says.
Metal, concrete, and colorfully glazed planters overflowing with greenery and blooms anchor the backyard living spaces and pool area, while meandering stone pathways lead guests from “room to room.” “The inspiration was to create an inviting space for family gatherings around the pool and to create outdoor rooms ideal for relaxation and rejuvenation to enjoy on a daily basis. As with every family, there is a mix of styles, and it’s our opportunity to bring those styles together to create a cohesive expression of the family. In this case, a simple, classic style has been accented with fun, colorful, often tropical, drama which keeps the eye moving throughout the different areas. Debbie and John call their back landscape their ‘happy place.’ They have told us that it feels like a vacation to be surrounded by all the lush foliage and colorful flowers while enjoying the pool and sitting areas,” Gibson says. With a pool being a high-traffic area, the pair chose plants that bloom consistently with little shedding.
Along with the landscaping, the design elements were also carefully crafted to withstand the weather and, more importantly, grandkids. “Everything has to be kid-friendly and comfortable,” Ray says. “It also needs to transition for entertaining. Whether we work inside or out for this family, comfort is their number one priority. Of course, it has to look good, too,” she says with a smile.
Contractor—arbor and water feature Homeyer Lawn Sprinkler, Little Rock, (501) 224-9507
Design Mona Thompson and Talena Ray, Providence Design, Little Rock, (501) 372-1886, providenceltddesign.com
Landscape design and installation The Good Earth Garden Center, Little Rock, (501) 868-4666, thegoodearthgarden.com
Accessories, decor, and fabrics Providence Design, Little Rock, (501) 372-1886, providenceltddesign.com
Lawn maintenance Better Lawns & Gardens, Little Rock, (501) 454-9803, betterlawnsar.com
Lighting The Good Earth Garden Center, Little Rock, (501) 868-4666, thegoodearthgarden.com
Outdoor furniture Ken Rash’s of Arkansas, Little Rock, (501) 663-1818, kenrashsoutdoorfurniture.com
Pool Brooks Pool Company, Little Rock, (501) 771-1501, brookspools.com