Story: Diane Carroll |
Saying that Chip and Cindy Murphy like to entertain is an understatement. From gala events for hundreds of guests to private dinner parties with specialty chefs, the philanthropic pair regularly throw open the doors of their 1947 Georgian-style home in Little Rock’s Edgehill neighborhood and host a myriad of charitable fetes for the community.
When they purchased their home six years ago, part of the appeal was that its classic elegance and ample grounds were well suited to their entertaining style. As their event calendar grew, they sought ways to make better use of an existing pool and cabana area and the open lawn, which sloped down to a wooded ravine and neighboring Allsopp Park. They turned to renowned garden designer and author P. Allen Smith, who “brought us an encompassing vision of how we could unify our home and garden,” says Cindy.
“I always look at a property as a series of rooms and how the rooms will be used,” says Smith, which in the Murphys’ case meant examining how guests could transition from inside the house to the pool and outdoor areas and then move easily around the grounds. “We needed to create a better marriage between the house and the garden,” he says, “offering ways to elegantly access the house as well as bring the home’s aesthetic into the garden.”
To do so, Smith designed a wide staircase to connect the home’s main level with the pool and patio area below. “We began with classical elements that evoke Mediterranean architecture and relate well to the house,” he says of the pair of symmetrical staircases he designed, which flank the terrace and come together at a grotto. Lined with stone quarried from the Mount Nebo area and outfitted with an early19th century Italian sculpture, the niche serves as a focal point in the transition between the interior and exterior spaces.
On the lower level, he established two distinct garden areas—one encompassing the pool and cabana and another including a lawn adjacent to it. “Given the way the Murphys entertain, it made sense to create two very large garden rooms,” says Smith. “The lawn area functions as open space for tables plus pathways to connect the elements, and it leads to another room where the centerpiece is the pool.” To mark the transition between the two, he designed a stone wall that again integrated classic design elements—in this case, arches, columns with carved stone caps and a metal gate—to unify the structure with the style of the house.
The stone wall also became a perimeter for the pool and cabana area, which Smith further defined by extending the garden between the pool and the sloping hillside and planting a series of ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitaes in it. “Creating this rhythm across the back of the pool added a strong vertical focal point that draws your eye and separates the garden from the vista beyond,” he says. Within the newly-framed space, he took into account Cindy’s penchant for bright colors and tropical plants and brought in French oak planting boxes with an ochre finish and large pots that he filled with an assortment of fragrant, textural and colorful favorites ranging from oleander and mandevilla to eugenia and jasmine. The combination, says Smith, “honors both the house and Cindy’s aesthetic, and then delivers the magic of these bold colors in this setting.”
Alongside the pool, a series of chaises, tables and chairs offers the Murphys and their guests a place to rest, with a nearby fountain providing tranquil sounds. For further comfort, interior designer Barbi Rushing outfitted the cabana with all-weather draperies and furnishings, choosing neutral solids that keep the emphasis on the views to the pool and garden.
Shortly after its completion, the garden was put to the test when the Murphys hosted a function for nearly 400 guests. Accommodating a band and dining area on the lawn, and cocktails and entertainment poolside, the new garden functioned as planned, even allowing guests a view of the event from the now-accessible first floor terrace. “We utilized the entire area,” says Cindy, “and were delighted with how well our new design worked in every way.”
Landscape design, installation and maintenance P. Allen Smith & Associates, Little Rock
Contractor Jack Hartsell Construction, Little Rock
Cabana interiors Barbi Rushing Interiors Inc., Little Rock