Story: Susan Darcey | Styling: Mandy Keener |
When a natural courtyard emerged from a home renovation project, a Little Rock couple took the hint and created a private backyard escape.
There is nothing more tempting than the thought of relaxing outside on a beautiful day, sipping a cocktail and nibbling on a few tasty appetizers, all the while chatting with good friends. For Sheb and Danny Fisher this was not the initial vision they had when they began a home renovation project to better accommodate their family. However, as the footprint of the home fell into place, they realized they had created the ideal backyard patio for casual gatherings and quiet nights alone.
Before the renovation, a narrow driveway, an old deck and a small grassy area were all that comprised their backyard. As the remodel progressed, a courtyard area emerged as a natural extension of the house. There were essentially three wings of the house—the kitchen, the master bedroom and a newly constructed guesthouse—that had come together, each with French doors all opening to the one very private, yet shared space. It seemed like a natural fit for a courtyard to the Fishers. However, there was one concern that remained a mystery. “I couldn’t figure out how to get it all on the same level to tie everything together. I knew I didn’t want to walk down four steps any time I went out one of the doors,” says Sheb.
Chris Milligan, who at the time worked with Creative Heights Partners, was working on a renovation of the couple’s kitchen and it only seemed natural for him to lend his expertise to the patio’s design as well. Milligan elevated the entire area to create a natural flow of living space between the three areas. “To make the transition between the new kitchen I designed, the master suite that they currently had and the guesthouse, we had to raise the level of the ground up so you could walk out of each one of those spaces onto a nice flagstone patio area,” explains Milligan.
After everything was constructed and the patio foundation and flagstone were completed, the Fishers landscaped the plant beds around the courtyard themselves. They began with an empty slate since everything they had previously was removed when they raised the patio. Sheb’s love of gardening combined with her design background inspired the idea about the ambience she wanted to create. “I had this vision of white against the taupe house,” she says, “and I just love hydrangeas. They are my favorite flower.” Sheb chose the ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea as the focal point of her garden because of their color, the size of their blooms and the vast number of buds they produce. “I really wanted to see them when I looked out the window,” she says. “They are really beautiful when they are all blooming.”
While the Fishers selected the garden blooms and planted them on their own, they consulted their friend Adrienne Taylor, who is a landscape designer. Taylor guided Sheb to choose a crepe myrtle that better fit into her landscaping plan of white blooms. “I also have white azaleas and herbs growing along the garden path. I use my herbs all the time,” she adds.
To add some creative detail to the courtyard, Milligan incorporated a freestanding pergola to highlight the sitting area. “Some type of overhead covering was needed to define the space and give it a more intimate feeling,” he says. Sheb wanted a light and airy structure to allow the flow of a breeze and light sun exposure.
The outdoor space is furnished with a traditional teak sofa and a set of chairs and complemented with patterned pillows and a durable outdoor rug. A ceiling fan installed at the top of the pergola helps cool the space during sultry summer days, while strands of white lights strung along the beams contribute to the ambience by providing a soft glow on evening nights. The culmination is a very comfortable gathering space that feels more like a cozy living room.
To ensure the longevity of use throughout year, the Fishers installed an insect-repellant misting system around the courtyard. It allows easy access in and out of the house without the worry of mosquitos that are prevalent during most of the year. “They can open up all the French doors, especially the kitchen, which is typically where everyone goes in and out, and the misting system keeps all the mosquitos away,” says Milligan. “You don’t have any barriers between you and the outdoors— it’s a seamless transition.”
Since its creation, you can find the Fishers in the courtyard almost any day. “Whether we have a fire going or the fan, it is such a great gathering spot, and friends come over all the time,” says Sheb of new backyard haven.
Contractor Creative Heights Partners, Little Rock, (501) 350-9807, creativeheightspartners.com
Designer Chris Milligan, Dwellings, Little Rock, (501) 831-0729, dwellings-ar.com
Landscape design consultant Adrienne Taylor, Nature Company, (501) 666-3138
Accessories, outdoor fabrics and side table Cynthia East Fabrics, Little Rock, (501) 663-0460,
Outdoor furniturePottery Barn, Little Rock, (501) 663-0181, Rogers, (479) 246-0118, potterybarn.com