Date: July 29, 2019 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Rett Peek | Styling: Tiffany Adams |
Two rounds of improvements—first construction and hardscaping, then color and soft furnishings—bring a whole new life to this beloved backyard
The backyard Liz Johnson describes from when she and her family moved into their home seven years ago bears little resemblance to the place they cherish today. The steps from the back door led to a small cement landing and a pool with concrete surround. “We had several different architects and landscapers come over to ask them, What do we do with this space?” Liz says. Little Rock’s Burt Taggart, III, of Taggart Design Group had the solution: Build a deck over the cement and elevate much of the living space—including a pergola-covered sitting area, bar and outdoor kitchen, and flagstone fireplace—on a landing a few steps above the pool.
Burt also suggested Liz and her husband, Mike, talk to the Pleasant Valley Country Club, whose golf course backs up to the house, about allowing them to extend the deck slightly onto the course to increase the area surrounding the pool. “Where the lounge chairs are now, that area was part of the golf course,” Liz explains. Burt’s sister, Whitney Phelps—a designer with Taggart Design Group and one of Liz’s friends—also worked on the project, collaborating with Burt on decisions that would add flair to the space, such as flagstone pavers around the pool and a stacked-stone water feature.
All of that work, which improved the area’s functionality, could be considered Phase 1 of this project. Phase 2 happened about six years later almost by accident. Liz had inherited her mother’s antique collection of blue-and-white ginger jars, and mutual friends connected her with designer Molly Young to help work the heirlooms into her home. “Molly went through every single room of the house and just took it up a notch,” Liz says. “Then she came out here to the backyard and said, Let’s do more with this.”
Molly helped Liz pick out new furnishings for most areas and refresh others where possible, all while keeping in mind the blue and white found indoors. For example, she had the barstools spray-painted white to fit the new color scheme and worked with Laura’s Draperies & Blinds to outfit the pergola with a resort-inspired awning, drapes, and custom pillows that add panache. The final result is a comfortable, stylish outdoor space that finally feels like home.
The versatility of the backyard’s layout means that Liz and Mike have the opportunity to share the space with their loved ones, particularly their two children: Win, 23, and Kate, 21. “They’re grown and out of the house now, but we’ve had a lot of good times here,” Mike says, counting Razorback watch parties, school and fraternity fundraisers, and simple get-togethers with friends and family among memories made. Liz enjoys coffee every morning on the sectional (seen at left) with ginger jars from her and her mother’s collections in view. Molly drew inspiration from the Chinoiserie for fabric and furnishings, as seen in the bamboo-inspired side table.
While the Johnsons made lots of cosmetic and functional updates to this space, one detail they have not touched since moving in is the blue tile lining the edge of the pool, which served as a sign of things to come for the backyard’s future color palette.
In Living Color
Liz worked with landscape designer Kelly Holbert to fill glazed ceramic containers throughout the backyard. Since the deck backs up to Pleasant Valley Country Club, the pops of color (along with the blue furnishings) stand out cheerfully against the greenery of the golf course.
Architect Burt Taggart, Jr., Taggart Design Group Contractor Burt Taggart, III, Taggart Design & Build Design Whitney Phelps, Taggart Design Group and Molly Young, Molly Ray Young Interior Design Landscaping Kelly Holbert Gardening & Landscape Design Accessories, draperies, and Roller shades Laura’s Draperies & Blinds Brick Antique Brick & Block Fabrics Laura’s Draperies & Blinds and Ken Rash’s Arkansas Outdoor furnishings Antique Brick Outdoors, Bear Hill Interiors, Molly Ray Young Interior Design, Providence Design, and The Shade Above Planters The Good Earth Garden Center