Photo Courtesy Edmunds Studios
When owners of a Craftsman Style home in Brookfield, Wisconsin wanted to renovate their back yard patio area so that it would be a larger, more aesthetic outdoor living space, they hired landscape designer James Drzewiecki of Ginkgo Leaf Studios, who completely transformed the space. The house, which is a modern interpretation of the Craftsman Style, served as the primary inspiration for the eclectic new landscape design.
Drzewiecki designed low garden walls to match the home's veneer, which was one way to create a landscape that fit with the style of the home. The low garden walls also offer a sense of enclosure to define the public and semi-private spaces in the front and back of the house. Drzewiecki explains, "I wanted the entire landscape to have a bold, architectural feel as influenced by the home. Detailing that isn't fussy and a simplified plant palette also reflect on the home's character. I did not want the landscape to compete with the home. Rather, I hoped the landscape would appear as if it had been designed and built at the same time as the home."
The back yard space which once had an uneven paving surface and was crowded with diseased and invasive plantings has now been redesigned to fully utilize the space in the most harmonious way. Drzewiecki explains, "It's always easier to design the outdoor spaces when a home has a strong architectural style. My degree and background in architecture certainly helps me to pick up on the little details that lead to a harmonious design. I use lines of force from the house to help define the spaces. Using the same materials, from the aqua-colored mortar in the walls to matching the thickness of the coping on the house and repeating it in the new walls, all helps to pull the design together."
"The bluestone on the existing front porch was repeated in the "foyer" at the end of the front walk and at the transition landing between the two patio levels. Even the new bluestone medallion/concrete control joint pattern in the paved areas mimics that of the existing side patio on the home. I believe details such as these are subconsciously noticed and make a space feel special."
Upon entering the back yard through the home's breezeway, a stunning set of convex and concave limestone steps integrate with patterned bluestone to create the dramatic landing. Drzewiecki explains, "The concave/ convex step and landing was a detail I had always wanted to try. The grade change between upper and lower patios, coupled with the strong visual axis to the circular fire pit, created the ideal situation to use it."
The circular fire pit which is perhaps the signature element of the new back yard design, is a hundred-year-old cast iron fire pit which was originally used as a syrup kettle in which sugar cane was melted. It still shows the foundry mark from Georgia. When asked how he came across such a find, Drzewiecki replied, "I do a lot of research and reading of various design and trade magazines and had saved the kettle supplier in my "idea folder" for future use. For this project, the shape and material of the kettle felt very Craftsman, yet modern to me, so I suggested it to my client. Even though my client initially said "they weren't really fire pit people," they loved the look. The stone seat wall with backrest creates a backdrop while uplighting the bowl from below adds a bit of a dramatic touch. It is the first thing you notice when entering the patio from the breezeway of the home."
As far as challenges during the project, Drzewiecki explained that there were two main challenges, the first was determining which of the many existing trees would stay or go. The second was, "Contacting multiple masons and going through over two-hundred colored mortar samples until we matched the exact shade of aqua on the house. That was definitely one of the more unique challenges we faced."
"My favorite part of working on this project was being able to incorporate all of the details I previously mentioned. More importantly, it was an opportunity to work with a client who trusted me one-hundred percent. I'm very blessed to be able to work with lots of great clients. Projects like these only happen when a client shares your vision for creating something special."
This project by Ginkgo Leaf Studios won the 2012 Gold Award for Excellence in Residential Landscape Design and Construction from the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association and the 2015 Gold Award for Best Specialty Wall Project in Residential Design. The project also won the Wisconsin Masonry Alliance Excellence in Hardscape Project of the Year.