Blurring the Lines, Blending the Spaces
Written By Joan Lerch
Photography By Alise O’Brien
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” –Cicero
This often-referenced observation from the ancient Roman statesman might not be his exact words, but the philosophy rings true. And when the library has a view to a private Zen garden, with a transcendent soundtrack from a nearby waterfall, why would you ever want to leave?
From the earliest conversations about the creation of this custom home, the outdoor spaces were an important component of the entire project, explains designer Kelly Johnson, owner of Kelly Johnson Design. While some features were added as the house evolved, there were a few must-haves from the beginning. “The owners had a wish list of things they wanted, and they specifically asked for a putting green, a firepit, and a separate verandah off of the master bedroom.”
The spectacular custom waterfall was not part of the original concept, however. Explaining how it came to be, the designer says, “They were adamant about not having a swimming pool, but the outdoor space needed a focal point. The home’s large windows, which bring the inside and outside together, are an integral part of the design, so a water feature seemed to be a natural fit.” With that in mind, Johnson set out to find just the right element.
After researching photos of fountains, waterfalls and reflecting basins, the designer combined elements from more than a dozen pictures to create her final design, and she admits the end result is her favorite part of the outdoor space. “I especially love that you can see it from so much of the inside of the house, and the sound is magnificent. Sometimes you can even hear it inside with the doors closed— it’s so soothing and subtle.”
Integrating the waterfall into the home’s design helped with another homeowner request— a walkout lower level. “This was a level lot, with everything on the same grade,” Johnson explains. “But the height of the waterfall allowed us to dig and give them the walkout they wanted.” Framed perfectly by lower-level French doors, the waterfall brings the outdoors into this part of the house, too.
After the home and the first round of outdoor spaces were completed, another stunning focal point was added to the garden at the homeowners’ request. Dubbed the “Arch Garden,” it’s a fabulous trellis tunnel that beckons the visitor to discover what awaits at the other end. Describing it as a “brilliant idea,” Johnson adds, “That was all Tony.”
The “Tony” with the brilliant vision is Tony Frisella, vice-president of sales at Frisella Landscaping, and self-described “passionate visionary of what can be.” Explaining the development of the “Arch Garden,” he says, “When the landscape was being installed, one of the homeowners mentioned that he wanted to have a garden with raised planters. We talked about four cedar wood boxes, and that’s how it all started.”
Frisella found inspiration for his design at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio. “They had utilized a trellis concept in their raised planters, so that was the beginning of my idea. Then I saw an Instagram photo of an archway made from pebbles, and that led to the design of the stone portal.” Designing for experienced art collectors was also motivational, he adds. “They are very art-loving people— I knew we had to do something special.” He credits Evan Winkler, Frisella’s landscape designer, with the finishing touch. “He found the circular trellises that mimic the shape of the stone archway, and the style was perfect.” Outfitted with tiny flood lights, the inviting tunnel leads to an illuminated seven-son flower tree, set in a planter fashioned from the same stone as the entry.
With an intrinsic understanding of his clients, Frisella designs landscapes uniquely suited to their needs, like the Zen garden just outside the library. “I know this homeowner is a high performer in her job, and I consider a high-performance landscape to be the essence of well-being. Sophisticated people understand the importance of visualization and meditation, and that requires the right environment— barefoot, feet in the dirt or in the mulch, not on concrete. What better way than to immerse yourself in the lush living environment that plants provide?”
In addition to its meditation-conducive atmosphere, the serene space is another example of linking indoors and out, as Johnson explains. “It all works well together, because the library has a subtle Asian influence, and so does the Zen garden.”
When the mood turns from contemplative to celebratory, the outdoor spaces welcome guests in style and comfort. On the covered main verandah, designed by architect Bill Culver, a fireplace and television are showcased in a wall of smooth stone blocks beneath a dramatic vaulted ceiling, and an outdoor kitchen (complete with the Big Green Egg) means party food will be close at hand.
As the evenings cool down, and the liquid refreshment changes from chilled Pinot Grigio to hot buttered rum, built-in seating around the stone firepit offers the perfect gathering spot for softly illuminated conversation. Johnson designed the space for comfort and convenience, with plush cushions and pillows upholstered in maintenance-free fabrics.
“While they don’t have to be brought inside regularly, there are times they need to be stored— like when pollen is falling, for example. I had our carpenters build cabinetry from Accoya® wood because it is so resistant to the elements, and then fit them to the back of the firepit. So now everything can be stored and retrieved easily.” The subtle colors were a deliberate choice by the designer. “Neutrals and naturals tie into the calming colors of the house, and that was the idea. In the case of the indoors, it’s about letting the art shine— in the outdoors, it’s letting nature and the view take over.”
For quiet evenings just for two, the homeowners have a second covered verandah outside their master bedroom suite. Separate from the more public areas, it offers a close-up perspective of the putting green just a few steps away. Perfectly illustrating the philosophy of British architect Stephen Gardiner, who said “The garden, by design, is concerned with both the interior and the land beyond the garden,” Frisella’s design of mature trees encircling the perimeter of the property ensures the verandah is completely private and peaceful.
As for Cicero’s pronouncement from two millenniums past? Perhaps he was on to something.