Is it spring yet? Well, the technical answer is no, but psychologically some of us need to push the issue a bit. One way to endure the winter doldrums is to focus on spring gardening. We'll bet some of you are spending time with your Burpee catalog or wandering around your favorite garden center, watching them set out their spring inventory.
So, what do architects know about gardening? Just this: Houses and gardens together create the environment we call home, and they should "speak" with each other. When we look at a remodeling project, a main concern is the connection between the indoor and outdoor space.
Traditional homes, especially those built before 1950, express little interest in this symbiotic relationship. Many of the modest tract homes built in the valley in the pre- and post-war boom period have the bedrooms and bathroom at the rear of the house; getting to the backyard involves using a side door and walking down the driveway to even find useable outdoor space.
Today's lifestyle embraces both inside and outside space. Especially with our favorable climate, conducive outdoor areas can act as an additional living space from spring through fall. Some families rarely cook or eat indoors at all during the summer months. This does not require a full-scale outdoor kitchen; simply a nice barbeque and comfortable seating arrangement will do if they are located in an area that functions well and makes us feel at ease.
We have spoken before about a favorite architect/author of ours by the name of Sarah Susanka. She has a wonderful book written with Julie Moir Messervy called "Outside the Not So Big House". Reading this would be a wonderful way to survive January and February and would help you improve the design and function of your home and garden.
Susanka and Messervy point out that, "Every site has a vantage: either a prospect — a view from a high position, as on a mountain; or a refuge — a protected setting such as under a canopy of trees." Begin with analyzing your property. Try to look at it with "new eyes" to see if there are design opportunities you have neglected to consider.
Messervy, who is a landscape architect, says that a landscape is really made up of two basic elements. These are paths and places. This is similar to the attention an architect puts on flow and circulation within a house; the same principle applies to your garden. Consequently, the flow from the inside to the outside is critical when considering house and garden as part of one design. Another corollary issue is the areas of transition that occur along this path — areas both inside and outside of the house that should receive special design attention.
Finally, consider the concept of views in this design process. We are usually concerned with how our house will be viewed from the exterior, but we sometimes forget to take advantage of views from the house out to the yard. Some of us are lucky enough to have spectacular natural views such as a mountain peak or a valley spread out below our property; however, those of us with less dramatic locations can do a lot to create view opportunities in our yards. Looking out at a special tree, a wall fountain or a lovely pond can do wonders for the space within the house and for our spirits as well.
This may be the year to think beyond the type of seeds we will plant and begin to think about creating a design that will enhance both our homes and our gardens. If we all begin to think spring, maybe it will get here sooner rather than later.
Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.