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Contemplating a trip to Tuscany, or maybe a tropical island retreat? Why not skip the travel hassles and enjoy your own private paradise at home? After all, you already live in one of the world’s top vacation destinations.
For a nice change of scenery, transform part of your lawn into a cool, blue lagoon, a bountiful vegetable garden, or an al fresco dining area.
“In Southern California, the outside is just an extension of the house. It’s another room,” says landscape consultant Tom Piergrossi. And after creating hundreds of different outdoor spaces, what’s his favorite of all?
“My front yard. This is my little tropical sanctuary. I’ve got my pond, lots of wildlife, bromeliads, camellias, ferns, and colorful foliage.”
“It’s like, you get home from work and maybe it’s been a stressful day, but on the way from the car to the front door you immediately feel better.”
Rancho Santa Fe designer Barbara Lee Grigsby agrees that nothing beats the feeling of “home, sweet home.”
“How many times do people go on vacation and the kids have no one to play with? And what do you do with your pets? Instead of all that anxiety, you can enjoy the recluse of your own home, surrounded by your friends and family. We truly have a paradise here, where you have the ocean at your feet, or you feel like you’re in the country but only 15 minutes from the ocean.”
Designing an outdoor environment often begins inside your house, where you may want to frame a particular view or open up into a larger living space.
“We usually look at the style of the home and create an extension of that architectural statement. It almost becomes a sculptural feature, because when you’re inside the home looking out, that area is a permanent exhibit,” explains Jim Groen, senior architect at Jackson Design & Remodeling. “Even if it’s simply a barbeque and countertop, the placement of those elements is critical to the functioning and the total vibe of the yard.”
And today’s outdoor rooms often include far more than “simply a barbeque.” Sophisticated lighting and sound systems, radiant heat and fans for temperature control, flat-screen TVs, and other options abound.
“There are so many different products out there, but it goes beyond pizza ovens, barbeques, smokers, and wok stations. It’s thinking about how you like to entertain, and then designing a space around that,” says Groen.
“All of the senses are really being considered now in outdoor spaces. A lot people are doing fire and water features, and creating very sensual environments.”
By blurring the boundaries between interior and exterior spaces, a great design combines the best of both worlds, creating a natural environment that’s also somewhat protected and controlled.
Designer Kathy Blackbird of Blackbird Interiors recalls one recent project where “there are glass walls in the dining room that open up to the outside. So we created a waterfall out there that you can enjoy while you’re eating. It’s absolutely beautiful, like you’re in Hawaii.”
Home Court Advantage
If you have an active family, you need a place for relaxation and recreation. And it doesn’t always have to be a pool (although that’s nice, too). You could have courtside seats at your own private Wimbledon.
“We just completed a project with a tennis court that was so much fun,” says Blackbird. “The architecture was sort of Mediterranean, with verandas overlooking the court. Down on the court, we created another covered area, so you could watch from above or below.”
At her own home, Blackbird has a half basketball court where “the kids can all play while we’re sitting out by the fire or the pool and watching. It’s really fun for the family.”
In creating special places for the kids (and pets), let yourself be a little whimsical.
“The demands that are put on children now — their everyday learning and growing process — it’s vital for them to have spaces to call their own,” says Grigsby. “I don’t think everything has to be functional. I think beauty should stand on its own, as long as it serves the purpose of making you happy.”
In addition to creating kid-friendly places, Americans are increasingly interested in creating earth-friendly environments.
These days, a “greener” garden is one that requires less water and less maintenance, while still providing plenty of natural beauty.
“It’s really easy to design a beautiful, sustainable garden that brings in wildlife, and we have more and more people asking for that,” says Piergrossi. “They don’t want to use chemicals and they don’t want to use a lot of water. In fact, we’ve been busier this year than ever because of the drought. Everyone’s taking out their lawns.”
A landscape with native and drought-tolerant plants not only reduces water and maintenance costs, it’s also an investment that literally grows over time.
Your savings can be significant, says Piergrossi. “I have a 2.5-acre yard and our average water bill is around $200 a month. Plus, I make a $100 bouquet of flowers for my house every weekend just out of the garden.”
“The key is good design. You need good bones in the garden — evergreen trees and shrubs that provide a backdrop — and then you paint on top of that.”
An Edible Eden
The desire for locally grown, organic food is also having a big impact on landscape design, with more and more people planting herb and vegetable gardens. In addition to providing fresher, healthier food, an edible garden offers many exotic choices that you’ll never find at the supermarket.
“What’s more local than your own backyard? If we can have a Hollywood plum tree that gives us nice foliage, nice flowers, and fruit, that’s a plus,” says Piergrossi.
“I have some amazing figs in my garden but you hardly ever see them in the store because they don’t ship well.” And of course, there’s nothing like the taste of a homegrown tomato, fresh off the vine.
Whatever your personal paradise may be — a poolside resort or a tranquil retreat — book your reservations now for a “staycation” spot you’ll enjoy every day. CAROLE BRUMMAGE