A Design-Minded Solution to a Narrow Landscape

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January 3, 2014
With aptly applied angular concrete details and ornamental plantings, landscape architect Terence Lee transforms his slender Northern California backyard.
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  "It was nothing but a muddy pit," landscape architect Terence Lee says about the 500-square-foot yard behind his Pacifica, California, house. Instead of filling the space with potted plants or paving it over for a quick fix, Lee devised a simple budget-friendly plan involving tilted lines and a few plants to fashion a functional, low-maintenance space fit his family of five's lifestyle.

    "It was nothing but a muddy pit," landscape architect Terence Lee says about the 500-square-foot yard behind his Pacifica, California, house. Instead of filling the space with potted plants or paving it over for a quick fix, Lee devised a simple budget-friendly plan involving tilted lines and a few plants to fashion a functional, low-maintenance space fit his family of five's lifestyle.

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  Here's the space before. When Lee purchased the house (he's its first owner) it didn't come with a finished yard.

    Here's the space before. When Lee purchased the house (he's its first owner) it didn't come with a finished yard.

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  Lee used a bit of visual trickery in the form of forced perspective to make the yard appear larger than its 500 square feet. "You can look at the garden from essentially three directions, from the inside looking directly out, and from the two long ends of the garden," he says. "If the garden was designed with orthogonal lines, you quickly get the sense of that it’s a small narrow space. By tilting the lines of the curb walls and step, you get a much different feel."

    Lee used a bit of visual trickery in the form of forced perspective to make the yard appear larger than its 500 square feet. "You can look at the garden from essentially three directions, from the inside looking directly out, and from the two long ends of the garden," he says. "If the garden was designed with orthogonal lines, you quickly get the sense of that it’s a small narrow space. By tilting the lines of the curb walls and step, you get a much different feel."

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  Eliminating right angles skews how one visually interprets the space. For example, the vanishing point here at the step makes the space feel very long once you pass through the gate.

    Eliminating right angles skews how one visually interprets the space. For example, the vanishing point here at the step makes the space feel very long once you pass through the gate.

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  "I think there’s plenty of missed potential in small compact spaces like these," Lee says. I see it in my neighborhood and other places in publication. People tend to think a small space is a small space and don’t try to do very much with it.

    "I think there’s plenty of missed potential in small compact spaces like these," Lee says. I see it in my neighborhood and other places in publication. People tend to think a small space is a small space and don’t try to do very much with it.

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  Horsetails occupy the raised planters. Lee used a darkly colored mulch to offset the light concrete, which gives the garden more depth.

    Horsetails occupy the raised planters. Lee used a darkly colored mulch to offset the light concrete, which gives the garden more depth.

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  Now, instead of being an under-used muddy pit, the reinvented patio—which was completed for $30 per square foot—acts as an extension of the interior. "We can now easily move our activities outside," Lee says.

    Now, instead of being an under-used muddy pit, the reinvented patio—which was completed for $30 per square foot—acts as an extension of the interior. "We can now easily move our activities outside," Lee says.

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