Jenna and Jonas Sylvester moved into their 1951 Magnolia home in 2004. Eighteen months later, they had developed some clear ideas of what worked and what didn’t—and because they were expecting their first child, they knew they needed to expand their living space beyond the two-story home’s 2,300 square feet.
“We loved the house but never enjoyed the experience of being outside,” Jonas recalls. Even when he put time and energy into mowing and yard work, he says, the lawn still didn’t look good.
“We’re outdoor people,” Jonas says. “We wanted outdoor spaces we could really use.” For Jonas, that means being able to watch sports on TV without the guilt of being inside on sunny days: “When you have good days [in Seattle], you have to make the most of it.”
When they brought in landscape designer Scot Eckley, the Sylvesters had a lengthy wish list that included a modern, fresh design aesthetic (Jenna is a graphic designer), “straight edges and clear definition” (Jonas didn’t want to mow around meandering garden edges), and what Jenna calls a “lounge element.”
In addition, they needed a yard for their children; daughter Zoë is now 3 and son Chase is 9 months. “Zoë loves to play soccer, [so] we had a good grass requirement,” Jonas says. And they also needed to stay within a budget.
The Sylvesters had recently finished a kitchen remodel when they hired Eckley, and he says that project gave him a good appreciation for their bold use of color and modern sensibilities. “The renovation of the house really helped to set the tone for the garden,” Eckley says. In addition, he says the backsplash of narrow horizontal Small Zen Weave tiles from Ann Sacks inspired his decision to incorporate horizontal, linear elements in the landscape design. Another influence was a residential garden in San Francisco designed by California modernist Thomas Church that Eckley remembered from studying landscape architecture at the University of Washington.
Eckley managed to fit all of the couple’s desired elements into less than 1,800 square feet, including a trellised seating pavilion with a window to hold Jonas’ television, a spacious patio for barbecues and a 20-foot square of green grass.
To satisfy Jenna’s desire for a place for backyard lounging, Eckley created an 18-inch-high rectangular concrete platform with a recessed natural-gas fireplace. On sunny days, the fire pit can be covered with ironwood planks, and custom Sunbrella fabric-covered cushions turn the platform into a perfect spot for sunbathing.
An existing rockery that angled across the northwest corner of the property posed another challenge. To eliminate the expense of removing the rocks and excess earth, Eckley designed around them. “We turned the garden on the diagonal, so we could nestle the pavilion space and the patio space in and didn’t need to move the rockeries,” he explains. “That allowed us to shift the focus of the garden, and everything became about looking toward the lawn and the views outside the garden.” It also introduced the straight lines Jonas wanted.
“Scot created more energy by turning it on a 45-degree angle,” Jenna notes. “That gave it a more dynamic feel.”
Staying within a budget led to several other creative decisions. A new wooden fence panel at the west side of the lot masks the rockeries and serves as a backdrop for the patio, fireplace–lounger platform and lawn. A fiberglass planter painted vibrant red sits at the end of the lawn against the fence, serving as a focal point from the window above the kitchen sink. Rather than replacing an old wooden fence along the south side of the property, Eckley covered it with metal panels that have rusted to a rich reddish brown. Subtle, raised horizontal ribs on the panels continue the lines that keep the eye moving around the garden.
Instead of excavating the backyard, Eckley’s construction crew built up about 6 inches for the new patio and lawn area. They jackhammered the old concrete patio and took the pieces to Bedrock Industries to be recycled.
Eckley’s crew built a panel to cover the electrical meter, cable box and downspout on the back of the house so it blends with the garden’s architecture. A large, custom-painted fiberglass pot holding a silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) and Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ also helps buffer the house. Recycled glass in the fireplace is from Bedrock Industries.
Though the yard is relatively small, the family has hosted outdoor parties for as many as 50 people, and most of their friends are as excited about the design as the Sylvesters are. “Almost everyone comments on it,” Jenna says.
“The project came off almost to the inch what we had planned,” Eckley says. “We were really careful with our initial measurements and dimensions for the site. It doesn’t always happen this way, but there weren’t any big surprises.”
In September 2008, the landscape earned Eckley first place in the Outdoor Living category in the 2008 Northwest Design Awards from Seattle Design Center. More importantly, the designer couldn’t have been happier with his working relationship with Jonas and Jenna. “They were dream clients,” he says. “It was so cool that they trusted me and the whole process.”