They Called in The Experts, And Their “Before” Spaces Are Now Happily Ever Afters.
A SUBURBAN BACKYARD STUNNER in Timonium
Ann Carico is not a gardener — yet. However, after demanding shifts as a hospice nurse, the 56-year-old craved a place for peace and respite. “It’s something I dreamed about for years, to have a place to be surrounded by beauty,” says Carico. “I wanted a healing place, a space to meditate and recover from work.”
Carico’s parents bought the Timonium house new in 1961, on a half-acre. Since then, roads have widened and traffic snarls have increased. “Timonium has grown so much, so fast,” she says. “The noise never stops, and there is less green space. I needed a place apart from the busyness, a buffer from the noise of traffic.”
Carico selected Claire Jones of Claire Jones Landscapes, LLC to bring her tranquil retreat to life. Jones immediately understood the property’s priorities. The existing landscape was overexposed to Timonium Road. The front of the house featured a characterless builder’s cement path to the door, which was flanked by dull foundation plantings Jones refers to as “eyebrows.” The back of the house had a rickety wooden deck and a broken cement patio. The property lines had become overgrown tangles.
And there was an additional challenge: Deer.
“Even though this is a dense suburban area, we could plant something and the next day it would be eaten,” says Jones. “I was careful to select plants with all season interest that were deer resistant — and no invasives.”
Unlike some homeowners who might choose to eradicate road noise and nosy neighbors with a fence, “Ann wanted something her neighbors would want to look at,” Jones recalls. When selecting plants to screen the front yard, Jones bypassed the traditional options like Leyland Cypress — known for its density — opting for a mixed border of cherry laurel, different species of viburnum and the occasional holly that would provide privacy without growing into an impenetrable green wall.
The old walkways were ripped out and replaced with a sweeping path of bluestone. In acknowledgement of Carico’s love of flowering trees, the front yard is anchored by a crepe myrtle, a dogwood and a flowering ‘Kwanzan’ cherry. Several azaleas were preserved from the existing yard. They fit perfectly with Carico’s preferred color scheme of pinks, whites, blues and purples. Plants were selected for their year-round interest, like the dwarf Nandina ‘Firepower’ that lines the new sidewalk. Its lime green leaves turn a brilliant red each autumn.
The backyard has been completely transformed. The cracked old patio was replaced with one of bluestone and Western Maryland stone. Where the old deck once stood there is now a terraced garden full of Nepeta (or ‘catmint’, which is deer resistant), Shasta daisies, bee balm and asters. The stepped hillside gracefully embraces an undulating waterfall that empties into a pond resplendent with iris and Echinacea. A Japanese maple completes the scene.
This is one of Carico’s favorite vantage points in the new landscape and there’s a bench there where she can unwind.
“I love watching the fish play in the pond and the birds bathing in the waterfalls,” she says. “It’s especially wonderful at night when it is quiet and the water is flowing — it’s just lovely.”
From the house, the backyard gently slopes away. For Jones, this was the perfect vantage point from which to design the border gardens. “From the highest point I was able to design an organic, sweeping shape,” she explains. “I hate fussy little curves — I like big sweeps and big gardens.” She points by way of example to the sweeping pathways that wind from the front of the house through the backyard. Should Carico wish to experience the garden from this path, she can walk beneath an arbor of climbing roses along an alley of viburnum and boxwood to where the side garden opens to the expanse of the backyard.
Again, wanting to include rather than shield out the neighbors, Jones designed a permeable mixed border along the sides of the property. Trees and shrubs include cherry, magnolia and styrax combined with oak leaf hydrangea, fountain grass, spirea, salvia and bee balm punctuated with peonies and Knock Out roses. At the furthest end of the property, where the acreage slopes down toward a neighbor, the overgrown areas were cleared and existing spruce trees where limbed-up. Now, a young woodland garden of azalea, dogwood, crested iris and ferns has just begun to take root.
Although the landscape features different areas with the waterfall as the centerpiece, it blends into a seamless whole. “I am really into ‘tapestry gardens,’ which is the use of repetition of color and form, and multiples of plants,” explains Jones. “I didn’t want each garden to appear separate but part of the whole, and the repetition of some of the same blocks of plants brings it all together.”
For Carico, the garden, now in it is third year and still growing, has been a place to learn and experiment. “She liked the idea of watering from rain barrels and being an active conservationist,” Jones explains, pointing to the terracotta urns (purchased from Sam’s Club) that are perched on attractive bluestone pedestals. At the side of the house are blueberry bushes, Carico’s one special request, and a small raised bed where she dabbles in growing vegetables.
The landscape has led to a new world for Carico, who is thinking of joining a garden club. The garden attracts many bees, which has fostered in her a burgeoning interest in beekeeping. And she aspires to adding a meditation garden in the future.
“The garden has opened me so much to new things to learn,” she states. Even routine maintenance has become a pleasure. “I love the colors of the garden, and the changes throughout the seasons. There is always something coming into bloom, everything in its own time. I can get drunk on the fragrances as I am weeding and pruning.”
Goal of the Project:
Create a relaxing oasis for a busy nurse
The Biggest Obstacle: Deer
The Solution: Monthly organic deer repellent spraying by Whitetail Remedies
Most Striking Feature: One-story waterfall emptying into a pond
Best Design Decision: A mixed perennial border to shield a busy road
Who Did The Work: Claire Jone Landscapes, LLC, sourcing from LSD (Landscape Stone Development); Savelle Landscape (installation/maintenance); Walpole Woodworkers (arbor); and Wicklein Water Gardens
A COOK”S KITCHEN in Elkridge
Helen Hooper is the first to admit that she likes her home more for practical than aesthetic reasons. The house is close to her husband’s work, for example. Over the almost 30 years the Hoopers have called their Elkridge neighborhood home, Helen Hooper has made many renovations in an attempt to create the house of her dreams. But the kitchen’s last facelift was in 1987, and suddenly it was looking very tired.
“The kitchen screamed ‘80s,” says Hooper. “And if I was going to redo it, I wanted it done so that in 10 years time people wouldn’t look at it and think, ‘oh, that’s a 2000s house.’”
The kitchen is part of an open floor plan that includes a small den. Since the 1987 remodel, the Hoopers had also added a large sunroom. In the ‘80s, they built a dividing wall between the kitchen and den, then eventually lowered it, creating a boxy counter. “It was starting to look piecemeal from all the minor updates,” says Hooper.
Hooper asked Paula Henry of Simply Put Interiors, Inc. to help her formulate a contemporary kitchen with a timeless feel. Henry had recently completed the redesign of Helen’s optometry office in Westminster. Immediately, Henry saw that the project was bigger than the kitchen alone. Certainly the endless white cabinetry was dated. The layout of the appliances, with the range against the furthest wall, meant Hooper was always cooking with her back to guests. But there was also no connection between the kitchen and den. In the petite space, just 247 square feet, nothing could be wasted and the spaces needed flow.
“Helen is an avid cook so functionality was important,” says Henry. “And we needed every square inch of space.”
Over six months, Henry altered the space to meet Hooper’s hopes. Although the kitchen’s footprint remained the same, Henry relocated all the appliances. The range, a Thermador, now looks out over the socializing areas. The stove features a vent that rises up out of the counter so no valuable ceiling space needed to be sacrificed for a range hood. Parallel to the range, guests can now walk up to a stand-up bar that creates a nice division between the working and social areas without the bulk of a bar with stools. The shallow cabinet beneath the bar is used for glassware storage. The sink moved from its corner beneath some cabinets to a central spot with a nice view out of the kitchen’s one window.
The custom cabinetry, built by Summerhill Cabinets in Westminster, is certainly the most striking change in the space. The room has low ceilings, just over seven feet, so Henry asked that the cabinets go to the ceiling to draw the eye upward and create a feeling of height. The walnut cabinets feature a red mahogany stain sometimes called the “Camden Yards” stain as it was used at the stadium. The bamboo floors also have a mahogany finish.
Light colored granite countertops complement the deep wood tones and the backsplash is also faced in light tile set in a harlequin pattern with tone-on-tone accent tiles. The brushed nickel drawer pulls echo the modern feel of the new stainless-steel appliances.
Lighting was critical as the house is on a shady lot. The kitchen’s single, massive fluorescent ceiling fixture was replaced wth recessed lighting in both the ceiling and beneath the cabinets to illuminate tasks.
In order to open the flow between the kitchen and den, Henry removed the block of cabinets that was between the two spaces and converted the space into a dining area. A round table “was the best option for the eating area so everything wasn’t boxy,” Henry explains. A new chandelier from Dorman’s Lighting hangs where there was once a ceiling fan fixture.
The new eating area flows seamlessly into the revitalized den where an obsolete built-in was replaced by custom cabinetry in the same wood as the kitchen, drawing the two spaces together. The cabinets are custom designed to perform specific tasks: captain’s doors lift up to reveal a television, for example, while other storage areas are designed to hold movies and electronic components.
Henry ordered a petite sectional for the den from Sofa’s Etc., so the seating is comfortable but not so large as to overpower the space. There’s one well-proportioned swivel chair that can pivot from the den to the pre-existing sunroom.
In many ways, the renovation is a demonstration in thoughtful economy. Though the Hoopers opted for custom cabinetry and gorgeous granite, Henry was able to mix in ready-made accents, like the sofa throw pillows. Henry picked up the round dining table at a consignment shop and refinished it to match the room.
“We spent money wisely,” Henry explains. “You can put things into a space and make them look like a million dollars.”
Hooper says the new space has elevated her attitude toward her home.
“Before, I felt very disconnected and didn’t feel very good about the house,” says Hooper. “Now, when I come in, I feel at home. Even though the overall house hasn’t changed, this has changed the way I feel about it.”
Goal of the Project:
Update an ’80s kitchen and create an open living space
Scope: 247 square feet
How Long The Project Took: Six months
The Biggest Obstacle: Low ceilings and walls
The Solution: Cabinetry to the ceiling to draw the eye upward
Best Design Decision: Custom cabinets for better functionality at a cost only a little more than ready-made
Owner’s Favorite Feature: A sofa table from Steinworld that provides stylish storage
Who Did The Work: Simply Put Interiors, Inc., sourcing from Hunt Valley Tile and Marble; Rock Tops (counters); and Summerhill Cabinets