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Designing for a Small Space

When Matt and I first went to the consultation for this project, we were excited because of the size of the space. The smaller the space, the more important the programming so one knows how to use it and move around. The tiny yard has become somewhat our specialty.

OES | Before and after

Since the yard is small, that means the neighbors are obviously in close proximity, but what made privacy especially important is the placement of the windows and how they look onto the clients’ backyard. The yard was somewhat level right by the back door, then sloped significantly away towards the fence. This indicated that whatever deck we were going to design need to be screened visually since it was elevated and visible over the fence to the back neighbors. It also indicated to us that we would need to regrade the rest of the yard to make it usable, to try to catch the runoff so the water stayed on site during a rain event, and provide some way to maneuver the site in instances of even terrain. In a seminar put on by the City of Austin for low impact development, the engineer confirmed to me that simulated dry creek beds, framed and damed by bunch grasses, are an effective way to retain and filter rainwater.

OES | Before and after

In addition to wanting a deck, protected from the sun by a pergola with modern lines, the clients have a toddler and wanted a place for her to play. There was an unused space behind the house by the AC unit. This area was an interstitial space – a forgotten in between area that needed activation.

We knew we needed to give the clients a reason to go back there. Hence the terminus in a steel-planter framed patio with decomposed limestone surface treatment. And how to get there? A boardwalk became the perfect way to interact with the dry creek bed underneath. This circulation would draw people away from the deck, past the clumping bamboo screen, out to the DL patio. The ground was leveled here using the soil from the existing ground plane. Since we have two kids of our own, we know that there’s nothing toddlers want more than to play with buckets in an open area of rocks. Decomposed limestone doesn’t compact so it’s nice while barefoot, but it moves around quite a bit. We solved for this with the surrounding steel planters and overlapping the boardwalk on the entryway.

Our design allows the clients to maximize their square footage in their yard while using the open spaces for different functions. On the deck is a place to sit at a dining table, while the back DL patio is a place to gather, sit on the open spaces on the planters, and play or mingle.

OES | Before and after

The plants used in the installation are drought tolerant, purchased from Tillery Street Plant Co, Barton Springs Nursery, and Ted’s Trees. The clumping bamboo, from Tillery Street Plant Co, does not have runners, so it won’t spread invasively to unintended areas. I placed beautiful redbuds to bring the eye past a space, further screening views, and giving softer textures of height. Bunch grasses and flowering perennials are used to give shape in the mulch beds that mingle with the dry creek, and architecturally interesting plants like aloes, yuccas, and spineless cacti are nestled into more spacious beds topped with more decomposed limestone. The back patio has lush, larger perennials that attract wildlife like butterflies and hummingbirds.

OES | Before and after

We are going back for a few add ons in the next few weeks – the clients also want a custom cover for the fuse box, a ceiling fan attached to the underside of the pergola roof on the steel frame, and string lights for ambiance and visibility.

We love interventions in small outdoor spaces. It’s crucial that every decision gives a way to use the area on as many levels and in as many ways as possible: circulation, active and passive zones, wildlife habitat, and water retention. The proportions are also important, like making a deck that’s just the right size for a dining table and a place to walk by, without making it so huge that there’s wasted space. You also don’t want to just fill up the space with redundant uses – if you have more than one deck or patio that functions the same way, both won’t end up being used. The design process is so important for just these reasons. We get a chance to massage proportions, how one circulates in the space, how active and passive zones are framed, and the most appropriate and beautiful materials. Landscape architecture and architecture meet in a highly designed space, all in your backyard.

[Check out this project’s album on Facebook HERE for progress pics]

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