Large front yard - blank canvas - contemporary house

Nicky ChristensenSeptember 9, 2012

Hi there! We are just beginning the exterior work on our concrete block odd-ball. The front yard is a boring expanse of lawn on a slope (exact grade unknown, sorry, but its not treacherous). Sloppy rendering of planned exterior provided. :) Charcoal and yellow paint with chestnut brown rainscreen corner accents.

We would like to keep the look modern, geometric, and as sleek and simple as the house but we need a fun, natural boost. What would you paint on this blank canvas?

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I'm at a loss, but I do like the attached photo with horsetails in planters for close to the house. Would go with square or rectangular planters rather than round ended.

Here is a link that might be useful: Idea

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 4:10PM
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Think duluthinbloomz4's idea is fabulous looking.

Would really like to see a pic of the house as it appears now, san your mockup. Sure you'll get some recommendations re color. Tell us please what exposure the front gets.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 6:50PM
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Nicky Christensen

Love the midcentury modern idea! Lower portion of yard is shaded by a giant maple tree for part of the day. The tree is in the "parking" further east of a sidewalk.
House faces east.

Current state of madness (just put in new windows, powerwashing, etc.):

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 9:01PM
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I like that the front steps go down on both sides of the door. I can see a nice patio with the edges being planting boxes in the same colors of the house or matching the rainscreen. Perhaps something like the horsetail planters.

The yard is quite big. You could lead into the patio with something like these two:

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 10:02AM
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Nic, between the two views--"before" and "after"--it looks as if an artist using plants and hardscape as a medium would have much more opportunity to create their art on the "before" canvas. Since you would have created your work of art on the "after" canvas it doesn't follow that you'd want much of it covered up by someone else's work. Out of respect for your art, is a minimal planting what you'd expect?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 10:21AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I think you will receive a ton of quality design ideas from the website
type in modern landscape architecture.

also there is a site called blu homes - it is a pre fab modern house kit and they have been doing some nice exteriors as well. It use to be Michelle Kaufman's company , if you are familiar with her architectural work .

Stong broad linear lines with an ocassional upright punctuation would work with your contemp. look.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 11:31AM
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Nicky Christensen

Thanks everyone for the awesome ideas/links. Many more pins to the board! :) We are several steps and a season or two away from landscape decisions.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 8:27PM
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Looking forward to seeing what you choose to do, especially color wise. Fun house!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 6:59AM
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A few days ago I saw something similar to what duluthinbloomz4 posted with the beds that come out perpendicular to the house. It looked really good but I can't seem to find the image. It had shrubs planted that were trimmed square.

I threw together a quick model to illustrate some of the themes. The changes you're planning seem nice but the overall geometry of the house doesn't change much. The concrete planter idea and a small front courtyard could help provide more visual interest and not make the house look like a box.

The treatment you're doing over the picture window would be nice to repeat over the entryway. You might need to add some columns.

On either side of the door you can add some bulky square planters.

There's supposed to be a concrete bench between the fish pond and planter but it doesn't show up well. A better idea would be to have the bench seat be a wood that matches the chestnut corners you're adding.

This is a rough plan. Dimensions of planters, shrubs, etc aren't exact and I didn't include many plants but it should give you an idea of what I think would look nice.

4free image uploader

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:42AM
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Hi, love your paint scheme... I wonder if the black paint could be replaced with a more colorfast material, such as powder coated sheet metal, so you don't have to refresh the paint every few years?
Here's a shot of a detail that caught my eye one day - is this something that might sync with your vision?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 11:51AM
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Do you think you could add a very simple lines cover over the front door? Yea, I know, you're asking about colors, so 'just saying'.

What sort of material were you considering on either end of the house - the areas you show in the rust color?


    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 12:49PM
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Nicky Christensen

Fabulous! More info on the first photo: rust color is chestnut brown or ipe rainscreen/slatted wood cladding. There is a suspended awning over the picture window. Deck would be full length of the house with containers and possibly a patio set.
Just an idea, however.
We have such a large space to work with that we've talked about a wide variety of possibilities including a raised-bed native planting, a formal geometric courtyard, and a veggie/potager area. We seem to default to ornamental grasses, the "modern" design mainstay.

I love the look, but the horsetail/rush scares me due to its water requirements and invasiveness. Does anyone have experience with it?
Also, we are bordered by a public park and near a school, so we are cautious about water features. A rill would be fantastic!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 4:57PM
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Why are you putting a deck and dining set in your front yard?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 5:52PM
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Nicky Christensen

Is "wooden patio" more appealing? :) the western exposure of the back patio can be harsh at dinner time. That's about my only practical thought.
Chairs would be Eames wire chairs with a similarly non-distracting table, IF we decide to roll with it. Your thoughts?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 6:16PM
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There are a lot of good reasons that decks and patio dining sets go in the back or side yard. The back/side entrance is usually in or near the kitchen which makes it easier to bring food out and dishes back in. It provides you with more privacy. Most people when outside their homes eating or entertaining prefer a bit of seclusion. I think most neighbors would prefer it too. It seems a bit tacky to be blunt. I believe some municipalities even have ordinances prohibiting such activities.

If you want to use more of your side yard for entertaining I would block some of it off with a hedge or fence.

Where is your backdoor located? Also who designed the changes to the facade of the building? Did they provide you with a better illustration of what it would look like?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 7:11PM
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Tom Tom Tom, man, you'd never make it here in the South. Such bluntness is basically inexcusable. Hope you'll expand your boundaries, notice old parts of towns where the front porch is THE meeting place.

You say " I believe some municipalities even have ordinances prohibiting such activities." Perhaps this is true. Please cite evidence to support this. Then a lot of people reading this will know what townships to avoid.

Nic, I love the uniqueness of your home. I live in a cookie-cutter in a small subdivision. It's a nice enough home, but def not a fun looking place.

Outta here, Rosie, in Sugar Hill, GA

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 8:09PM
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Nicky Christensen

Photo is of east side, back door is on west side. We don't have much of a side yard (that is ours anyway), park's tree-filled area is to the north and west.
Good point about actually eating out there-feels a bit exhibitionist. No better drawings, the one provided by me was just a representation of our amateur/temporary solution.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 8:27PM
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Nicky Christensen

Is "wooden patio" more appealing? :) the western exposure of the back patio can be harsh at dinner time. That's about my only practical thought.
Chairs would be Eames wire chairs with a similarly non-distracting table, IF we decide to roll with it. Your thoughts?

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 8:47PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Our house shares the same orientation as yours so I understand what you mean about the west side of the house at dinner time. However, the west side is sweet in spring and fall when you want to be basking in that late-day sun.

If you want to create an eating area in the front yard you could build a screen or some sort of garden wall. The area between your house and the screen could be a patio or sitting area. The screen could be low, like 4' or so, so that when you are sitting you are behind it. It could be made of ipe, metal, hedge plants clipped into a tall, narrow hedge, etc. The flooring of the patio could be made of concrete or stone or whathaveyou and there could be container plants with herbs or strawberries or other edible delights. Think of how cozy it feels to eat at an outdoor cafe. You are behind a very low wall that separates the cafe from the street, yet it creates a nice enclosure that feels good.

Your vision for your house is neat and I'd love to see updates as you go along!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 10:26PM
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Rosie, I find it best to be direct online. I like porches, I just think they serve a different purpose than a deck.


I think you need to step back and start thinking about functions for your overall landscape before you start thinking about design elements and style. Ultimately the purpose of your landscape is to be useful to you and your family.

Draw a scaled top view of your property, including house, driveway, walkways, streets, boundaries, etc and figure out where you want things to be.

I like having public and private areas. There are some properties I pass by that are right next to public parks. All of them have some sort of fence around them. Usually a 6' tall privacy fence. I can only imagine that they want a clear demarcation so random people don't wander onto their property and grabbing a beer from their cooler thinking the private family barbecue is a park function :)

I think there can also be liability issues. If someone happens to come onto your property and gets hurt you can get hit with lots of bills. Even if they thought they were still in the park. Did you hear the phone ringing while you were edging your lawn and ran inside to get it and someone came along thinking your weed whacker would be fun to play with? There's some big event going on in the park and they ran out of parking? No problem, there's plenty of space on your front lawn. :)

I would also put a fence to help turn part of the front lawn (usually public) into private space. If it's a 3-4' high fence I might also add some hedges along with it. It's not just to differentiate spaces but I assume past your front lawn is a street and I think a fence has a lot of safety benefits. If you have kids playing that close to the street you want some privacy for them and some peace of mind for yourself knowing they won't be running into the street by mistake. This wasn't meant to sound morbid.

I don't know what's behind that window on the right. If it's a bedroom it also helps give it more privacy from the street if there are fences/shrubs.

I take it you're making the changes to the front of the house because you want to give it more visual interest so it's not one flat white wall. I think that's a good idea but I also think it's important to add more bulk and dimension through the landscaping. (Or maybe even consider bumping out a wall? But this is a landscape forum.) That's why I liked the perpendicular beds and the courtyard. It helps give your home some more shape.

I threw together some more quick mock-ups of what I would do if I were in your shoes. I had to make some assumptions on dimensions. Again this is more to demonstrate ideas. You need to figure out where to put things based on how you live your life.

I like a big bulky entry because it ads dimension to your house. An awning over the entry will come in handy when you're fumbling for your keys in the rain or when people visit. You can put a little seating area to hang out. It's a good spot for visitors to wait if they get there before you. I liked the look of the rectangular hedges in the rectangular planters but I think that throwing in some round shapes like lavender and ornamental grasses will work too. Don't know what grows in your area.

The japanese maple helps provide some cover for the picture window. Helps prevent headlights shining in depending on neighbor's driveways and street configuration plus you don't have to worry about people driving by catching you walking to grab a glass of water late at night in your underwear.

When I'm in my home I like to have some privacy but at the same time be able to keep window treatments open to enjoy the scenery.

In the overview shot you get a better sense of how the front yard becomes your "backyard". If you want to have access to the park you might want to put a gate somewhere if that's appropriate.

There's a wrap around deck. I'm hoping your kitchen or dining room is somewhere near the north west corner and you can have access to the deck that way. You can put your patio table on the north side if there's room so you don't have the problems with the sunlight.

If you have kids try to put their play area someplace where you can see it from inside.

First thing's first though. Draw out a plan of your property on graph paper or something like Google Sketchup (that's what I used for these) and start figuring out where things should go before trying to figure out how they should look.

upload picture

anonymous picture upload

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 10:44PM
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Seems you have a choice between making the front of your house a public display, or a private area - in the latter case some screening would likely be necessary, but also new opportunities would open up, such as, e.g. making the deck big enough to incorporate a swimming pool. I think a clipped hedge of arborvitae or yew would work well in your situation - I'd even suggest getting creative with hedge shapes (windows or gaps in a hedge? row of dominoes? wavy hedge? etc).
The "public display" is an option if you have enough usable space in the back yard, but I cannot guess that from the photos. With your colorful facade, what I'd do is make a "reflection" on the ground of the yellow wall, the same width as the wall - a rectangle planted with yellow Tagetes or something, extending out from the deck and up to the sidewalk. Just an idea...

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 5:40AM
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