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For The Garden

Modern Garden

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: October, 2014, Page 126
Photos by Leland Gebhardt

Once solely occupied by a pool, this small backyard was transformed into a multi-room oasis for entertaining by landscape architect Jim Coffman. The yard includes a covered dining space, a semi-shaded living room and an open sitting area with a fire pit.



Bold Colors and Contemporary Styling Invigorate a Patio Home’s Garden Spaces

When homeowners decide to downsize, most look for properties with less upkeep, fewer costs and a more streamlined way of life. Such was the case for one couple who lived on a large Phoenix lot with a mature landscape. “Our home and garden, while beautiful, were very traditional Arizona, with areas of turf surrounded by desert landscaping,” says the woman of the house. “We were ready for a change in the size, look and feel of our residence, to something smaller and more Contemporary.”

What they found was a patio home in a quaint gated community in east Phoenix; it was originally built in the mid to late ’70s and had never been remodeled. “This home was perfect in that it was a clean slate and ripe for a complete renovation inside and out,” she recalls. Except for one bathroom, all of the spaces open to a back courtyard. “It had the potential to be exceptional.”

The couple purchased the residence in 2010 and completely renovated the interior with an open floor plan. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors allowed open access to the courtyard—the lot’s only outdoor living space. The goal was to create a seamless transition from the colorful interiors to the outdoors, note the owners.

The yard’s bold turquoise and yellow hues were drawn from favorite paintings of the owners, while the dark-brown paint on the perimeter walls helps to create a unique space not defined by the neighbor’s more neutral walls, states Jim Coffman. Adirondack chairs constructed of recycled plastic, decking made of a high-performance composite, and low-water-use plants are some of the green elements in the courtyard. For ambience, Coffman added a steel fire bowl on a concrete base and a dynamic ceramic wall-piece by Jim Sudal.
Longtime friend, landscape architect Jim Coffman, RLA, ASLA, and owner of Coffman Studio, was brought in to rejuvenate the modest front entry and backyard courtyard. “We frequently entertain and wanted an eco-friendly space that contained several distinct areas to provide alternative gathering places,” remarks the woman of the house. “We also wanted low-maintenance plants that showcased the typical flora found in the desert.”

The tiny front yard was mostly grass, which was consistent with the look of the neighborhood. But the couple wanted something more distinctive. “My clients like rusted-steel planters and asked if they could be incorporated,” states Coffman. “I wanted to respect the concept of lushness, so I maintained the turf on a portion of the yard; then placed the planters to complement the home,” he explains. New stairs, an adjoining retaining wall and a colorful annual bed now form a more welcoming passage to the front door.

It was the courtyard, however, that went through the greatest transformation. Completely taken up by a swimming pool and surrounded by overgrown plants, the area had no room for seating. “The sight line from the front door looks directly out to the backyard, so this view was critical, as it would make a strong first impression,” remarks Coffman. “My vision was to create a series of outdoor rooms with varied sight lines, colors and focal points.”

The decision to remove the pool was mutual. Then came the addition of concrete paving, artificial turf, a steel canopy structure and a raised wooden deck. Colored accent walls, freestanding translucent resin walls and an outdoor shower were also introduced. Now, three distinct venues make up the space: a covered dining room patio, a living room and a fire-pit gathering spot. “There is something for everyone year-round—sun, shade, partial shade, a fire’s glow,” says Coffman. “We thought that the yellow walls might create a beautiful, subtle glow at night, and they do!”

“Jim demonstrated design originality and was not afraid of incorporating color into the overall scheme,” observes the wife. “This connection of indoor/outdoor living also provides a sense of openness and size not typically found in patio homes. We just love it.”


“Being within a patio home development with strict CC&Rs and adjoining neighbor’s walls, we could not touch the perimeter walls, except with paint,” explains Jim Coffman. To help define the three living areas, he added “floating” walls, including this resin panel in a soft blue-green. The ceramic pot has a metallic finish and holds Moroccan mound cacti.
A latilla-style steel-and-metal shade structure and a boldly hued wall—one of three in the yard—anchor the alfresco living room, which is decked out in iron furnishings. “I’m a firm believer in ‘color jumping,’” says Coffman. “Colors repeating in different areas and on different materials helps make the design more cohesive.”


New stairs, an adjoining retaining wall, decorative black doors and awning, plus a colorful annual bed create a welcoming passage to the revamped entry.
To the left of the entry’s retaining wall, a large patch of turf was replaced with Angelita daisies, Parry agaves and golden barrels planted among chunks of river rock. A steel planter in the background holds finely textured grasses.
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