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For The Garden

Scene Changer

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: February, 2018, Page 84
photography by Michael Woodall

This lush desert setting outside Lisa and Alan McIntosh’s Scottsdale tract home is a far cry from what the yard looked like when they first moved in, thanks to landscape/pool designer Kirk Bianchi.

A Contemporary Face-Lift Turns a Basic Backyard Into a Stylish and Family-Friendly Outdoor Living Paradise

Master-planned communities are big draws for parents raising children. They usually offer a variety of recreational facilities, bring people with the same interests together, and make it easy to meet other families with kids of similar ages. For Lisa and Alan McIntosh,
finding a home in one such Scottsdale neighborhood for themselves and their two young kids offered the added benefit of being right next to the McDowell Mountain Preserve. “We see all sorts of wildlife, from bobcats and the occasional mule deer to javelina and all kinds of birds,” says Lisa. 

The backyard’s redesign included the removal of a domineering boulder waterfall behind the pool that was replaced with a curved stone planter wall that doubles as a water feature focal point. A glistening new spa was built into the edge of the pool, arbors painted an agave blue hue were installed to pull the eye away from the property wall, and a sitting area with a concrete fire pit was created.
When the McIntoshes moved into their home in 2003, their long, narrow backyard, which is situated below the preserve, consisted of a putting green, a grassy area with a bike path, and a barbecue bar. To make it more to their liking, they added a pool with a large boulder waterfall, pavers and plenty of plants. Eight years later, however, the couple was ready to make some changes.

“The yard seemed disconnected and not very integrated,” says Lisa. “We had a large retaining wall we were trying to hide with tall-growing plants and boulders, but it started to look overgrown and congested. There are a lot of windows in our home, and having a pretty view of the yard was important.”

When the McIntoshes contacted swimming pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, it was in regard to a number of issues. “It all started because we had a large tree with roots that were pushing the elevated barbecue area up,” Alan recalls. “We knew this was a potential hazard with the underground gas pipes, and we needed to remove and rebuild that space. This opened the discussion to look at all the changes we wanted.”

To maintain an organic, Zenlike atmosphere, Bianchi kept the pool’s original undulating shape.
For Bianchi, it was clear what needed to be addressed first: an unattractive retaining wall he called “the elephant in the room.” He explains, “The yard was burdened by a typical pool with a water feature that was heaped higher with boulders, trying to hide the towering wall behind it.” Wanting a clean, well-manicured look, and a landscape with better functionality and flow, the couple agreed with him to strip the entire yard, leaving only the pool shell and starting anew.

Working with landscape designer Morgan Holt, also a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, they first painted the baked potato-color wall a darker shade of earthy brown. “This enabled the wall to visually recede,” Bianchi points out. Because the existing retaining wall had been poorly sealed, unsightly efflorescence was appearing. The solution was to float vivid panels of rusted steel in front of the wall.

Then came four statement-making arbors positioned along the perimeter of the backyard that were designed to pull the eye away from the wall, notes Bianchi. Set on columns clad in native stone gathered from the adjacent mountainside and accented with copper detailing, the arbors appear to be floating in the landscape. “The idea was to distract the eye from the wall, solving what the boulder waterfall could never do.”

An arbor at the end of the pool perfectly frames a pair of comfy lounge chairs.
The existing spa was removed and a new overflow spa was built into the side of the replastered pool. Covered in turquoise glass tile, the vibrant water feature sits directly in eyesight of those entering the home. “It became the yard’s focal point and created a stately first impression from the front door,” Bianchi remarks. “This teaser was just a glimpse of what could not yet be seen, serving as an invitation to explore and enjoy as the yard unfolds.”

A full-service alfresco kitchen designed by Bianchi and installed by Holt features a bar, the shape of which echoes the curvaceous lines of the swimming pool and planter walls added on the property. “We put the bar side toward the house as a serving counter to hide the appliances and host guest seating,” says Bianchi. A shade cover floats over the cooking space via beams anchored to a wall behind. Constructed of steel beams that were engineered to cantilever, they use only the arbors for support. Finally, to lessen the heat of the sun, a fabric shade was attached to its top, allowing for a soft glow of light to filter in.

click image for larger view
Around the pooland  spa, decorative pebble detailing not only helps create transition between hardscape elements, but also hides drainage elements. New travertine pavers were laid throughout yard, and banco seating and a concrete fire pit were installed for entertaining. Holt then selected the new plantscape, keeping with a low-maintenance but visually appealing desert palette. Twisted myrtles and mesquites add height; bells of fire and orange jubilees provide color; and agaves, golden barrels and totem poles offer structure.

The homeowners are smitten with the results, saying the yard is much more functional, spacious, seamlessly flowing and beautiful to look at. “Given the complexity of our yard, we needed an experienced designer with a vision who could see all the potential,” states Alan. “We needed someone who was meticulous and brought high-quality detail into every aspect of the project. We knew that Kirk and Morgan were a great team and could bring all those qualities to our landscape. We love everything about this yard.”

click image for larger view
Adjacent to the pool is a kitchen and dining area, making the backyard an ideal alfresco entertainment zone. DC Ranch cobble used throughout the project can be seen here cladding the kitchen bar, support columns and sitting wall.

Originally built without cover, the kitchen was later constructed with a cantilevered rusted steel shade structure. Outfitted with fabric screening, it not only provides protection from the sun but also allows soft light to filter in.
Underwater lighting gives the pool and spa an indigo glow, while uplights accentuate the bold, structural forms of agaves and other desert plantings.
Strategically lit for nighttime drama, the backyard now feels much bigger with its newly reconfigured patio. Translucent turquoise glass tile on the vanishing edge spa has the look of stained glass and is a perfect complement to the pool’s new sea-foam green pebble sheen. For another layer of interest, Bianchi added pebble detailing along the edge of the pool, the seat walls and around the fire pit; French drains are hidden below the stones.

Arbors lining a stretch of the backyard are outfitted with night lighting that shines down the middle of their support beams. Tobacco-hued cantera caps the columns.

A curved banco is accented with outdoor cushions and pillows to match the yard’s color scheme. Travertine paving now replaces the patio’s original concrete pavers and Kool Deck.
Vivid turquoise colors were chosen for the pool and spa to play off the rusty orange of the steel retaining wall.
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