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Ahead of the Curve

The backyard of this Scottsdale home went through a complete transformation with a new pool, reflective water feature, steel fence panels and an expanded patio.

Organic shapes and native plants bring serene style to a Scottsdale landscape.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Michael Woodall

Kira Meeker and Joel Namie, along with their four teenage kids, regularly entertain friends and family at their Scottsdale abode. “We often have visitors from out of town and, when we do, we spend all of our time outside,” explains Kira. Their property, which features beautiful views of the McDowell Mountains, sits back on a corner lot and offers plenty of privacy.

But when the couple purchased the home, the outdoor spaces weren’t exactly their style. The exterior of the Territorial-style house featured log columns and salmon-colored paint, and there was a lot of Saltillo tile paving and a mishmash of overgrown vegetation throughout the yard. “We wanted to simplify the look and feel of our landscape and incorporate low-water-use native plants,” Kira recalls. Both she and Joel desired a quiet, modern outdoor space that included a kitchen, covered living room with a fireplace, and a new pool.

“This was a total redo,” notes pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. “There was no shade in the backyard, as the patio roof overhang was shallow and divided the space with a column. The pool was geometric and angular with clusters of boulders embedded randomly along its outer edge. The yard felt disjointed and had no flow.”

Because the house is rotated 45 degrees on its lot, the perimeter walls led the eye to the corner of the backyard where it would get stuck. “The challenge was to resolve the awkward corner without blocking the view of the McDowell Mountains and to also hide the roofline of a neighboring house that competed with the scenery,” says Bianchi.

His solution: remove the pool and introduce a sweeping curved water feature that rounds out the triangular corner. Made from basalt, a hard volcanic stone, its surface shimmers when hit with sunlight. Flanking it are rounded planter walls, their soft edges setting the theme for the landscape. “The walls are the spine of the yard that weave through the space in order to synchronize with the curve of the water wall,” explains the designer.

The concrete elements, as well as additional serpentine retaining walls found throughout the property, were formed using pliable lumber molds. “The walls actually have the texture of wood,” says Bianchi. “Their perfectly curved shape with the embossed grain catches the changing light of the day and makes for a very tactile element that you want to reach out and touch.” Constructed by local artisan Michael Ciesla, the woodworking skills and precision required to create the faux bois accents are similar to those needed to craft fine custom cabinetry.

1. A hidden area behind the barbecue wall became the perfect spot for an outdoor shower. The porcelain tile on the wall was selected for its subtle wave texture. The tree is a palo blanco, chosen for its white bark and foliage that “illuminates like sheer drapery,” says pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi. 2. The homeowners’ teen daughter, Olivia Meeker (left), enjoys some fun time in the pool with friends Maya Honig (center) and Shae Rooker. 3. The barbecue bar is a favorite gathering spot for a glass of wine and freshly grilled treats. 4. A cantilevered aluminum roof shades the new barbecue structure, which houses a dining bar made of ipe wood and topped with a porcelain tiled counter. The furniture was chosen for its comfort and durability. “We went with simple lines and quiet colors so the pieces didn’t distract from the design elements in our outdoor space,” says homeowner Kira Meeker.

Bianchi then came up with the concept for the new pool, which extends from the undulating backdrop. “I’m a big fan of letting the pool come last, after you first define everything around it,” he remarks. “Since the walls were established, the pool only needed one more line to make it real, so it just made sense to bring in a final sweeping arc to tie everything together.” He designed the crescent-shaped pool with an overflow edge. “This allows for a calm surface because all of the ripples roll over the edge and never bounce back to create choppy water. It also results in great reflections of the water wall and the landscape elements.”

Above left Arcs define many of the landscape elements in the yard, including the vanishing-edge pool with its curved water wall and planting beds. “The sensual line that weaves through the yard comprises the raised planter walls, which are made to look like wood,” explains Bianchi. The pebble detail at the walls’ base doubles as a place to hide drains where they won’t be seen. Above right Prior to renovation, the pool featured oddly placed boulders along its back edge, where an uninspiring landscape would trap the view in the far corner of the yard.

To give Kira and Joel the covered space they wanted, the designer doubled the depth of the patio roof. A single massive steel beam was craned in to support the entire roof and keep the space open. “We eliminated what otherwise would have been an obstructive center post,” he notes. Bianchi also constructed a separate barbecue shade structure with a cantilevered steel beam. “Again, this allowed us to omit columns and free up more space in the tight backyard,” he explains.

In keeping with the contemporary feel of the new landscape, the homeowners had the house painted white and installed updated doors and windows. Bianchi painted the backyard wall a charcoal gray so that it would recede into the shadows. “What you get is a gradation from light house to dark perimeter,” he explains. “The pop of color comes from the landscape itself, which is the centerpiece of it all.”

1. The homeowners love to entertain outdoors. Here, Joel Namie (far left) and Kira Meeker (second from right) delight in aperitifs with friends Gretel and Darby James and Patsy and John Vekich. 2. To warm up the yard but stay in keeping with natural materials, Bianchi used ipe wood for the Rhumford-style fireplace wall. “It’s shallow but tall, which allows it to project a lot of warmth and light,” he notes. The chimney doubles as a structural column for the patio. 3. Bianchi installed a bonsai-like ironwood tree in the planter behind the water wall as a focal point. “It was placed asymmetrically to the right corner in order to hide the distracting roofline beyond without blocking the mountain vistas,” he explains. 4. Friends and family dine under the shade of the patio where they can enjoy the colorful planting bed and views of the McDowell Mountains. 5. The expanded covered patio has no center support post, allowing for open views, while the pool lights are set to a shade of blue reminiscent of dichroic glass. “Our favorite part of the yard is our patio and pool. Everything is so serene, relaxing and private,” says Kira.

Much of the greenery was chosen for its architectural appeal. “Senita cacti are a big feature plant behind the pool, and several ocotillos in the front have been backlit so they cast amazing shadows along the entry wall,” Joel says. “We were also interested in having plants that bloom, so we chose ones such as breaklights red yucca and Texas sage.”

According to Bianchi, the overall vibe is one of calmness and introspection. “Everything is in its place and we’ve quieted the noise of everyday life,” he remarks. “There’s a great view from every single angle as the flowing lines lead your eye around the yard like a painting. All of the elements unite to form a work of art that you get to step into.”

Pool and landscape designer: Kirk Bianchi, Bianchi Design.
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