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Modern Flair: Patio Gets a Chic New Look Designed for Relaxing

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Matt Vacca

Creating the ideal outdoor living space was on the minds of Yvonne and Richard Michod not long after moving into their Tucson home, but they knew it would take more than a few simple fixes. “We live in the foothills north of the city where there is a lot of land around us,”  Yvonne says. “Our property feels as though it is embedded in nature, and we wanted our landscape to have that same feel.” While the couple loved the natural ambiance of their mud adobe house, the outdoor spaces with their abundance of roses and grass and a pie-shaped patio that offered little in the way of entertaining areas were not to their taste. “We use the backyard to chill out with our dogs and to enjoy the outdoors. Our patio is like a natural extension of our living room,”  Yvonne notes.

Wanting to transform their yard into one that better accommodated their lifestyle and sensibility, the couple brought in Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery, a landscape designer known for transforming unruly desert settings into luxurious, livable outdoor spaces, to help them figure out what could be saved, what should go and what could be accomplished. 

“We started with an old, worn-out landscape filled with brick pavers and gravel,” Przygoda-Montgomery recalls. “The garden was encapsulated with small pony walls, so none of the plants were visible, and the closed-in patio felt like a bunker with its low ceiling and walls blocking the views. It was like a hot box with no areas for shade or seating.” 

The overall goal, Przygoda-Montgomery says, was to create a landscape that encouraged outdoor living, felt cool and inviting in the desert climate, and made the most of the site—a sloped lot with stunning views of the Tucson skyline. “Barefoot luxury is what I call it,” she says. “I wanted the landscape and seating areas to have a laid-back, unpretentious feeling that would make the homeowners and their guests want to kick back, relax and enjoy the space.” 

Once a dark, closed-in backyard, this patio is now a soothing retreat with calming hues, an updated pool and plenty of areas to relax and enjoy the views. Clean-lined, contemporary furnishings and decor complete the look.

Making It Look Easy

The patio went through the biggest transformation. “We opened up the area by taking down some of the walls and adding windows in others so you can see the city lights and get a nice cross breeze,” Przygoda-Montgomery explains. The new design also features an extraordinary radial-shaped ramada that took many hours of planning, configuring and preparation to get things just so. 

“We angled the roof perfectly to not only give us an unobstructed feeling but also to keep the sun off of the homeowners so that they can enjoy their space,” she says. “During the day, it provides shade for the outdoor dining table and, in the evening, it becomes an inviting fire-lit destination.” Constructed of corrugated metal and white painted wood, the roof is angled to facilitate proper drainage of rainwater. 

Keeping with a soft-hued color scheme, the designer liked the natural raw stucco hue of the ramada walls so much that she chose not to paint them. “The subdued color palette of white, blues and grays that we went with is perfectly in keeping with the site and is visually cooling in the landscape,” the designer notes. “Plus, using subtle colors highlights the rich details of the materials themselves, such as the brushed surface of raw concrete, the dull metal of the roof and the small shells studded into the floor tile.”

True Blue

Initially not part of the renovation, the pool and spa soon became factors once Przygoda-Montgomery accessed their eroding interiors and aging mechanics. The homeowners agreed that it was time for an upgrade. After removing the old plaster and resurfacing the pool and spa, the designer replaced dark blue tile borders with light blue sea glass tiles, which had cleaner lines and a more contemporary look.

 She also reworked the spa so that water now cantilevers over its edges. “To frame the pool, I laid a channel of black beach pebbles, which also helps direct water for drainage,” Przygoda-Montgomery explains. Pale mushroom-colored pavers embedded with delicate seashell fragments replace dark brickwork that made the space feel heavy. 

With an eye for detail, the designer extended an existing set of stairs to the right of the pool that rise up to a sitting area furnished with turquoise cushioned outdoor chairs. “Widening the steps makes a grander statement and draws the eye to the next level,” she notes. “And turquoise just happens to be Yvonne’s favorite color.”

Cozy Comfort

“Redoing the property meant a fair amount of editing to simplify the design and reshape the hardscape,” says Przygoda-Montgomery. One of the biggest changes she made was removing the many low walls that littered the yard. “It just didn’t make sense as to why they were there or why they were in certain locations,” she explains.

 Here, the designer cut out a wall to the right of the pool, providing the perfect focal point for this destination area and opening up the views. “My idea was to create peekaboo spots so the homeowners could really enjoy the city skyline.”

For extra seating, she removed brick paving, replacing it with a softer pea gravel to create a more natural setting. A concrete fire pit (with a metal cover that easily converts the feature into a table), retro-style chairs, outdoor patterned rug and neutral cushions make this a go-to favorite on cool nights.

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