A Glenora couple turn their backyard patio into a private retreat
By Carissa Halton | May 1, 2014
The heavy construction equipment dug a 220-foot trench along the entire length of Scott and Cathy’s* Glenora lot. Their neighbours watched with curiosity as the ground opened up; seven feet wide and six feet deep. The excavation was necessary to build their brick fence, a wall of rich, historic red to match their two-storey, Victorian-style house built in 2002. To ensure zero movement of the thousands of pounds of brick, a massive structural grade beam needed to be buried.
When one neighbour finally asked Scott about the trench, he recalls joking in response, “It’s for a lap pool – to swim in.”
The fence excavation was one of the first steps in a much larger plan that commenced in 2012, to build a two-car addition to their four-car garage and create a private, backyard retreat setting for their family of four. Their vision for the backyard was one of an English garden. “We wanted a warm, welcoming place to be,” says Scott.
When the couple built their house, Scott drew up the blueprints based on visits to period houses in the city. They wanted the home to fit in scale and period with the other homes on Alexander Circle. When it came to designing the backyard, Scott pulled out his pencils and blueprint paper again.
The garage addition created a significant design challenge. “I didn’t want it to look like a large mass effect of a garage building,” says Scott. The solution was, in part, found by dropping the height of the new garage by 18 inches and adding French doors and a window into the yard to soften the look, giving the illusion of a guesthouse.
The placement of the second garage also provided a great opportunity. It juts from the original garage at a 90-degree angle and runs parallel to the home’s covered back deck, thus creating a protected patio area. A quaint dog shed dormer peeks from the slate-like shingles of the original garage. With the space surrounded by warm brick and habitation, it has all the elements of a proper courtyard.
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The space’s defining force is the wealth of brick supplied by Scorpio Masonry. The company usually focuses on large projects – West Edmonton Mall, Lois Hole Hospital – however, it agreed to do Scott and Cathy’s home. Each brick was laid by master craftsmen. One, named Helmut, was 70 and had been laying bricks since he was a boy in “the old country.”
“I showed him and his partner, Danny, my blueprints, and they barely glanced at them,” Scott says. “Between the two of them and various looks, nudges, and winks, suddenly it was up. They needed no direction.” Helmut started at 6:30 a.m. and worked all day constructing a space that would create the courtyard, period fence and outdoor fireplace. The fireplace is the courtyard’s focal point. “We added the wood-burning fireplace thinking it would help soften the one wall of the garage giving it a homey, warm feel.”
With its historic red-coloured brick, fired in southern Alberta, the 20,000-lb. structure faces the house. “It’s become a gathering spot,” says Scott.
Leslie Chevalier of Heiress Interior Design was brought in after all the stone and the structural work was done. She has worked with the couple for more than 10 years. “She’s attacked every room one by one in our home; furniture, drapery,” Scott jokes. “She’s on permanent retainer!” Over the years, their working relationship has evolved. “Scott does the architectural stuff, then Cathy and I collaborate to do the soft stuff: He does the house; we do the home,” says Chevalier.
Working together with Cathy, she drew up designs for the furniture layout and colour schemes. In choosing furniture, they wanted to avoid some of the preciousness of Victorian-era design, yet maintain a traditional feel. They ordered the metal-framed loveseats, sofa, two side tables, coffee table and dining room chairs from Restoration Hardware. However, when the frames arrived, they were completely the wrong colour. The company agreed to pay to powder-coat it with the homeowners’ preferred colour, gloss black. A few steps from the patio is a covered deck, connected to the home’s casual eating area by French doors. The deck’s measurements are perfectly scaled to similar Victorian houses built in Edmonton in the ’20s. When designing his home, Scott was so conscious of getting the dimensions right that he took measurements of his neighbour’s period home and deck. He walked through the campus area and Windsor Park in search of houses of similar size and took note of their dimensions. “When I do things, I do it all or nothing,” says Scott.
The columns on the deck are a perfect example. “Most builders use a plastic sewer pipe for columns, but this means that the column is the same dimension at the bottom and top,” he explains. “I ordered the columns from Georgia. They are not uniformly tapered, which gives the original dimensions of tapered columns for old, colonial homes.”
A round pedestal table with concrete top can accommodate eight diners and roots the space. Under the light of a candle lit chandelier, it plays host on Friday nights to Cathy’s regular socials. When music is not playing over the sound system, the fountain made of cast concrete, acts as soundtrack. “With the fence so high, it makes the yard very secluded,” says Scott. “When the fountain is on in the summer, with the birds chirping, for all you know you could be in old Europe.”
*The homeowners’ last names have not been revealed at the editor’s discretion.
Red brick fence, fireplace and garages from Scorpio Masonry. (20203 113 Ave., 780-447-1682, scorpiomasonry.com)
Metal-framed Antibes loveseats, Antibes sofa, Antibes side tables, Antibes coffee table, Antibes dining room chairs and 60-inch round concrete and teak dining table, all from Restoration Hardware. (5015 111 St., 780-435-0505, restorationhardware.com)
Gloss black powder coating on metal furniture frames from Supreme Plating. (12740 126 Ave., 780-452-3190, supremeplating.com)