Although modest in size, this inner-city courtyard is big on style
Story: Richard Kelly, MAILDM
Photos: Bruce Usher
When the owners of this modern, beachfront residence first saw the finished apartment they’d purchased off the plan, they were somewhat disappointed. They had not spared any expense on customising many of the interior features and finishes to suit their vision. However, they felt the rear courtyard was bland and did not fit in with the rest of the apartment.
The owners came to Urban Exotic Landscape Design with a vision to create a space that flowed seamlessly through the bifold doors to the interior living area. They wanted a visually appealing, practical outdoor living-dining area with a modern understated feel.
The end result was the creation of two distinct spaces — a kitchen-barbecue area and a living-dining area — along with multi-tiered levels. To make the achievement all the more remarkable, it was managed within an area that measures just 7m x 4m.
Despite the diminutive dimensions of the outdoor area, the look is not overwhelming, cluttered or crowded and while the overall feel of the courtyard is contemporary, it is still warm and inviting.
The project required a lot of thought and not just because of its modest proportions. As it is exposed to extreme coastal conditions — swirling winds, salt from ocean spray and varying light conditions — these factors all needed to be considered when selecting plants and materials.
Ambiance has been created with carefully placed bronze and copper (corrosion and salt-resistant) outdoor lighting, timber bench seating, a large water sculpture and selective planting. When designing this courtyard, we incorporated automatic timers for lighting and the water sculpture to be programmed to commence at dusk. This ensures the owners derive maximum enjoyment from their new outdoor living space, not to mention getting full benefit from their investment.
Defining the borders of the space and acting as a protective barrier against the wind there are espaliered olives (contract-grown specifically for the project) and timber batten screens.
The rest of the plants were selected to withstand the salt air and had to meet the owners’ request for a low-maintenance garden with minimal water requirements. With this in mind we opted for Westringia ‘Jervis Gem’, a fast-growing plant with compact silvery foliage and blue-mauve flowers; Convolvulus mauritanicus, a trailing perennial with small oval leaves and blooms of violet-blue; and Crassula ‘Bluebird’, a succulent with fleshy, red-rimmed blue-green oval leaves that produced white flowers in winter.
The specimen plant is a 13-year-old dwarf blue agave (Agave potatorum), featured in a custom-designed polished concrete bowl and underplanted with Echeveria, a hardy rosette-forming succulent.
The design for the courtyard also incorporates a custom-designed water sculpture, aligned centrally to be viewed through the glass entrance door. Strong consideration has been shown in the design of the water sculpture so that the water is unaffected by wind in extreme conditions. As no pond is required, maintenance and water requirements are minimal.
A highlight of the design is the custom-designed-and-built stainless-steel outdoor kitchen-barbecue, which incorporates a dog kennel to ensure all family members could be comfortable!
Paying attention to details such as the slight comfort curve in the timber bench seating and the inclusion of a retractable overhead sun screen, contributes to the overall appeal of the project. This is also true for the “behind the scenes” elements. As this is a ground floor apartment with a carpark underneath, drainage solutions had to be developed. In this instance, a sump was hidden under the table and drainage was achieved via the grout in the tiles.
What started as a sparse, uninviting tiled area with no atmosphere or character at all, has been transformed into a warm, character-filled living space.
About the author: Richard Kelly is the Director of Urban Exotic Landscape Design, located in Newcastle, New South Wales.