A Haven for Homebodies
A family of five gets maximum enjoyment from a versatile backyard redesign - with something for all ages.
By Debra Prinzing | Photography by Ed Gohlich | Produced by Robin Tucker
BH&G's Deck, Patio & Outdoor Living | Spring 2013
Start with one ordinary backyard, a concrete patio, a patch of lawn and a swing set. Include one mom and one dad, both with busy medical careers, plus three active kids. Add one rambunctious dog named Mackie and an undemanding cat named Ginger.
For Gigi Kroll McConnaughey, an OB-GYN physician in private practice, and Doug McConnaughey, an internist, this equation didn’t add up. Three years ago, the couple realized that their Newport Beach, Calif., property wasn’t reaching its potential.
“We’d been toying with a big garden project, but the idea of tackling it was overwhelming for two working parents,” Gigi says of their average-sized suburban lot.
Gigi and Doug had admired a friend’s high-functioning backyard and learned that it was designed and built by Newport Beach-based Chris Fenmore of Garden Studio Design. “We loved what we saw,” Gigi says.
Soon thereafter, she bid on a landscape design from Chris Fenmore at a school auction (and won). In 2011, the McConnaughey family — adults, kids and pets included — gained their dream backyard. The design utilizes every inch of the sun-loving, suburban property in USDA Zone 10b.
Chris Fenmore’s space-planning approach, similar to that of an interior designer, divided the outdoor areas into function-specific rooms with clean architectural lines and simple planting schemes. The existing covered patio was too small and was weakened by dry rot, so it was rebuilt and enlarged to accommodate an al fresco dining area and a compact outdoor kitchen, plus a lounging-TV zone in front of a gas fireplace.
The new structure integrates nicely with the McConnaugheys’ Cape Cod-style residence, complete with a cottage-inspired, board-and-batten ceiling, four recessed electric heaters, recessed lighting, speakers and a fan. It is substantial enough to accommodate the master bedroom’s second-level balcony overhead, Gigi and Doug’s private spot that overlooks the new landscape.
There’s a comfy, great-room vibe to the space, which Gigi attributes to the many thoughtful design details, such as flagstone flooring with cobblestone accents, “that makes it feel like an area rug,” she says. Bench seating on both sides of the fireplace is topped with taupe, pale blue and sand-patterned cushions and pillows, a textile palette repeated on furniture throughout the garden.
Water is the centerpiece of two main gathering spaces. First, the pool is aligned with the property’s perimeter wall, which encloses a generous patio for chaises and an umbrella-covered table. Second, an in-ground spa is defined by an L-shaped bench and a casual grouping of furniture. Constructed surfaces around the pool and spa are knit together with soft vegetation, including Dymondia margaretae used as a lush groundcover and a tapestry of succulents and creeping plants at the base of the benches.
While their residence and garden are tucked into a development with other homes close by, the McConnaughey family enjoys quite a bit of privacy, thanks to screening from the neighbors’ mature trees.
There’s another bonus: a community park and ball field that backs onto their property. To maximize her clients’ use of all this green space, the designer added a secret path and steps (located behind the spa), which lead to an access gate. The kids love to climb the steps and enter the park, Gigi says. “It gives them space to roam and play catch with the dog. It’s the coolest bonus yard.”
” . . . I know when I look back on this time, I’ll say that having this garden was the best thing we ever did.”
But more often than not, Gigi, Doug, James (12), Jenna (10) and Kyle (7) gather in their own backyard for “Five Time.” That’s what the family calls their ritual of hanging out together at the end of the day. “We spend quality time as a result of this yard,” says mom. “As a family, we love to eat outside and hop in the pool or Jacuzzi afterwards. It’s where the best conversations take place. And I know when I look back on this time, I’ll say that having this garden was the best thing we ever did.”
Low Water and Lush: The mostly green plant palette relies on drought-tolerant varieties that add lots of luxe to the landscape. Plantings include alternating clusters of dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) and baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii); a stunning stand of yellow kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos sp.); glossy purple-green carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans); and dinner-plate-sized Aeonium.