Industrial Chic Back Yard Renovation

For this project spotlight we take a trip to a historical neighborhood on the near northside of Indianapolis. The homeowners had been shopping around for the right landscape designer, and after talking with us at the Flower and Patio show they realized we were the perfect fit for their desire to respect the historical value and feel of their home while creating a back yard space with contemporary design sensibilities.

The existing back yard had several useful features, but no organized plan. There was a wood deck against the house, a fire pit in the yard, a raised flower bed to add some flowers away from the edges, and a path from the deck to the back addition. However, these elements did little to unify the yard and instead disrupted use of their already small back yard by breaking it up into strictly defined spaces that had no relationship to one another aesthetically.

Here's what our designers started with.

Here's what our designers started with.

Our first step was to get rid of all of these disconnected features to view the back yard as a whole. Instead of having a deck, we took it out and added steps from the back door to get rid of this sharp space division. We paved the space where the deck and old firepit were to make an area for dining and entertaining so that there would still be a space with the function of a deck, but more integrated into the design. Before, the grass was simply the space that filled in around everything else. With the new design, the lawn is re-imagined as a circle intersecting with the rectangular paved space so that the grass contributes to the design strength instead of being an afterthought. Around the lawn and paving, a mix of perennials and tall, narrow trees soften the sharp edges of the space and provide rich seasonal interest.

Since this house is in a historical neighborhood under the jurisdiction of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC), we needed to work with them to make a design that would meet their standards for preserving the historic nature of the neighborhood. How do we mesh our contemporary, urban design sensibilities with the IHPC's noble goals of preserving historic character? Many design companies balk at what can be an extensive give-and-take process and avoid innovative design in these neighborhoods. However, our designers have been able to use their landscape architecture training to understand the aims of preservation and build a strong rapport with the board members of the IHPC so that all parties are satisfied. Clients get the modern landscape they want, while our designs fit within the constraints required to preserve a historical atmosphere. We believe that the partnerships we have built in this area set us apart from much of the competition.

Now let's take a closer look around this cozy, contemporary garden!

We'll start with overhead structure. Functionally, it offers shade, protection from weather, and privacy from neighbors' second-story windows. Design-wise, the industrial yet sleek design fits well with current trends of embracing clean lines alongside artful deterioration. The corrugated metal roof is reclaimed from an old barn. The domed shape of the roof and the design and finish of the trusses all hearken back to the vibrant industrial economy that dominated Indianapolis at the beginning of the 20th century, when this house was built.

The trusses are made out of corten steel, a material that is a history lesson all on its own. This steel alloy will form a rust-colored patina that actually protects the metal underneath from corrosion. The result is that you get a structure that looks attractively aged, but in reality it is protected from deterioration without needing sealing or paint.

Underneath the reclaimed barn roof we have a set-up that looks remarkably like an indoor living room extended into the outdoors. A block paver inset creates the effect of an area rug within the weathered sand finish on the surrounding concrete. The gas fireplace is made from a single boulder specially selected for this project with narrower slabs forming a hearth. This natural form provides sharp contrast to the geometry of the patio and the corten sheet protecting the fence and promotes continuity with the more natural-looking masses of perennials in the planting bed.

If you look back over to the house, the same stone of the fireplace is repeated on either side of the steps from the back door. Building these steps posed some unique challenges. Once the old deck had been removed, our crew discovered that we would have to rebuild the lower portion of the house wall because of how it was originally built. In the end, you would never notice if you didn't already know. This picture also shows how the choice to make the planks of the fence run horizontally instead ofthe usual vertical orientation helps connect the fence to the lines of the house's siding.

Stepping back from the house one last time, we find the same organic stone shapes of the fireplace and the ends of the steps in the stones that trace the edge of the circular lawn to lead to the back addition. Before the renovation, the sidewalk simply took the most direct path to cross the yard. Now they still have a dirt-free route to the back addition, but it is smoothly designed into the landscape. Note that the tall, narrow hornbeam trees planted against the fence provide additional privacy and fall color with a steady, rhythmic repetition. This concludes our tour of this property! Check the images below for some final details on your way out. We hope you enjoyed your walk along the boundary between past and present.

Are you dreaming of renovating the landscape of an older home? We are known for our ability to modernize with sensitivity to the past to meet neighborhood restrictions, and our desire to connect with the story of every site and client. Check out our portfolio for more inspiration or contact us today to set up an appointment!


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