Planning a courtyard in an odd spot

marti8aApril 25, 2012

I don't know if this is the right place for this, maybe the remodel forum would be better, but I like the design energy here.

Here is what we have so far. The original house and a dining room addition we are currently building.

Originally we wanted a courtyard with pergola type "roof" over it. But I can't see it with the various roof lines. We've talked about a brick wall along the edge of the patio or redwood posts with lattice or something that will let air flow through, and rain water flow under to the dry stream beside the patio. There is a water faucet on the patio so we need a gate to access it - something that isn't too obvious maybe?

The two windows on either side of the fireplace is our living room, and I'd like greenery growing against the fence/wall so there is something pretty to look at through the windows. Right now, our view is the driveway and not only is it unattractive, but when there are cars parked there, the sun reflects off the windows and can be blinding inside.

My thoughts on the fence, if we can't do a pergola over the whole thing, is to put a fence with an arbor over it, something that would match the trellis in our back yard.

I'd like it, and the dining room, to look like they were built with the house, which is a fairly plain, pioneer style ranch.

We're also going to put a fence and gate between the new dining room and the garage, so it could match that.

Any ideas? I've looked at this so long I can't think of anything new.

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Or not.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 5:57PM
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Sophie Wheeler

I would suggest a small paver patio to the left where your faucet is located with a glider or bistro table visible from the interior. Looks like it's on the north side of the house? If so, there's not much you're gonna be able to do with a pergola or arbor. There just aren't that many shade vines that are attractive. A climbing hydrangea can look great for a couple of weeks in the spring and a couple of weeks in the fall, but it climbs by using root sucker attachments and I wouldn't want it climbing on my house. the same with the old standyby, ivy.

I'd leave any vertical accents out of the picture entirely except for a small understory type tree like a Forest Pansy redwood or a dogwood centered on the chimney and surrounded by a bit of pavement, leaving the edges for plant material. A single small focal point tree and seating will fill most of the space up as it is.

Substitute the small tree for the fountain here.

Forest Pansy Redbud

If this is an area where you will be spending time in and has easy access, then you could do a small wall fountain to add some noise and movement.

But if this will mainly be viewed from the interior, don't bother. It's more hassle maintaining than it's worth. Just do a wall placque that suits your taste.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 6:14PM
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Thanks hollysprings, but I was really trying to get input on what type structure would work best there - wood fence, brick, pergola, fence with short arbor over it, etc.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 9:32PM
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Marti- I didn't want to comment and knock you off the top of the page, but I'm hoping Summerfield might have some good ideas.

I think you said you hardly ever have snow, so could you do a pergola that is more flat...without the slope? Maybe that could still work, with your roof lines. Something like this? From Cottage house plans

Maybe have the gate, on the left end of the space, so you can still see plants growing on trellis, from the living room windows? A nice wrought iron gate would be pretty, with all the wood...but you know I have a soft spot for the metal :)

I know you live in the I'm guessing lots of vines will do well for you, even on the north side of the house.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 9:50PM
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I don't know LL. I don't know how high on the main gable they should be, if they would even work.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 11:18PM
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Sophie Wheeler

It has too much going on with the house to be a suitable candidate for a pergola or arbor. Too may rooflines, ins and outs and jogs. Busy to the eye. That's why I suggested just a patio with planting beds only. Keep it simple.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 1:27AM
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I know what you mean about the roofline. We never have been able to figure out why they built it that way. We talked, or rather I talked, about extending the main part of the house all the way to the end of the patio and then extending the wing to meet it. But the roof on the wing is actually a bit higher than the main house, and then the fireplace would have to be raised to meet code. Plus, we really don't need that much extra room and don't want to pay taxes on space created just to straighten the roofline. It would be nice if we could have made the dining room extend over to the fireplace but dh didn't want to do that.

We have a neighbor whose house as that same odd jig off the main house and offset garage, but her roof is hip and it looks better.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 2:26PM
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Actually, the place you probably need to take your question is to the "landscape design" forum over on the Garden forums side of Gardenweb. They seem to be a pretty active group over there with knowledgeable people, some of whom appear to have the tools (landscape CAD programs maybe) to be able to show you mock-ups of what various options, including plants, fences, arbors, or pergolas, might look like.

From looking at a few of the threads, I'd say you might want to include a sketch of bird's eye view of the current hardscape (buildings, driveways, & walkways) along with indications of anything you're willing to remove and what MUST stay and an indication of where North is.
That, along with your pictures above plus maybe a couple of more taken from inside the house looking out at your current "views" will let them know exactly what you're trying to deal with.

Good luck

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardenweb Landscape Design forum

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 5:09PM
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Thanks bevangel, I never even knew that forum was here.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 8:47PM
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Back again. I've been cruising the Landscape Design forum and while they can come up with amazing designs for plantings, that's not really what I'm looking for yet.

I've been playing with MS paint, and looking at loads of pictures of courtyards and patios online, and it occurred to me that a pergola style still might work, if the beams run side to side, the long way, instead of front to back.

I've been looking at this way too long and this one appeals to both of us, but to someone seeing it for the first time (like all of you), what does it look like? Better or worse?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 5:05PM
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I don't know if it works, structurally, but it sure looks nice! Summerfield just said 'hi' on my farmhouse post...maybe ask Summerfield to check out your post, to see if there are any ideas for your courtyard. I don't mind a slight hijack, because I think this courtyard is exactly what you need, with your new dining addition :)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 5:28PM
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Sophie Wheeler

No, it doesn't work. It looks like an outdoor jail and will make your interior space dark and dreary. It will also be very hard to construct with all of the jogs in the home's facade.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 7:16PM
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Jail? It looks like a shady spot to enjoy a glass of lemonade, to me! LOL

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 8:11PM
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Other than the fireplace, it's an even rectangle, so not a lot of jogs from ground to 9 feet above ground.

But I can understand where you see a jail look. Unfortunately, I don't have a software program that can draw anything, so I have to find pictures and copy and paste them onto my house, and they have to be taken from the same angle, so my choices are limited, but beggers can't be choosers. This particular picture was a free-standing pergola and we wouldn't put two sets of posts through the patio.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 11:06PM
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Here's the plan Summerfield did for the house. It shows the shape of the patio. There won't be any doors from the den though.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 11:23PM
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I think the pergola idea is a good one and worth investigating further. An idea that came to my mind was a trapezoidal pergola, which I just happened to find a picture of online (but imagine without the masonry):

The way I imagine it is that it would begin near the end of the dining/den walls and arc out into the curve of the driveway, and leave the majority of the patio space open to light, but provide something nice to look at with plantings on either side and hanging above with lattice between the posts to hide the cars and driveway. You could add the gate between two of the posts for access out to the yard. Just another example:

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 10:29PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Those are two very good examples of what NOT to do. Neither looks like it belongs in it's surroundings and the first one is especially hideous with the wishing well effect of the fake stone wall.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 12:09AM
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Thanks mvjc! The curving out beyond the patio won't work because of water drainage issues there, (I should have mentioned that there is a dry stream in the area between patio and driveway to handle the rainwater from that odd valley) but that is exactly the type lattice I was looking for. I've saved your photo so I can play with it later.

Dh would like some brick but I couldn't find any pictures with brick and lattice. That first picture gives me some ideas that he may like too.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 10:00AM
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Sorry that the folks over on the landscape forum weren't able to be of any help.

I was actually thinking an open latticework trellis/narrow pergola combination might might work. Something like the pergolas that mvjc posted but smaller. I don't think you need a complete fence or "wall"... just something in the foreground when you look out the window so your eye is drawn to that and doesn't look beyond it to the driveway. If you build a wall or privacy fence, that courtyard area is going to get so little light that you'll have a hard time growing anything.

I can't find a picture of exactly the image I have in mind tho the image below comes closet.

What I'm actually envisioning would be a very shallow pergola with a level top with purlins - not this curved top. It would be maybe 8 ft wide but the pergola rafters (cross beams? purlins?) would only be maybe 24" to 36" deep. It would have a lattice screen across the back with big openings like those shown in mvjc's images (not the tiny little 1 inch lattice screen you often see available at the big box hardware stores). In front of the lattice would be a garden seat about 5 feet wide. At the ends of the seat would be two planter boxes that would hold a combination of twining plants (to grow into the lattice) and low-growing bright flowering plants. The planter boxes wouldn't be as closed in by posts as the one in the picture above. There would just be two posts in each box, one at the front and back (on the outer sides) to hold the two main rafters of the pergola.

Then on the driveway side, (behind the lattice) there would be another narrow planter box... maybe 8 to 10" wide that runs from one end to the other of the pergola. The top of this planter would be set slightly below the seat height of the bench on the other side. If you DH likes stone, the planters on this side could be wrapped in stone but I think cedar would look nicer. But, even if you do stone or brick, since it would be kept low to the ground, it wouldn't look like a "wall" or "well" or "prison" that hollysprings so objects to. And bright blooming plants on this side would give you something pretty to look at from the driveway as well.

From the pergola rafters, I'd then hang additional hanging baskets of flowers - especially on the driveway side where you wouldn't be bumping them with your head when you go to sit on the garden seat.

You might even have a "window hole" in the center of the lattice work (above the seat) where you could insert a stained glass art piece. Then, when you sat in the garden seat, you would be surrounded by flowers. And, when you looked out your windows, your eye would be drawn to the garden seat all surrounded by flowers and to the stained glass artwork. I doubt your eye would ever wander beyond that point to even see the driveway behind.

For the rest of the space, in your courtyard, I'd just do a patio like hollysprings suggested. Give yourself pretty things to look at when you're seated in the garden seat looking toward the house.

Anyway - just another idea.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 5:45PM
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Sounds good. I found this website too with something similar. The one pictured is basically a pergola which is open in the center.

I ordered brick today; it's discontinued and I got all they had. I don't know if there is enough to do more than the house, so I'll have a plan A & plan B I guess.

I didn't post a question on the landscape forum. I read a few pages there and it seems they do more in the way of planning where plants go rather than designing structures. When I have a couple of plans that dh & I both like, I'll post there and see what they can come up with to give us some plantings. They might know about what is safe to plant near the French drain too.

Here's a photo that I just adore. I could look at this all day.

If the big opening was in the middle, it would give light into the area without giving a view of the cars from the living room.

We do want the space closed off though. For some reason, we have neighbors who will come into our backyard and to the back door rather than go to the front door and ring the doorbell, and it really bugs me. I also don't want to make it easy for anyone to keep out of sight while breaking in either.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 9:25PM
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Looking at the roof line, a straight across type pergola will not really fit here. You would have to go up above all of the rooflines and get it really tall so that all of the disparate elements were under the pergola. That has some engineering issues for the pillars depending on the height.

Doing an actual brick wall short wall across that connects the DR to the DEN will only work if it's supporting an actual construction built type sunroom part of the house rather than pergola. I think that the best plan might be to just do a paver patio here until you can do an actual sunroom type of structure addition here that will correct some of the mishmash of rooflines that are creating the drainage issues and visual busyness. It needs simplification and unification, not more visual busyness of a pergola or arbor. Make it part of the house rather than a "garden" area.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 10:36PM
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We won't be doing a sunroom or anything to change the rooflines, wonky as they are, unless of course the house is hit by a tornado or burns to the ground and we can start over with it. We talked to a couple of builders and an architect, and it's just too expensive for the small amount of gain.

I have never been able to figure out why this house was designed and built this way. Originally the "back" door was to the right of the fireplace where the window is now, and that was the only patio too. No privacy at all when we bar-b-qued or sat outside. And then add that goofy roof connection to the garage. My theory is that it was a floor plan churned out in a architecture sweat house and built by a first time builder who couldn't get a job working for anyone else.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 10:50PM
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Marti- I love that picture, too! The hydrangea is perfect for that space. Would that grow in your zone?

Would it work, if you only put the pergola over the center of your courtyard space? Maybe with your cut out, in the middle? So instead of the 'cut out' being centered on the fireplace, it was centered on the left window (in your picture...closest to the hose bib) and that's where you'd have the pergola. On either side (where the roof lines don't work for the pergola) you'd have open space, but the lattice work would continue, to a doorway on either side. One for the access to the outside water and the other to the door to the dining room. This way, you could still get to the driveway from either side, but your seating area would be hidden.

As for the neighbors, add gates/doors instead of openings at each end of the lattice, if they keep showing you still have some privacy. And maybe a big gate, between the garage and the back of the house, to keep your backyard more private, too! :)

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 11:18PM
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Oh yes, definitely putting a gate between the garage and back of house. With a lock. lol

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 11:59PM
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