minneapolis landscape design courtyard steps barnwood

Bringing Tuscany to Minneapolis

As a landscape architect, it’s impossible to choose favorite projects. Each landscape is a product of a unique partnership between design and homeowner. Special details of each project stay with me well after the last roll of sod is laid out. Collaborative projects with opportunities to venture into new design territory are especially memorable. This is one such project.

The first time I meet with a client, it’s primarily a listening session for me. This was no exception.The homeowners shared lots of exciting design opportunities at our first meeting. I observed, and they confirmed, that the existing landscape did not do justice to their stately turn-of-the century home. They had no outdoor entertaining space. They had no space to unwind after a long day of work. They were looking at an overgrown, unusable space between their home and garage as a potential for transformation. I agreed.

minneapolis landscape design before
Before: the overgrown side yard

The homeowners loved to travel and were hoping to capture a little bit of Tuscany in this project. I noted their wish list: dining patio for 6 to 8 people, outdoor fireplace with small sitting area, grilling counter, new plantings for privacy, and a rustic pergola to add ambience. At first blush this seemed like a lot to accomplish in a relatively small space, but the start of design means all options are on the table. The design process will reveal whether/how all these wishes come to life.

The conversation turned to the garage. She expressed how much she disliked the existing building, and I agreed it did not complement their home or positively contribute to their daily living. It also had some practical problems with drainage that we knew we needed to fix before any landscape improvements happened.

Putting It All Together

My first design presentation laid out how all the pieces of their design puzzle could fit together. Right away, I knew the fireplace needed to be constructed against the garage in order to keep the patio area open and flexible for different furniture configurations. After some debate, we agreed that a built-in grill counter wasn’t necessary, just a portable grill plumbed to a gas line would suffice. I presented my first pass at material selections that I thought complemented the house and presented that Old World aesthetic we were looking for. A few additional meetings were required to finalize those selections, and she appreciated seeing actual samples of stone in person to feel confident in these decisions. Detailed drawings of the fireplace also helped the homeowners understand the stone details and scale of the space.

outdoor fireplace minneapolis landscape
Rendering of the outdoor fireplace

Form and Function

He had a very particular idea in his mind for how he wanted the pergola to feel: very rustic and weathered, like it had been in an Italian vineyard for many, many years. I showed him photos of examples I thought might work and we had much back and forth about the ideal degree of “rustic.” I was fully on-board with “rustic” but I wanted to ensure the structure would be safe and secure, and have many years of life in it. We ultimately agreed that salvaged barn wood would create the desired weathered effect he wanted, but also allowed for a strong, stable structure.

pergola barn wood
Barn wood offers the right balance between rustic and solid

As we were designing the garage remodel, she showed me a photo she loved of shuttered windows on a quaint cottage building. I knew we could extend the barn wood aesthetic by creating matching shutters over the new garage windows, and then repeat the same material on the fireplace mantle. She was delighted!   

shutter barn wood
Detail shot of the barn wood shutter and support post

Collaboration is Key

This give-and-take between landscape architect and homeowners is what led to the final landscape.  I find collaboration to be much more successful than a designer imposing his or her ideas…. In design, a two-way street has more traffic and noise than a one-way, but that increased traffic brings more vitality to the design process and results in a richer end product! In this case that end product is a little corner of Italy in South Minneapolis.

minneapolis landscape design courtyard steps barnwood
After: the rustic Tuscan-inspired courtyard