It’s the summer of backyard living. Interior designer Traci Zeller helps one family create an outdoor oasis for all seasons.
by Cathy Martin | photographs by Dustin Peck
Feature Image above. “Lighting is just the jewelry in any space,” interior designer Traci Zeller says. The large, weather-resistant lanterns in the pergolas were custom-made by a 184-year-old Massachusetts lighting company. Before starting construction on the hardscaping, the homeowner enlisted The Whole Blooming Landscape and Brooks Nursery to add shrubs, flowering plants and greenery.
Suburban living has its perks, especially in the summer of 2020 when staying home is de rigueur and green spaces have become the envy of apartment and townhome dwellers. Fortunately for one south Charlotte family, plans to create their own backyard sanctuary were put in motion long before the pandemic sent homeowners scrambling to spruce up neglected yards, porches and patios.
When the family of five moved from Myers Park to Providence Country Club seven years ago, the interior of the 1990s-era home had recently been renovated. But despite the splendid golf-course views, the backyard needed a little TLC. The space was mostly void of landscaping, with a simple narrow patio extending the length of the home and a wooden playset in the back corner.
The owners considered installing a pool, but given the home’s proximity to the neighborhood club, they realized they really didn’t need one. “They just decided that making this entertaining oasis would be a better idea,” says interior designer Traci Zeller, who teamed with Arcadia Homes and architect Ric Solow of Solow Design Group on the project. “They really just wanted a place where they could live outside and enjoy the weather.”
Despite their eagerness to reenvision the space, the homeowners took their time in determining the aesthetic and function. The design phase took about 10-12 months as the couple studied other outdoor projects and worked closely with Solow on developing the architectural plans.
“They cared about every detail,” Zeller says. The result is a sprawling, casual-yet-sophisticated space with four distinct outdoor “rooms.”
On a terrace just steps from the owner’s suite, a pair of chaise lounges provides a relaxing spot for the homeowners to start the day with morning coffee. An adjacent wood pergola lends privacy to a sunken spa surrounded by water-resistant ipe wood decking. Beside the spa, a pair of sofas surround a natural-gas fire pit, creating a cozy sitting area.
Near the center of the home, a table and swivel chairs serves as a convenient gathering space when hosting larger get-togethers. Another pergola shades the outdoor kitchen and dining area, which is furnished with a galvanized steel table and chairs from Kingsley Bate. Bar seating in the adjoining gazebo allows family members and guests to socialize between the two spaces.
“One design aspect that we really like is the communication of the gazebo into the dining area,” the husband says. The large gazebo with an oversized sectional sofa, a slipcovered swivel chair and a pair of swing chairs is a hub for most family activities, from movie nights to watching football games.
“We always envisioned it to be our family gathering place,” the wife says. Infrared heaters and a wood-burning fireplace keep the space warm when it’s cold outside, while LED uplighting — hidden from view behind the crown molding — softly illuminates the cedar-planked ceiling after the sun goes down.
Sourcing weather-resistant and climate-friendly fixtures that matched the homeowners’ vision proved to be one of the designer’s biggest challenges. The decision to install a large chandelier in the center of the gazebo instead of a traditional ceiling fan required mounting small fans on the interior beams to keep the space cool.
After the homeowner had her heart set on a large outdoor lantern she had seen in a photo, Zeller sought something similar for the pergolas. The task proved more difficult than expected. She eventually discovered Cape Cod Lanterns, a handcrafted lighting business in Massachusetts experienced at making fixtures capable of withstanding heavy wind and rain from coastal storms.
“It really is a dream backyard for entertaining and just spending time,” Zeller says, and the family seems to agree.
“I like that it encourages outdoor living for our family,” the wife says. “That’s been the greatest benefit.” SP