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Mixing Moroccan Motifs
Mediterranean Style Takes Two Forms on San Jose Property

by Allie Lapporte

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

Located in San Jose, Calif., this small backyard is home to a duo of intricate tile peacocks that stand above a small spa. Luxurious colors and designs meet simplified lines in this Moroccan-inspired project.
Photo credit: Jim Everett Photography

When San Jose, Calif.-based clients approached Jeffrey Gordon Smith (JGS) Landscape Architecture requesting a lap pool for their small backyard, a compromise had to be made. As the clients lived in a very tight neighborhood, with houses practically stacked on top of each other, there was simply no room for what they had originally planned.

By working with JGS, the clients were able to decide on a small spa, as well as an elegant breezeway bridging the outdoor and indoor areas in front of their home. The goal was to get a lot of entertainment and beauty out of very little space. However, since they were unable to go big with the size, they went big with the design.

The clients had a large interest in peacocks, which helped to shape the tile design for the spa. In fact, in the interior area, peacocks were well represented on fabrics such as furniture upholstery and drapes. Inspired by a tile design they had seen on a fountain in Malibu, Calif., the clients collaborated with JGS designers to create an intricate and colorful image of the exotic bird, connecting the interior to the exterior.

JGS worked with a tile producer, which took general information about the size, shape and design of the spa and came back with line work for the mosaic. The designers at JGS printed out the outline and matched the company's glaze color options to colored pencils and colored in the line work. It is a bit like the adult coloring books that are so popular, but with much more purpose and a much bigger effect. Lapis field tiles complete the spa, giving the tub a deep blue color.

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

Sitting walls act as retaining walls for both the small spa and the plantings in the yard. Plain, deep blue tiles make up the inside basin of the spa, highlighting the peacock design above while not stealing attention.
Photo credit: Jim Everett Photography

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

Bronze scuppers produced by Black Oak Foundry shoot streams of water into the spa, adding interest to the small space in the form of movement and sound.
Photo credit: Jim Everett Photography

The tile producer also provided the tiles for the fire pit that sits next to the spa. The cap for the pit was custom designed, with colors that complement the peacock design, and a simple pattern that does not take away from the vibrancy of the bird.

The flatwork for both the back area and the covered lounge is comprised of concrete tile. The classic red tile creates a clean, simple Mediterranean feel in the space. Because it does not grab attention, it directs all focus to the tile spa, creating a focal point in the yard. Low sitting walls wrap around the whole yard, making the most of the small space by providing seating in addition to walls that retain the landscape features.

As there was not much room to work in the backyard, the clients asked JGS to create a transitional outdoor/indoor space in the form of an enclosed patio in front of their home, beside the wall of their garage. Originally, this breezeway area had a large grade change problem, as the garage sat lower than the house. The firm elevated the area and brought it to the same level as the interior, making a smoother transition from outside to inside.

According to Jeffrey Smith, principal at JGS, the gems of the space are the backlit trench grates from Iron Age Designs that JGS utilized as toe kicks at the bottom of sitting walls. The Interlaken grate design casts a glowing filigree pattern that spreads over the tiles that match those in the backyard. The design recalls a Moroccan motif, and the JGS team pushed to allow that theme to flourish. "We call it the hookah room," shared Smith.

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

JGS Landscape Architecture brought the outside in by placing fire bowls, plantings and a tiled water feature into a breezeway area that acts as a transition between the front walkway and the inside of the house.
Photo credit: Jim Everett Photography

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

Before JGS transformed the breezeway into a Moroccan-inspired lounge, the area was open and mostly bare.

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

The Moroccan flair of the peacock mosaic spa provides a pop of color and intrigue in the otherwise simple space.
Photo credit: Jim Everett Photography

A large, four-foot diameter lighting fixture matches the ambiance of the toe kicks, giving off a gentle, patterned glow in the room. JGS imported the exterior light from Morocco, and it acts as one of the only details on the cool, white walls of the transitional space.

Simple Elegance
The designers kept a balance between Mediterranean decadence and simple, clean lines in the breezeway, especially in comparison to the intricate design of the peacock out back. The breezeway was meant to be a calming escape, bringing the inside outside, so the designs were more basic. Smith explained, "Some Mediterranean-style designs tend to have more of an 'old world' feel, but we brought more of a modern touch to it, sliding into a more Islamic or Moorish motif."

The clients wanted the space to be a fantasy of sorts, a soothing hideaway from the world. JGS worked with an interior designer to achieve this goal. The firm created the outline of the breezeway features, and the interior designer added the fabrics and the colors. Smith recalled, "She came in with sheer drapes and gave the room a screen from the neighbors that are basically five feet away. The drapes complete the drama and privacy of the space."

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

The design for the peacock mural was printed out in line art form and filled in with the desired color scheme by JGS designers.

Mixing Moroccan Motifs

This Moroccan light fixture gives off a subtle glow behind an intricate pattern, providing soft lighting when the skylights cannot let in daylight.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture

Fire bowls that were originally planters provide light, heat and beauty in the area. Moroccan tea trays sit on top of the bowls, and the features double as small coffee tables when they are not lit. Mondo grass is planted at the base of the bowls, as well as in the planter at the back edge of the room. Smith stated, "There is a roof overhead; even though there are skylights, and it really is an outdoor space, you still feel more indoors. Bringing the plant material into the area really softens that feeling and establishes the breezeway as an indoor/outdoor transitional space." Once again, JGS managed to connect both the clients' interior and exterior worlds.

Despite the challenge of a small space, JGS was able to create a show-stopping tile design in their clients' backyard. In contrast, the firm also provided a cool, calm escape in the form of the covered breezeway that acts as a Mediterranean lounge. Blending the extravagant and the simple, the firm brought the outside in and the inside out, meeting the clients' needs in creative and artistic ways.

Team List
Landscape Architect
Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture Inc.
Landscape Contractor
Louis Devereux, Louis Devereux Landscapes
Interior Designer
Jane Dixon, IDesign180

As seen in LASN magazine, February 2019.

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June 17, 2019, 6:33 pm PDT

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