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Colorful Courtyard
By Alli Rael, LC/DBM


The husband and wife team Tim and Lisa Goodman, of Goodman Landscape Design, created a walled courtyard and entry way at a home in Kensington, Calif. The courtyard has eight painted stucco walls that give the homeowners privacy while still providing an open space for friendly gatherings. In addition to the walls, the team of seven from Goodman Landscape Design installed the paving and water feature.


After the site was excavated, a gravel, rebar and concrete base was built upon which the walls were installed. The concrete masonry walls were infilled with concrete before a bonding agent, three coats of stucco, and finally the paint were applied. The walls were painted three different colors: cranberry, taupe and brown. These specific shades were chosen to complement the sunset color of the home and its interior.


The placement of the gardens was carefully mapped out before the walls were built. Plantings include various succulents as well as bamboo, western swordfern and miscanthus 'Morning Light.'

The owners of this Bay Area residence in Kensington, Calif., sought privacy at the end of a very active cul-de-sac, while still maintaining open areas for spending time outdoors with friends and neighbors. The homeowners requested comfortable steps and paths to the front door, a big flat area off the sidewalk that could accommodate an extra car or patio furniture for neighborhood events, and good sight lines from the house and garden. Goodman Landscape Design, led by husband and wife team Tim and Lisa Goodman, designed and installed eight garden walls (four of which are contiguous) as well as the new paving, gardens and water feature for the courtyard filled with color.

Before the walls were constructed, the gardens were designed and their spaces staked out. Following that, the entire site was excavated between 18"-24".

Once excavation was complete, the crew created a foundation with 1/2" rebar on 18" centers, gravel backfill, and concrete. Reinforced concrete masonry unit walls were built on the foundation and infilled with concrete. Then, holes were drilled for eyelights and a bonding agent was painted on the walls.


The site grade proved a challenge to the Goodman team. There was already a set of steps leading up to the front door that was to remain unchanged, but the site was sloped downwards, requiring a second set of stairs. In order to minimize the rollercoaster-like effect of going down stairs from the driveway only to go back up again at the door, the space between the two sets of steps was widened, creating a larger landing space within the courtyard.


The three basalt columns used to create the water feature were purchased from a stone supplier in nearby Richmond, Calif., and drilled before installation. The basin in which they were placed was painted with water proofing material over the stucco. The three pillars were positioned so they could be seen from the home's living room, with consideration taken for how they related to each other as well as the sound the water produces.


Illumination of the area was provided through Kichler Half Moon step lights strategically placed on the walls. A sconce was installed on the red wall to make the entry more welcoming. The address numbers are also lit.

Three coats of stucco - a base coat, a scratch coat, and a final coat that matches the texture of the house - were applied to the walls once built. After the stucco dried, the walls were primed and painted in taupe, cranberry and brown. These colors were chosen as their smoky tones complement the home's sunset color.

Amplifying the Space
A three-column basalt water feature was placed within the walled courtyard to be visible from the home's living room. The sound the flowing water makes was also taken into consideration. The columns were purchased directly from a stone supplier in Richmond, Calif., and drilled. They were placed in a stucco basin, painted with a water proofing material, along one of the eight walls.

The Goodman team also installed the hand-cut lilac Connecticut blue flagstone paving on a concrete base, leaving no more than 1/2" joint for grout. The grout color was chosen to blend with the stone.

Among the plants installed in the garden areas of the patio are various succulents, wisteria, and kangaroo paw.

Challenges to Completion
Challenges came about in the form of county regulations and the grade of the site. "Contra Costa County required a huge 8" diameter drain leading from the end of the cul-de-sac, down the entire front, side and back of the property, to the creek behind the home," said Lisa Goodman. She called it a "behemoth trench," but they were able to incorporate it into the project.

Additionally, the narrow front door entry had a set of steps leading up to it that were not going to be removed or redesigned. "We tend to not like making people go down steps only to then have to go up again to get to the front door, but there was no way around it here due to the grade," explained Goodman. "Rather than having the up and down close together, we placed the two sets of stairs further apart creating more landing between, thereby less of a sense of being taken for a ride."

The installation took about 10 weeks with seven people, including the Goodmans, working on it. The result was a colorful and private, yet welcoming, courtyard enjoyed by the owners and their friends.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, January 2017.

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August 23, 2019, 9:43 am PDT

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