Outer Spaces
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, Summer 2005

The inside scoop on great outdoor living

Every homeowner covets a gorgeous yard. But Whatcom County’s blissful summers inspire folks to go further and pair beauty with functionality. It might mean combining a seating area with an ultra-organized gardening workspace or mixing room for recreation with sightlines of sunny views.

From patios to putting greens, here’s how Whatcom County homeowners are extend their living spaces into the great outdoors.

Par for the course
With a quick glance from the road into David and Marilew Calapp’s back yard, nothing seems unusual in this North Shore neighborhood of lovely landscaped lots. But take a closer look and you’ll spot every duffer’s dream: a home putting green.

“I took it up two years ago,” says David Calapp. He is CEO of Aerotech Sports, an engineering, design and manufacturing company which creates, among other things, golf shafts. “I figured if I’m going to catch up with all my friends who’ve been playing golf their whole lives, I’d better get an advantage.”

Hence a putting green in the back yard, complete with sand trap.

The 15-foot-wide artificial turf green, constructed last summer, rests in a lower corner of the deep back yard overlooking Lake Whatcom. “I put a hole on either end (of the green) so I could practice putting between the two and chipping into either side,” says Calapp.

The couple garnered ideas from landscape architects, but in the end, Calapp’s own design won out. While looking for materials at a local rock supplier, he met Derek Johnson, CEO of West Coast Landscape, and hired his team to help with construction.

The foundation was done much like a paver patio, with compressed levels of crushed rock and sand, which was then graded. “You can make them challenging or you can make them flat,” says Calapp. “I put quite a bit of grade to these.”

“It was a really unique project,” says Johnson. “It sounded like a lot of fun, so we said we’d do it.”

“And now a lot of people want them in their back yards or front yards — the idea has really taken off.”

Striking simplicity
“Not one of my clients is ordinary,” says Susan Harrison, president and principal designer at Bellingham’s Private Gardens Design Inc. “My goal is to create outdoor spaces as highly individual as my clients.”

The Asian-inspired garden she created for David and Rena Ziegler’s property just off Mount Baker Highway does just that.

A retired Western Washington University professor, David dreamed of a place to work on and display his bonsai plants. He sought surroundings that reflected the calm, organized nature of his longtime hobby yet also fit in with Japanese-style architecture of the couple’s 1971 home.

Harrison, a lifelong gardener who founded her landscape design-and-build company in 1990, translated that vision into a quiet, two-tiered garden. Bonsai supplies are kept orderly and out of sight on the lower level, while more than 200 plants are displayed a few steps higher.

Harrison and her team crafted a Zen-like retreat of stone and wood. Detailed with a potting shed, trickling fountain to diminish traffic noise and meticulously built stone wall, it offers a multitude of perspectives. “When you move two feet, something very different appears,” says the homeowner, “which is very Japanese.”

Ziegler’s plants are displayed in a sunny gallery of wooden benches and shelves, which also shares views of a small pond behind the home.

Equally as striking as the bonsai plants, the potting shed design functions as an intimate work space or opens to the elements.

The shed’s design incorporates two wide wood doors that slide apart, streaming air and sun into the compact structure. Shelves line the back wall, punctuated by dozens of glazed pots. Two identical workbenches flank the doorway and pull together to enclose the space.

Because the workspace is next to a terrace outside David’s home studio where Rena frequently sits, David can be near his wife while enjoying the solitude of his work.

“My wife has a riotous Victorian garden on the other side of the house, but this is quite spare,” says David Ziegler. “This is my space.”

Outdoor living rooms
After Merrilee Kullman completed her Master Gardener requirements in April of 1993, the house hunt she and husband Fred were on took a turn.

“Taking the Master Gardener program really changed what I wanted in a property,” says Merrilee Kullman. “We had wanted a wooded yard, but then I needed sunshine.”

Six months later the Kullmans, both retired, purchased their county home with its large, private yard and plant- and flower-friendly southern exposure.

Merrilee Kullman sought Susan Harrison’s services in 2000, and again in 2002, to create comfortable outdoor quarters to accommodate her diverse and abundant plant collection.

“Creating the gardens has been a continual process,” says Merrilee Kullman. Harrison defined individual, permanent areas in which to sit and enjoy the ever-changing foliage.

Three distinct outdoor spaces took form — what Harrison calls “rooms” — that showcase Merrilee’s gorgeous greenery and also afford a tapestry of pastoral, forest and foothill views. Meandering rock pathways guide guests around the house and into each space. One “room” is a patio adjacent to a small pond on the property, where a small sitting terrace nestles near the rock-lined, plant-filled water.

Tandem terraces hug the house, offering views into woodland gardens. Both patios are accessed from French doors on each side of the home’s dining room. “These have actually become like outdoor living rooms,” says Merrilee Kullman. “We eat out there a lot during the summer.”

To make these two porticos, Harrison removed a wood deck and its view-obstructing railing, easing maintenance and opening up the expanse. “It created a much better relationship between the house and the garden,” says Merrilee.

With that kind of emphasis on spatial relationships, Harrison fit the design to match Kullmans’ personalities. “The garden is as gregarious, ebullient and comfortable as both its owners,” she says.

These homes give outside spaces as much thought as indoor rooms, integrating them as habitats for hobbies, hosting parties and hanging out. Whether simple or spectacular, the surroundings say what’s best about living in our sunniest season.

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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