A family backyard full of possibilities.
When Sara and Chauncey Brooks decided to move from San Francisco to Corte Madera in Marin County, Calif. two years ago, Sara had one condition. “I have to have a flat backyard, it’s the only way I’m going to do it,” she recalls saying, noting that her former home rested on one of the city’s infamous hills. “I wanted to open the French doors and tell our kids to get outside.”
The new home they landed on had a perfectly fine backyard, says Sara. Flat (of course) with a raised bed retaining wall along the back fence, a sweet plot of green grass for their sons, Cole and Lucas, to kick soccer balls and hold court for peanut butter and jelly sandwich picnics. There was also host of mature fruit trees from fig to kumquat, lemon and olive. Yet, the space lacked definition, and since the family was resolute on spending a good chunk of time outdoors, the couple tapped Yardzen to integrate the features on their backyard checklist.
Sara, who works in fashion marketing, wanted the space to reflect her personal style – effortless and chic, livable, a little bit elevated yet nothing especially precious. Here, that translated to a warm family-friendly space, with wood and natural elements. The Yardzen team designed a new hardscaping plan, vertical cedar fencing, a deck off of the couple’s main bedroom, soft seating around a cozy fire pit, raised garden beds and the ultimate kid fort.
Although their backyard was undergoing its renovation during Covid-19, the couple had their eye on the long-term prize. “We love to entertain, and as the parents of small children it’s not unusual for all of use to entertain at each other’s homes instead of being at a restaurant.” When Sara and Chauncey moved in, they brought a round, vintage metal table from their old home. But when Sara saw Yardzen’s backyard rendering – with its expansive, graphic wood pergola – she imagined a sprawling wood table, 10-feet in fact, with her kids and their friends piled along one long bench. “I liked the idea of a grown-up space on one side and the kid’s space on the other.”
That must-have pergola provides shade minus the hassle of umbrellas. “It adds such elevation to the yard,” says Sara. “It defines the space well, gives us shade and it’s become kind of this wow moment.” The outdoor dining space is also just off a pair of French doors that leads to their indoor dining area and kitchen, making it all the more convenient to hustle coffee and dishes from inside out for regular alfresco meals. The soft cozy seating just a few feet away makes it easy to migrate to fire pit after a meal on a cool evening.
Sara’s rural upbringing also including heaps of gardening with her parents. So raised garden beds near the kitchen door were high on her list. The adjacency makes it easy to run outside quickly to harvest a few leafy greens to add to her morning quinoa. They’re also irrigated, which makes it easy to maintain, especially in the warm summer months. In the existing retaining wall beds, they swapped overgrown shrubs for drought tolerant lavender and natural grasses in silvers and greens.
Perhaps the star of the show is the kid’s wood, shingled roof fort. A feature that the couple planned before Covid-19 but was relieved to have once shelter in place started. In the short term, the ladder, slide and swing are an incredible resource, but in the long term, Sara envisions it crawling with neighborhood kids for years to come. The front porch for example, allows parents and kids to chat back and forth, and maybe even someday a stage for hosting mini Shakespeare plays. She hopes as the boy grow up, they’ll retreat to the space to read books or watch movies on the projector, build LEGOS or launch Hot Wheels down the slide.
“I grew up in the county and in the summertime especially we’d go outside first thing in the morning, roaming in the woods and riding bikes in the neighborhood and hanging out in the yard,” says Sara, who notes that by completing their backyard they’ve almost doubled their living space. “Hanging out in San Francisco weather isn’t awesome where in Marin, it’s so nice and you can be outside all year long. So, we were definitely wanting to taking advantage of that.”