A thought­ful de­sign makes a splash in the front yard

Con­ven­tion is put aside to make full use of a beau­ti­ful gar­den, writes Robyn Wil­lis

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Home - - FRONT PAGE -

There are cer­tain con­ven­tions ad­hered to when talk­ing about gar­den de­sign. These days, there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion that the rear gar­den will have an out­door seat­ing area suit­able for en­ter­tain­ing, and a lawn or even a pool for the kids to en­joy.

When di­rec­tor of Se­cret Gar­dens Matt Cantwell and his team turned up to this home in Rand­wick, he could see that the back gar­den al­ready of­fered a work­ing court­yard with di­rect con­nec­tion to the house.

The fam­ily, which in­cluded four chil­dren, were hanker­ing for a pool in this space — al­ready an ac­tive play area for the chil­dren — but Matt had other ideas.

“The court­yard space at the back was a nice-sized area and it was func­tion­ing well as it was,” Matt says. “To put a pool in there would have re­ally com­pro­mised the out­come.”

Chang­ing hands

Trans­form­ing this gar­den, known as Wir­ringulla, is just one of the projects in Matt’s first book, sim­ply called Se­cret Gar­dens, re­leased this month.

Built in 1907, the house was ini­tially a res­i­dence be­fore be­ing con­verted into a con­vent and joined to the prop­erty next door via a cor­ri­dor in the 1940s. The site was sub­di­vided and then sold off, leav­ing a gen­er­ous 800sq m site to work with.

With plans to ex­tend the out­door en­ter­tain­ing area at the back and soften the lawn with less struc­tured trees and shrubs, Matt turned his at­ten­tion to the front gar­den — and the lo­ca­tion of the pool. Mak­ing the de­ci­sion to place the pool at the front was easy.

“The for­mal rooms were at the front of the house and the light was great but they weren’t ac­ti­vated and they didn’t use the space

out­doors,” he says. “The front gar­den only con­sisted of a lawn and the tes­sel­lated tile area out­side the din­ing room doors.”

Al­though the house sits on a busy road, a 4m-high hedge of­fered pri­vacy.

“We added the fea­ture wall as well be­cause the hedge was quite thin lower down,” he says. “It also gives sound­proof­ing from the street.”

Matt cre­ated a con­tem­po­rary gar­den across the whole site, which was still sym­pa­thetic to the age of the house.

“We chose blue­stone paving for the front gar­den,” says Matt. “We used sand­stone at the back but it would have re­tained too much mois­ture at the front, which faces south.

“We try to be re­spect­ful to the ar­chi­tec­ture rather than to com­pete with it.”

Main­tain­ing bal­ance

Get­ting the bal­ance right in terms of what spa­ces to in­clude and how big they should be is crit­i­cal if the gar­den is go­ing to be used.

“When the kids are young, you want to keep an eye on them so when you’re de­sign­ing a pool for a fam­ily with four chil­dren, vis­i­bil­ity is re­ally im­por­tant,” he says.

“We wanted the par­ents to feel com­fort­able out the front, as well as in the back gar­den so that they would be and to be able to have other peo­ple over as well.”

De­spite its con­tem­po­rary de­sign, Matt says there’s a sense of per­ma­nence about the whole gar­den now.

“Things progress and the house changes hands,” he says. “When peo­ple see the gar­den as sec­ondary to a beau­ti­ful home, you know it’s worked.” More Se­cret Gar­dens, $59.99, New Hol­land

Sand­stone paving at the rear is the per­fect part­ner for the old house.

The fea­ture wall com­plies p with p pool safety y reg­u­la­tions g and of­fer­sav­i­su­alof­fer­sav­i­sual and sound bar­rier from the street.

French doors open on to the ex­ist­ing court­yard space at the back.

An out­door shower on the western side of the house is a prac­ti­cal ad­di­tion in an unused part of the site.

The use of softer plants plantsand­shrubs and shrubs takes the ed­ge­off edge off harder sur­faces.

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