How to Add Gilded Age Glamour To Any Backyard
Kanebridge News
Share Button

How to Add Gilded Age Glamour To Any Backyard

The restoration of a grand New England garden offers lessons for growers who are eager to add ‘instant age’ to modern-day plots.

Thu, Aug 18, 2022 9:47amGrey Clock 3 min

WHEN WE BEGAN, it was basically an archaeological ruin,” landscape architect Douglas Jones recalled of the elegant Marblehead, Mass., garden that his client, Brian McCarthy, has dedicated two decades to reviving. In the late 1990s, when the McCarthys purchased the waterfront parcel, which included portions of a turn-of-the-century summer estate once owned by heiress and historical preservationist Louise du Pont Crowninshield, their focus was building a home for their growing family—not planting hedges and training roses. But after neighbours shared 1930s photos of the Italianate garden at its peak, the challenge of making a new version look as if it had been there for more than a century proved irresistible. “I wanted to embrace the history,” said Mr. McCarthy.

Guided by that mission, Mr. Jones, of the Boston firm LeBlanc Jones Landscape Architects, launched a “conjectural restoration,” informed by remnants of railings, walls and garden beds. Mr. McCarthy, an avid auction-goer, stalked period statuary. “At a certain point, we had to invent,” said Mr. Jones. “But we were always faithful to the spirit of the place.”

The result is a welcoming garden that looks as if it has always been there—and always will. Here, five strategies that can help homeowners add historical character to their own backyards, no blue-blood pedigree required.

1. Embrace Reclaimed Materials

Though brickwork walls were one of the original features of the garden when Mr. McCarthy hired Mr. Jones to take on the property, the structures were in various states of disrepair, ranging from bad to worse. The solution for an age-appropriate fix: hiring masons to rebuild and repair stairways, walls, niches and arches using a mix of original materials and reclaimed Chicago common bricks sourced to complement the old ones. “Afterward everything was sandblasted to give it a unified, weathered look,” Mr. Jones explained. A creeping blanket of English ivy also helps tie old and new together. “A masonry consultant would definitely tell you to pull off these vines,” he said. “But we love how they add a sense of age, so we’ve allowed them to envelop.”

2. Traffic in Traditional Motifs

For a garden that looks timeless, stick to designs that never go out of style. Topiaries and manicured hedges with well-defined edges are a classic motif in formal gardens and an ideal way to imbue otherwise bland spaces with structure and a sense of history. Here, Mr. Jones used an allée of pyramidal Japanese yews to create a linear transition between the rose garden and the looser, perennial plantings that abut the pool and greenhouse. “It’s a complete invention but in keeping with the old garden,” he explained. Feathery pink astilbe, added by gardener Rick Elder, brings a soft, organic note to the corridor, and in the distance, a 150-year-old bronze beech forms a majestic backdrop behind a sweet marble statue of a child.

3. Seek Out Antique Varietals

The rose garden was one of the most well-documented elements of the original plan, with copious photographs and remnants of the beds visible on the ground. But its restoration was also aided by serendipity: “Amazingly, we found a label for some old roses buried in the soil,” said Mr. Jones—info that was confirmed by an elderly gardener who had worked on the estate more than half a century before. True to the past, Mr. Jones used that varietal—Iceberg, a floribunda prized for cloudlike blossoms—for the perimeter of the garden, then filled in using fragrant newer cultivars from renowned British breeder David Austin Roses, such as Glamis Castle and Abraham Darby, in a pale palette of pink and white.

4. Splurge On Mature Plants

Don’t discount the power of a head start. To lend the grounds instant age, in among younger specimens Mr. Jones planted dozens of established shrubs and trees. Some of Mr. McCarthy’s favourites: the sprawling wisteria that cascades over the waterfront porch of the family’s newly built (but historically-accurate) Georgian home. They were decades old when purchased—”and they might be a hundred now,” said Mr. McCarthy. Trained and nurtured since, the vines drape to create a keyhole vista of Marblehead harbour. “These have really been a labour of love,” said Mr. Jones.

5. Drop in Pieces With Patina

Arranged everywhere throughout the garden, in niches and clearings, is the sculptural evidence of Mr. McCarthy’s keen collector’s eye. In a less grand garden the objects might look out of place, said Mr. Jones. “But they really work here.” Among the most striking pieces: figures in bronze and cast-iron that react with the elements to form a warm, coppery patina. “I love the way the colouring looks against the brick,” Mr. McCarthy said. “These aren’t the kind of things you’re going to go to Home Depot and see—you’ll never find another one,” he added. “Antiques give the garden the mystique it needs.”

Reprinted by permission of Mansion Global, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 17, 2022.


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

Related Stories
The Fremantle cottage rewriting the blueprint for conjuring space
By Robyn Willis 22/03/2023
The Latest Trend in Wellness Tourism: Fasting Clinics
By AMY GUTTMAN 22/03/2023
A Psychologist Explains How AI and Algorithms Are Changing Our Lives
By DANNY LEWIS 22/03/2023
The Fremantle cottage rewriting the blueprint for conjuring space

You’ll never guess where they found a little extra room when renovating this west coast house

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Mar 22, 2023 4 min

There was a time, not too long ago, when the most important must-have for would-be renovators was space. It was all about space to be together and space to be apart.

But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.

For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint. 

See more stories like this in the latest issue of Kanebridge Quarterly magazine. Order your copy here

Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.

“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”

The decision to demolish was not taken lightly. 

“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”

Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.

A central courtyard captures northern light. Image: Bo Wong

“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”

To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.

“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says. 

“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”

A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.

“That’s the plan anyway,”  he says. 

A modern day ‘folly’ provides an unexpected breakout space with room for a rooftop herb garden. Image: Bo Wong

Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.

The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.

Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.

The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.

Adjustable blades allow the owners to control light on the upper floor. Image: Bo Wong

“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”

Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.

Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish. 

“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”

Rotary cut timber reveals the beauty of the natural grain in the kitchen joinery. Image: Bo Wong

Even the laundry has been carefully considered.

“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”

The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.

Credit Cards

Australian lenders hope no-interest cards can arrest a decline in usage and attract younger customers.

Large Parsons Home

From faulty family villa to modern beach house.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop