It’s more than an outdoor room, it’s an outdoor apartment.
Eighteen years ago, after living for ten years each in an 18th Street studio and a Mercer Street one-bedroom loft, I found myself dreaming almost every night about houses and gardens. My husband Julius and I needed a house and a backyard and a school for Alex, then ten years old. After visiting friends in the area, we zeroed in on the “Rivertowns” communities of Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, and Irvington, New York, 38 minutes north of Grand Central Terminal.
We drove up almost every weekend and looked at real estate. Amazingly, there were a number of authentic Midcentury Modern houses built from 1957-60 in the style of Richard Neutra, Craig Ellwood and R.M. Schindler. Every few weeks a new one came on the market, reasonably priced. They offered the right kind of style to a California-born, UCLA-educated designer like me – open floor plans, walls of glass, beamed ceilings – but few of the amenities most buyers were looking for. No master suite with luxurious bath, no walk-in closets, no garage. But they were just right for our little family.
One Sunday we saw “the one.” It was kind of a wreck, dark and gloomy, but one of twelve houses around a two-acre pond, with a 900-square-foot deck. I could fix the dark and gloomy part, and the setting could never be matched. Alex would live on a cul-de-sac perfect for bike-riding and have a pond with a rowboat and frogs. Little-boy heaven. It was (re)designer heaven for me. The house needed everything from light fixtures to tiles. The deck would have to wait — it was just fine with the picnic tables and rickety chaise lounges left by the previous owners.
Two years ago, inspired by various articles in Garden Design magazine and a picture of the Jack Shapiro (no relation) house in the book Private Landscapes, Modernist Gardens in Southern California by Pamela Burton and Marie Botnick, we embarked on a deck redesign project. The deck had already been turned into an outdoor room of sorts. But it was too hot out there to eat lunch in summer and too dark by nightfall to have dinner and relax. With the addition of electricity and a canopied pergola, there would be shade and light, two essential elements of making it a truly useful living space.
A local contractor and I designed the pergola so that the beams were extensions of the interior beams of the house. We worked closely with a representative of Shade Tree Canopies, which I had discovered in an ad in Garden Design, so that tracks could be installed to fit three retractable fabric canopies. Fifties-style hanging globe lights were installed as well as perimeter lighting.
The deck now feels like an outdoor apartment; it’s bigger than my whole 18th Street studio, with spaces for barbecuing, eating, sunning, sitting around, plant-growing, having lots of people over for parties. Freshly squeezed lemonade, anyone?