Iron Shade ArborContemporary Patio, Houston
This shade arbor, located in The Woodlands, TX north of Houston, spans the entire length of the back yard. It combines a number of elements with custom structures that were constructed to emulate specific aspects of a Zen garden. The homeowner wanted a low-maintenance garden whose beauty could withstand the tough seasonal weather that strikes the area at various times of the year. He also desired a mood-altering aesthetic that would relax the senses and calm the mind. Most importantly, he wanted this meditative environment completely shielded from the outside world so he could find serenity in total privacy.
The most unique design element in this entire project is the roof of the shade arbor itself. It features a “negative space” leaf pattern that was designed in a software suite and cut out of the metal with a water jet cutter. Each form in the pattern is loosely suggestive of either a leaf, or a cluster of leaves.
These small, negative spaces cut from the metal are the source of the structure’ powerful visual and emotional impact. During the day, sunlight shines down and highlights columns, furniture, plantings, and gravel with a blend of dappling and shade that make you feel like you are sitting under the branches of a tree.
At night, the effects are even more brilliant. Skillfully concealed lights mounted on the trusses reflect off the steel in places, while in other places they penetrate the negative spaces, cascading brilliant patterns of ambient light down on vegetation, hardscape, and water alike.
The shade arbor shelters two gravel patios that are almost identical in space. The patio closest to the living room features a mini outdoor dining room, replete with tables and chairs. The patio is ornamented with a blend of ornamental grass, a small human figurine sculpture, and mid-level impact ground cover.
Gravel was chosen as the preferred hardscape material because of its Zen-like connotations. It is also remarkably soft to walk on, helping to set the mood for a relaxed afternoon in the dappled shade of gently filtered sunlight.
The second patio, spaced 15 feet away from the first, resides adjacent to the home at the opposite end of the shade arbor. Like its twin, it is also ornamented with ground cover borders, ornamental grasses, and a large urn identical to the first. Seating here is even more private and contemplative. Instead of a table and chairs, there is a large decorative concrete bench cut in the shape of a giant four-leaf clover.
Spanning the distance between these two patios, a bluestone walkway connects the two spaces. Along the way, its borders are punctuated in places by low-level ornamental grasses, a large flowering bush, another sculpture in the form of human faces, and foxtail ferns that spring up from a spread of river rock that punctuates the ends of the walkway.
The meditative quality of the shade arbor is reinforced by two special features. The first of these is a disappearing fountain that flows from the top of a large vertical stone embedded like a monolith in the other edges of the river rock. The drains and pumps to this fountain are carefully concealed underneath the covering of smooth stones, and the sound of the water is only barely perceptible, as if it is trying to force you to let go of your thoughts to hear it.
A large piece of core-10 steel, which is deliberately intended to rust quickly, rises up like an arced wall from behind the fountain stone. The dark color of the metal helps the casual viewer catch just a glimpse of light reflecting off the slow trickle of water that runs down the side of the stone into the river rock bed.
To complete the quiet moment that the shade arbor is intended to invoke, a thick wall of cypress trees rises up on all sides of the yard, completely shutting out the disturbances of the world with a comforting wall of living greenery that comforts the thoughts and emotions.
What Houzz contributors are saying:
10. A Modern Arbor in TexasLocation: The narrow backyard of a home in The Woodlands, TexasSize: Two small patios are each 144 square feet (12 by 12 feet), or 13.3 square meters (3.6 by 3.6 meters); the overall outdoor space the pergola covers is 405 square feet (45 by 9 feet), or 37.6 square meters (13.7 by 2.7 meters)Michael Constantino and Jeff Halper of Exterior Worlds Landscaping & Design provided this homeowner with what many Texans can’t get enough of: shade. And they did so with artistry, not only with a water-jet-cut aluminum patio cover but also through the tidy row of Spartan junipers. A custom Cor-Ten sculpture and disappearing fountain contribute to the patio’s cooling effect, with extensive lighting transforming the area into a nighttime masterpiece. Gravel paving creates a permeable base that also adds a nice meditative quality through the crunching underfoot.See this patio’s details
Designers: Michael Constantino and Jeff Halper, Exterior Worlds Landscaping & DesignLocation: The narrow backyard of a home in The Woodlands, Texas; windows in the dining room, living room and master bedroom overlook this spaceSize: Two small patios are each 144 square feet (12 by 12 feet), or 13.3 square meters (3.6 by 3.6 meters); the overall outdoor space the pergola covers is 405 square feet (45 by 9 feet), or 37.6 square meters (13.7 by 2.7 meters)Budget (including labor): Custom arbor with hand-drawn pattern cut into aluminum panels: $50,000Landscaping: $35,000Lighting: $10,000Reason: Shade and privacy for the homeownerThe Nitty-Gritty on This Patio DesignThreshold: Gravel runs right up to the bedroom and living room doors. From inside, you step down about 5 inches onto a couple of bluestone pavers like the ones used to connect the two patios. Patio floor and pathway materials: Two granite gravel patios are connected via a 15-foot-long (4.5-meter-long) pathway of 12- by 12-inch (304- by 304-millimeter) bluestone pavers. Mulch, foxtail ferns (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’, USDA zones 9 to 11; find your zone), dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’, zones 6 to 11) and river pebbles separate the two patios. Anodized aluminum edging keeps everything in place. The pavers were wet set in cement. “This allows for a straight, uniform, level path of disconnected stones that merge with the gravel and planting beautifully,” says Halper. Halper selected the gravel for its association with Zen gardens and the quiet crunch it makes when walked on, giving the space a meditative quality. He also chose it for its permeability: You can plant directly into gravel. “It allows you to merge the garden and the patio in a way paving can’t,” he says. And in areas like Houston, with impervious-surface restrictions, gravel can be a great hardscape solution.
For coastal properties, it is prudent to select vegetation that is salt-tolerant. The wind whipping onto your garden definitely carries salt with it, and that salt will accumulate on plants over time. Choose plants that are listed as having “high salt-tolerance” at the nursery. A coastal garden with salty air is a situation where native plants consistently outperform non-natives.