Every landscape has roots, but not every client feels the commitment to incorporate that past into their property when adopting a home. This family felt the connection deeply. Eager to embrace the long history of their land, when the homeowners bought an 1891 converted dairy barn on 5-plus acres in Fairfield County, Connecticut, they looked beyond the walls of the home to continue their stewardship inside and out. Aware that their land could tell a story and eager to explore its potential, they sought out Kathryn Herman, of Kathryn Herman Design, to bring the project to another, deeper level with panache and family appeal.
The year was 2011, and the couple was sold on the property at first sight. “We knew immediately this was the home for us,” the homeowner recalls. The converted cow barn with original post-and-beam construction belonged to the neighboring farmhouse, while fieldstone walls expanded the dialogue outward to the adjacent land. But what they loved most about the property was its sense of seclusion. “In the backyard, you look out across a broad sweeping vista, yet you can’t see another house. There’s a wonderful feeling of being lost in nature,” the homeowner observes. This was where the couple planned to grow their family while stewarding what they were given and exploring the potential of the landscape. Now with four children, the home is their retreat.
The landscape had promise from the beginning, and Herman’s role was to bring the charm to another level. “Through a process of editing, we strove to bring the ordinary to the extraordinary,” Herman explains. Although the landscape is secluded in back, the converted barn faces a busily trafficked road. “It felt exposed,” Herman observes. Rather than going the typical route of planting a solid hedge or building a solid wall to secure privacy, Herman’s inventive solution was to stagger segmented but overlapping sections of ilex, creating a layered effect. The creative alternative to the usual solid hedge worked brilliantly to give traffic quick sideways glimpses of the front yard with its handsome arboreal elements seen from the street, while presenting a privacy screen looking outward from the house. “It has a whimsical quality,” the homeowner notes. Leading to the house, a linden-lined allée gives the entrance just enough panache to send a stately and leafy “you have arrived” message.
To continue the nod toward elegance established by the allée and add another stratum of screening, Herman planted an aerial hedge of sheered lindens fronting the parking courtyard, anchoring each clipped tree in a smart square frame of boxwood edging. She also softened the street view to the side with an orchard of mature apple trees. Planted in rows spaced at an angle, those trees have proved a major hit with the children, who invite their friends to spend autumn afternoons harvesting apples. As a lure outdoors, the apple orchard, which has produced a reliable crop every year, is ragingly successful for everyone.
Immediately around the house, Herman designed a water feature with an adjacent outdoor dining area. The beauty of this space is its union with mature trees already in residence, which adds depth to the secluded outdoor dining space. To heighten the ambiance, perennial flower borders offer goodies for pollinators, while a meditative and succinctly artistic Asian-influenced water feature combines elevated granite stepping stones and granite coping to complement the glassy surface of framed water. Munder Skiles seating a a sense of fine craftsmanship. “Everything is very inviting,” says the homeowner, “but it’s easily maintained.”
The outlook of the house, originally painted gray with maroon trim, was also influenced by Kathryn Herman. The color needed toning down to become harmonious with the added landscape components. Herman recommended a more muted Farrow & Ball Pavilion Gray for both house and trim. “It’s a softer color with just a hair of green/gray to offset the landscape,” explains Herman. The hue proved a brilliant choice.
Running down the property line of the long, lean lot, Herman removed white pines that tend to lose lower branches with age. They were replaced with Norway spruces and flowering shrubs that lead down as the property descends to the pool level with a fire feature and wisteria pergola. Ultimately, the backyard focuses on a set of steps that open to a meadow with mown walking trails. Herman bolstered that meadow by sowing a 50 percent native seed mix that includes penstemon, cornflower, yarrow, verbena, vernonia, and grasses. From there, the land meets a reservoir, further enhancing the wildlife-hosting opportunities in situ. “The kids sit on the granite steps in the evenings and watch the lightning bugs. They are just transfixed,” the homeowner enthuses. “We can become lost in nature here.”
From the outset, Kathryn Herman’s goal was to elevate and enhance all elements with attentiveness to details. Attaining that goal, the entire scene has just the right balance to achieve harmony in many aspects. But most importantly, the family is inspired to utilize their property to the max. That accomplishment is timeless.