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Renew, Recharge, Relax
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
GARDEN FEATURE August/September 2017
home :: home & garden :: featured gardens

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Revitalized backyard is an oasis for a busy Clive family.

When Wendy and Joel Johnson bought their home in Clive a few years ago, it had a Plain Jane-style backyard. “Basically, there were five big trees and not much else,” Wendy says. “We had a pool at our previous home and decided we wanted another. Plus, we just wanted to create a lovely living space.”

To establish a working-concept design plan, the Johnsons hired Joe Rathermel, a recent graduate at the time of the architecture program at Iowa State University, to get them started.

And, because they thought they wanted some decorative concrete, they sought out and met Jeremy Speck from Speck USA at the Iowa State Fair. From there, the project began to take shape.

Great ideas

“Wendy had such good ideas, many of them from,” Speck explains. “She and Joel were so easy to work with. They knew exactly what they wanted because of the research they had done. That doesn’t always happen.”

First off, their walkout ranch home, built in 1989, had a stairway off the deck that Wendy called a “Cinderella stairway.” As she explains, “It had two approaches off the main stairway. That wasn’t the style we wanted there at all.” A more streamlined, straight deck followed.

The overall plan included a 15- by 40-foot pool that is 8 feet deep. Next to it is a raised solid platform with a stacked-stone base. On it are four chaises and two market umbrellas to shield the sun. Three fountains shoot water and soothing sounds from the base of the platform into the pool.

Nearby is the pool house, which was built by Pat Seiler Construction. It holds the mechanicals; on its side is a concrete bar with four stools.

Wendy says everyone thinks the pool house is a cabana. “No, it’s just for mechanicals, but with its prominence by the pool, we really wanted it to look really nice, too.” The counter is for serving snacks and drinks by the pool.

Chiseled edges

For the edging on the steps of the platform and for the edging on the bar countertop, Speck used so-called rock face, or chiseled edge. That look adds texture to the smooth concrete around it. He also did the large concrete pool deck. “Wendy wanted that to have a suede-style, worn look, and it turned out beautifully,” he says.

The logistics sometimes are strategic in a project, Speck explains. “A huge, huge crane literally lifted the pool up and over the house onto the backyard,” Speck says. The pool came from Clearwater Pools. “The weight of the crane meant we installed a new driveway afterwards.”

The Johnsons also wanted another area to relax on the other side of the yard, so Speck created a fire pit table that is the focal point of a sectional seating arrangement. This area is particularly used during the fall season.

For continuity, Speck created a flowing-water textured design on the countertop by the pool house, which he repeated coming up the side of the fire pit table. “It’s subtle, but it ties the two areas of the yard,” Wendy points out.

Wendy says that the City of Clive has specific rules about how much concrete can be used in a project like this. It’s a 30-percent maximum. So the walkway to the fire pit table area uses permeable interlocking concrete pavers, which adds a pleasing textural touch to the area.

Living space

When the couple redid the deck, they created a living space under the deck. It features sectional seating and room for a hot tub, large gas grill, and bistro table.

Out on the pool decking area is a dining table set with linear planters of small succulents.

TLR Landscaping bordered three sides of the yard with arborvitae, now tall enough to lend a dramatic touch and some privacy. In other spots, boxwood bushes, along with Knock Out roses, ‘Stella d’Oro’ lilies, and ‘Karl Foerster’ ornamental grasses, wave in the breeze. Big black pots of bright fuchsia petunias add more color.

The yard, with a large tent, was the perfect spot in the spring for the graduation party for older daughter, Haiden, 18. She is a student at Simpson College in Indianola. Daughter Grace, 16, attends Valley High School in West Des Moines.

Haiden wanted to try her hand at gardening. She has grown strawberries, peppers, squash, and green beans in three huge raised beds.

Wendy is a veterinarian at Jordan Creek Animal Hospital. Joel owns Electronic Design and Consulting. So, of course, the home is fitted with whole-house control systems—audio sound systems, sun-automated control shades, and key pads to make the home run smoothly.

“We all just love to hang out in the yard to relax and recharge,” Wendy says. “It’s all we wanted it to be.”


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