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A Southern Courtyard
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Ben Lochard
HOME FEATURE August/September 2017
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With a toolbox full of history and ingenuity, a Des Moines homeowner creates a welcoming outdoor living space.

In Midwestern parlance, the outdoor living area made of brick, stone, or concrete behind a house is likely called a patio. But for Bill Lindeberg of Des Moines, the space is full of charm, and he calls it a Southern courtyard. “A courtyard is a guiltless area where you can relax and enjoy life,” he explains. “It feels more like a cozy room, not an open-ended space that leads to the yard beyond.”

When he moved into his brick 1948 home five years ago, the backyard was a blank canvas, perfect for a homeowner who loves art, specifically watercolor painting and wood carving. Previous owners had not added even one embellishment to the yard, so he was free to create, literally from the ground up.

Bill earned his undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and had lived in that area for a time for work. On a vacation to the Old South of Charleston, South Carolina, he became enamored with pocket gardens on side yards overgrown with azaleas, boxwoods, colorful architecture, and layers of history. He was charmed by pineapples as a welcome symbol, Fort Sumter, and alleys for streets.

An omen

With touches from the past and the promise of ideas for the future, Bill started envisioning his courtyard. He sensed an omen when two neighbors, who were redoing some landscaping, offered bricks if he moved them. Family members and friends—and a steady stream of wheelbarrow trips—transported the bricks to his yard.

Bill’s plan was that the base needed to be 18 feet square. Two of his sons, Zack and Jacob, helped lay the bricks over pea gravel and sand. An older son, Cole, lives in Dallas. “The bricks didn’t match, which bothered the boys, but I didn’t care. That just added to the charm.”

Some of the bricks originally came from the former Montana’s restaurant on Court Avenue near the Capitol Complex. That building is now home to the Iowa State Bar Association. Along the way, Bill, a history buff, wanted to know more about some of the bricks newly in his possession, particularly the Flint bricks, which had been made in Des Moines in the 1890s and early 1900s. He had to purchase some more antique bricks from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore to have enough. Bill is now sure of one thing about bricks: “If someday I could have all matching bricks, I would want the Flint ones.”

Once the base was in place, the rest of the story began to unfold. To give the courtyard a roomlike structure, Bill had only to look to his garage, which had provided storage space for windows that finally would find their purpose.

A long journey

If only those eight 6-over-6 windows could talk, they would tell quite a tale of their serendipitous journey. They started out life as regular windows in a girls’ college dormitory. When they were removed for replacement, they spent a short time in a heap along the road. That is, until Bill, his brother, and two friends rescued them from a grim future in a landfill. The three, of course, handled the humanitarian task in a genteel way in the middle of the night. From then on, the windows have had a nomadic existence.

At first, a couple of the windows spent some time as a desk and a TV stand. Later they spent time in storage in a horse barn in Texas. Then they moved to Bill’s aunt’s basement in his hometown of DeKalb, Illinois.

They did not share his move to Detroit for a job. But they found refuge at each of the three homes he has owned in Des Moines. “Last year, after 30 years, I tried to give them away to a salvage company, but there were no takers. I decided I had to do something with them.”

Last year all eight of them got to come out of the shadows and shine once more. Bill fashioned wooden frameworks around the windows so that they could stand tall in the ground during spring, summer, and fall and could be removed easily for winter.

Historic color

He painted them “Charleston green,” a color so dark green it’s almost black. He was going to try to mix the paint, but he discovered that Sherwin-Williams already had formulated the historic color. The story goes that after the Civil War, Union soldiers sent buckets of black paint to help spruce up the war-torn city. Proud residents didn’t want their city to be trimmed in government-issue black paint, so they added drops of yellow and green to add some charm and character. They used it—and still do—on doors, shutters, window trims, and iron fences.

Bill, an IT specialist for the Iowa Department of Human Services, says, “The window frames help give a closed-in room definition to the space, but the window glass allows it to feel transparent and open.”

He added an umbrella table and black wicker chairs with red cushions for a pop of color. Two sides of the space are surrounded by lush hostas. Around the yard, he planted more hostas, ferns, and caladiums. Other traveling aspects of the living space come in the form of four varieties of intricate and dramatic succulents, agave plants. Like many Iowans, they love to go south for the winter. They are able to live peacefully on the back deck of a friend in Fort Worth.

A metal Texas armadillo stands guard over the whole scene.

For night glow, Bill arranged plantation string lights. Also, to shed light on the courtyard, he created an industrial-style bare-bulb Edison light with a wire shade made from a salvaged leaf bag container he found in the attic.

In the spirit of Charleston, last year Bill christened the courtyard with his annual Jambalaya Jam, a Southern food fest he hosts for son Zack’s friends. Among the Southern treats are shrimp, andouille sausage, Cajun spices, and rice. He varies the desserts each year, such as Sweet Tea Cake, Watermelon Chiffon Pie, and Rhubarb Crisp.

“I love it that every aspect of the courtyard has a story and that the bricks especially came from the neighborhood and are staying here,” says the creative homeowner.

This has now become Bill’s new recipe for fun: Mix a bit of Texas and a dash of Charleston and throw in a little Iowa for garnish. Enjoy.


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