In Austin, a Backyard Wall Gives More Than Privacy

We put up walls to divide space, to enclose or drive things away. In this Austin backyard, nevertheless, an 8-foot-tall wall brings everything together.

An unsightly three-story apartment building behind a household’s recently remodeled bungalow demanded drastic screening. But rather than obstructing the view, designers Jennifer Orr and Ilse Frank redirected it, designing an intimate space for the homeowners to entertain guests in addition to a place for the family’s two children to explore, use their imaginations and really feel at home. The result is a balance of uncontrolled overgrowth and arranged minimalism.

Before Photo

BEFORE: By the time the renovation wrapped up, the 2,000-square-foot backyard was basically a raw construction site, exposed to the adjacent apartment building. The goal was to minimize the view of this apartment building and make a safe and more intimate backyard refuge.

Studio Balcones

AFTER: Frank and Orr, of Studio Balcones, introduced three schemes to tackle the screening, which range from a covered pergola to bamboo in containers. Even though Frank says she and Orr thought the client would want a 12-foot-tall fence and call it a day, they had been amazed by the customers’ excitement for the third, and least traditional, option: “the moviewall.”

While the backyard has hosted outdoor film screenings, casting movies onto a hanging sheet, the garden area behind the wall would be the actual performance. Through the wall’s introduction, visitors find a lush and overgrown “wilderness to play in,” Frank says.

To reach the look, the designers planted this unethical website with natives and well-adapted non-natives. Throughout the seasons, the homeowners witness the evolution of the garden through the aperture. It is a point of reference to the passing of time and is a great way to actually appreciate and realize the lawn — not to mention it is a fun spot for children to play and explore.

Studio Balcones

Standing at 8 ft, the poured-in-place cement wall matches the height of the eaves. The designers initially played with the idea of painting the wall a bright shade, such as turquoise, but ultimately decided that a softer putty color for the stucco was a better long-term choice.

While the wall was built as a frame of reference and garden partition, Frank says the designers are excited to hear how it has evolved as a garden feature. The kids play and on it, and use it as a place to sit down and hang outside.

Studio Balcones

The moviewall bisects two different backyard spaces. The outdoor dining space on the other hand is organised and well arranged. Steel edging divides granite sand and recycled glass mulch.

Ann Armstrong, a local architect and artist in Austin, designed and constructed the custom table. “The furniture evolved entirely out of this pre-existing stone table top, which was a rectangular slab of white marble left over in the customer’s kitchen remodel,” she states. The slab sits on a solid steel base and is accompanied by matching cedar-topped dining benches.

Parts of the apartment building stay visible, but the customers are less worried, thanks to the solitude and cover the backyard has today. Frank says she’s proud of this unconventional and unexpected solution to a seemingly simple issue. And as somebody with a background in architecture, she enjoys that they were not afraid to address a problem with plants.

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