Steep sites can be the most challenging hurdle when building positive outdoor spaces, and it's exciting for us to work closely with our clients to maximize their design opportunities. We accommodated all of the wishes of the client by carving various levels to surprising advantage at this extremely steep urban site. The front of the house faces west to a large, open oak savannah park owned by the city. The sloping entry garden is planted with ornamental grasses and flowers, carrying the subtle grace of open meadow’s borrowed landscape to the front door. Plants in this part of the garden have been selected to be deer resistant while also creating inviting habitats for a variety of birds.
Entry steps meander through the garden from the street, leading visitors to the front door. A smaller, separate path leads the homeowner’s clients to the private office door. Anticipating the needs of friends and family who would find steps a challenge, a small entry ramp connects the front door to the driveway and offers easy access to this single level house and its private courtyard and front terrace. At night, low step lighting illuminates the paths.
In order to create level usable space in the back, we installed 20 vertical feet of retaining walls to support the existing uphill slope. A series of terraces softens the severity of the natural grade change, and are used to advantage to meet the client’s desires. In order to extend the experience of the terraced gardens, we constructed a series of paths and stairs leading through the sequence of formal and informal garden rooms.
A courtyard off the main living spaces of the house invites outdoor dining and gathering. A fountain, seen and heard from all of the main living areas, catches evening light. Potted citrus, pomegranate, fig and olive trees with an affinity for heat take advantage of this protected microclimate and enhance the character of this Mediterranean courtyard while yielding wonderful fruits. Gracious steps lead to an upper terrace that features a working garden and a lawn. Nestled on this level are raised beds for vegetable gardening as well as a potting shed, fruit trees, grapes, berries and a chicken coop.
A 14-foot gabion wall, made of galvanized metal cages encasing rock, retains the slope above. The open cage construction allows the free flow of water through the site, alleviating potential hydrostatic pressure inherent in retaining walls while providing a trellis to support grape vines, roses, jasmine and other vines. Fencing on either side of the wall protects the garden from foraging deer.
This project required us to work closely with the owners and the architect to optimize the site of the structure and the flow from exterior to interior spaces. The final design for this property shows how it is possible to work with extreme changes in elevation to create a variety of spaces, including the expansive welcoming front garden, the intimate enclosed rear courtyard, and the terraced garden.
Architect: Jan Fillinger, STUDIO-e
General Contractor: Ecobuilding Collaborative of Oregon
Images 9, 10, & 11: Photography by Anne C. Godfrey