While having a great home as a nest is one of the greater forms of comfort in our lives, I’ve always believed that having a connection to nature leaves us more grounded.   Some of this connection can come by living near parks or heading out to hiking trails, but the best is having one’s own home connect the inside world and outside world together, providing constant reminders of life all around us.

To accomplish that at 1566 Sanchez, we knew that the back yard would be amazing – very light and open, but just in need of some great landscape design, a few trees, and a great patio to connect the home to the garden and allow for outdoor entertaining and dining.

Choosing a Landscape Architect

After looking at the work of dozens of landscape architects around the Bay Area, we finally stumbled upon Scott Lewis of Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture.  While trying to find a landscape architect who understood how to deal with San Francisco’s narrow and sloping lots, we came across Scott’s gorgeous Parkside Garden in a list of awards by the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The subtlety of the mix of plants and trees and their connection to the home made it feel like that home was situated in an Arboretum or Botanical Garden and didn’t suffer from having a dozens of competing colors but rather more a blend of textures with a few complementary colors.  Very peaceful.  Very soothing.  Something you’d want to sit and look at for hours as the breezes play with the trees.

So Scott Lewis it was.  And what a great choice.  Scott is easy to work with, creative, and responsive.

Given that we were doing so much excavation, we had to get the trees for the back yard early in the construction process so that we could get them in the back yard without requiring the use of a crane to carry them over the house since once the house was all walled-in, there’d be no way to get a 36″ box Olive tree through there!

Front Roof Deck

Our biggest challenge in the home, however, was the upstairs front bedroom.  It was going to have a large front deck since the top story is set back 12′ from the front of the house, but the deck was behind the original Victorian parapet wall…nearly 7′ tall and eliminating most any view other than that of the spires of St. Paul’s.  Here’s how it looked just after framing – definitely at risk of feeling like it’s an alleyway.

Even after putting on siding and the cool roof waterproof membrane, it had the feeling of a box.


But, working with Scott, we came up with a space that made it feel like a private garden, gave it some enhanced views from a raised deck, and incorporated the home’s original roof joists as facing material for planter boxes…making it both green and Green.

The original roof’s 120+ year-old wood had some serious character!

So these were ripped down and re-used to make…wait for it…these:

Which look alright until you plant them and get…

We designed the tops of the planters to be low enough to sit on and the warm wood of the original roof beams gives it a cozy feel.  For the patio surface, we found a beautiful porcelain tile from Ceramica Atlas Concorde at a great local stone and tile dealer – Spec Stones.  The tile is pretty Green itself, saving us from using real stone and including a high percentage of recycled content while looking just like stone.

And from inside the bedroom, you get more of a garden view – something that will look even more amazing once the red-leafed Japanese maple leafs out in the Spring.

Up on the raised deck area, there’s a lovely seating area with a view of the bay where one could imagine sipping their morning coffee.

That’s no alleyway.

Light Well Garden

The other area where we were concerned was the little stair lightwell outside the rear bedroom on the ground floor.  Below grade some 10′ to 12′, it could have been very dark and dismal.  To counteract that, we made the patio out of brick from the homes’ original chimney and built a planter using aromatic cedar and planting it with shade-tolerant plants and a lovely and large Japanese maple.

And planted it makes this a retreat, not a basement bedroom…

Main Garden and Patio

While up the stairs, the largest garden area provides for indoor-outdoor living, siting a 36″ box fruitless Olive tree in the middle of the patio and offering a border of red and green Japanese maples with drought-tolerant turf and wild grasses creating a space for kids and dogs.

We used separately poured concrete pavers to lay out a patio and softened it with pebbles in between, with the Olive tree centrally-located so that there would be a rich green view right outside the Family Room.

While here you can really see the dry stack wall we made by breaking up the old (and ugly) concrete patio and giving it a new and much more attractive life.  Again, we used pebbles on the landings of the steps to soften the setting.

Thanks, Scott.