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Small Yard, Big View
While the desert view beyond the low walls of John and Sara Long's condominium in Tucson, Arizona, goes on for miles, the couple's actual yard is a limited 1,000 square feet. Built in the 1970s, the couple bought the condo around 2008 as a second home when they fell in love with the area after their daughter started attending nearby University of Arizona. Residents of coastal Washington, they were attracted to the warm climate, desert hues, and proximity to the school.
Landscape designer Kathryn Prideaux of Prideaux Design was fully capable of tackling the project: her background includes designing all-inclusive interiors for luxurious Lear jets. She can pack a punch into a small space. Prideaux is a fan of Midcentury modern design, especially ceramist/artist Eva Zeisel, and infuses the fluid shapes, forms, colors, and sensibility into many of her designs—something unusual for the Southwest.Continue to 2 of 18 below.
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"The Longs had quite a wish list!" says Prideaux. On that list for a new yard: an outdoor retreat with a spool, a fire pit, outdoor kitchen, dining area, living room/deep seating space, lounge/sunning area, and a bench for taking naps. "They weren't concerned with how much space they have, but how that space would be used."Continue to 3 of 18 below.
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Before: Lost in the 1970s
When she consulted with the Longs, Prideaux took a look at the mostly hardscaped yard of their 1970s-built townhome. With shared walls on both sides and a few neglected cactus (yes, that can happen) the space was in dire need of a remodel. It was evident that previous owners tried to repair the existing flagstone patio, but it was poorly patched and in sad shape. A built-in bench and planter that ran along the back wall also needed to be torn down.Continue to 4 of 18 below.
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Prideaux's Plan View
Located in Tucson's Ventana Canyon, the condo is part of the Golf Villas development. Sometimes referred to as patio homes, yards of this type of home are mostly concrete or hardscape and, in this case, overlook a golf course.
The existing patio was about 24 x 48 feet, with the overall backyard measuring just under 1,000 feet. In addition to their wish list, the Longs wanted to watch the golfers on the course (which meant no high walls) and keep a mature mesquite tree, which helped to provide shade for the yard. Prideaux presented the Longs with a complete remodel—a modern interpretation of a traditional hacienda—and they were on board.Continue to 5 of 18 below.
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The Jewelbox Project
The Longs provided multi-colored fabric as inspiration for the space that included turquoise, light blue, oranges, reds—a vibrant palette that intensifies the soft hues of the surrounding landscape. The small size of the project and the beautiful colors contained within became known as the Jewelbox Project.
Recipient of an APLD 2011 International Merit award, Prideaux's design has garnered lots of praise. After she completed the Longs' landscape, two other homeowners in the development enlisted her design services.Continue to 6 of 18 below.
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Prideaux describes the design process for this project as similar to "putting the pieces of a thousand-piece puzzle together on a tiny tray table." Her solution came from the shared use of space: the spool's walls also define the adjoining outdoor rooms. Each space functions separately but can be enjoyed at the same time.
"The centerpiece of the design is the pool," says Prideaux. Both literally and figuratively. "We had to think about the setback requirements of the pool from the two next-door properties, so the pool was centered in the space."Continue to 7 of 18 below.
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Low, Wide Bowls
Since space was limited and the designer was working with several activity zones, plants were incorporated into the design via colorful pottery and include healthy, sculptural succulents and cactus.
Walls and divisions of the space were kept low, allowing guests and their conversations to flow freely. Accessories like these colorful, low, wide bowls are also placed strategically, mindful of not obstructing views.Continue to 8 of 18 below.
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Working with Walls
Using a low wall of the spool, Prideaux nestled a built-in dining bench with upholstery and pillows that repeat the brilliant blues, oranges, dark pinks, and reds of the design and surrounding landscape. The other side of the spool creates a wall for the conversation/fire pit space.Continue to 9 of 18 below.
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With condos, townhomes, and apartments, common walls are a given. Prideux's solution: a vivid tile backsplash that creates walls for the Longs' outdoor kitchen, adds color, and gives the homeowners something way more appealing to look at than their neighbors' stucco wall.
The kitchen includes a built-in grill, side burner, sink, sealed storage, countertops, and lighting.Continue to 10 of 18 below.
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A good designer subtly repeats shapes, forms, materials, etc. for a cohesive space. For the Jewelbox Project, Prideaux used ashlar to face the outdoor kitchen, spool, and wall—tying together various elements.Continue to 11 of 18 below.
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Spool and Fire Feature
Prideaux chose an ice blue subway tile to reflect the sky and convey a sense of coolness when the desert heats up. As the sun goes down or during the winter, the subtle fire feature—that rectangular space that is built into the other side of the spool and features blue fire crystals—is turned on for warmth and a colorful light show.Continue to 12 of 18 below.
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A quick lesson with steps or stairs: treads are the part that you walk on, and risers are the back space that "rises" to the next level. Prideaux used rectangular glazed subway tile in varying oranges as a decorative and safety accent for the spool steps—a striking and smart touch. Those orange tiles are the same ones used for the kitchen backsplash.Continue to 13 of 18 below.
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Integral to the project was an awareness of the environment and practicing sustainability. Prideaux had a new drip irrigation system installed which provides only enough water specific to each plant. A cactus barrier (near the low wall) uses passive water harvesting via the roof runoff that is diverted under the patio and into the native desert beyond the wall.Continue to 14 of 18 below.
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About That View
Overlooking a golf course, the townhome is in Ventana Canyon. The view stretches beyond to encompass the Sonoran desert, Santa Catalina Mountains, and lights of downtown Tucson.
The Longs wanted a place to soak in the sun. These lounge chairs take in views of other parts of the yard and beyond without interrupting the flow of traffic.Continue to 15 of 18 below.
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The upholstery of the poly-wicker deep-seating set is a neutral tan, which is a smart choice for outdoors. Things really kick up with throw pillows in oranges, sky blue, and other colors seen throughout the Jewelbox Project. All cushions and pillows were custom made by Primadonna Linens.Continue to 16 of 18 below.
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Faux wicker deep seating furniture from Brown Jordan is comfortable and casual in a desert setting. Unlike real wicker, the resin type should last for years, is easy to maintain, and is weather and insect resistant. Like any outdoor furniture, it's a good idea to store it under cover, indoors, or at least put the cushions away during months when not in use.
Since residents of the desert use their outdoor spaces year round, they may need to replace their upholstery and pillows more often, or use zippered pillow covers when outdoor pillows being to fade.Continue to 17 of 18 below.
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Planted in one of the low, glazed ceramic bowls is a single hardy agave. Agaves are native to Mexico and the Southwestern United States and are succulents, not cactus. While container specimens stay smaller, agaves growing in the desert or in a home garden can get quite large and create "pups" from runners, which can be propagated. The bowl pots accentuate the structural form of the agaves.
All of the plant selected for the project survive throughout the four seasons, with winter and spring being their most beautiful display.Continue to 18 of 18 below.
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Built-in Nap Bench
A tall planter containing a succulent stands next to a built-in bench that the Longs requested Prideaux design for naps on the patio. Cushions are in the same vibrant striped outdoor fabric that was used on the dining area bench.