Designing from the inside out

It’s cold this morning.  Our thermometer reads 28.  While number 1 and 2 veg in front of the TV, trusty number 3 is outside breaking the ice on the birdbaths.  As I watch him from the French doors in the family room, my eye spies the existing steps in the Mixed Border.  I begin to salivate for the new, bigger and better steps Phil Hathcock and I will design for the replacement of these puny ones.

Our home was built in 1972.  Back in the day when homes were still built to last.  Yes, this is also the time when some builders began to cut corners like the invention of textured ceilings.  Or are they called “popcorn” ceilings, as if the name would create a tasty alternative.  The first thing we did before moving in was to scrape the ceilings smooth.

The style of the house was the last on earth I would ever own…but the price was right; I guess that’s because it was the last style anyone would own.  We loved the area though, inside the beltline with a half acre blank slate  that became my garden and I can’t imagine living anywhere else – in Raleigh, that is.  It is a Georgian style home – very, very formal and pretentious – not at all who we are.

As a designer, I knew I could do things to make it less of both and did so, happily.  However this is not the focus of this post, another time.

The focus is that I took the back of the house and messed with the architecture to meet my needs.  To say the least, the changes were  not consistent with the Georgian style.  If it were an historic home, shame would be brought on me.

The house has four rooms on top of four rooms with a garage that was enclosed by the previous owners to make a family room.  We made this room my husband’s office.  I suppose the idea of a “great room” hadn’t been invented yet.

There are times when I wish I had a great room, others not.   On the up side of not having one is that everyone has a place to hide when the need stricks; on the down side, it makes it hard to entertain garden clubs or book clubs when more than 12 people need to be in the same room at the same time.  To get around this, I always host when the weather is fine and we meet in the garden or on the back porch.

We have been in the house 11 years.  About 2 years ago, we added a back porch.  Hands down, the best decision I ever made regards to the added space, use of space, peace of mind, and flexibility.  The porch runs parallel to the rooms on the back of the house that include the kitchen and our little family room.  The porch faces due east.  By adding the porch, we also made a dark design even darker.  As such, we replaced the very nice multi-paned windowed French doors with solid glass French doors and replaced the two double hung, multi-paned windows next to the kitchen table with a solid glass picture window.  Doing so, replaced the light and opened up the garden view 50 fold.

Now with the added view, it became more important to design the garden to be on show year round.  The existing gardens were 9 months at best.

This is where I am now.  When the steps are in, I’ll redesign the Mixed Border to add some year round appeal, but not too much so.  It is currently my main butterfly garden.  Most of the plantings are herbaceous and most of that I keep up for the winter wildlife, in all its full senescence glory.  I think senescence is sexy.  I also think we can get too hung up on perfection…and this is coming form a tidy gardener.

When I stand at the French door, directly in front of me are the steps.  The view then continues to a garden bench.  I find the view cheerful and restful.  Adding the steps and subsequent plants will only add  valued to the view.




  1. Helen,
    How wonderful that you opened up your home with windows to view your garden. I know what you mean about designing from inside out. Don’t you just sit and stare at your gardens?

    When my husband and I married 6 years ago, he was living in a formal, Georgian brick in Cary. We sold his house/my house (mine was on 6+ acres in the country) and set about building a casual house (bungalow). Sold that one after we didn’t like the neighborhood! Built again! Yes, two houses within three years.


  2. Busy girl! I’m becoming attached to the house, but its the garden that keeps me going. Again, Happy Birthday.

  3. tina said

    It IS cold for North Carolina. 9 degrees here and that too is cold. Not much gardening today, but I’ll be outside for a bit. Lovely view you have and I like the description of the border. Looking forward to following the redesign.

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