Backyard Bliss

Hidden behind the stone and wrought-iron walls of this old Hyde Park home is a lush and luxurious garden and pool

The owners were ambitious and dedicated. They had taken on the renovation of their 1889 Old Hyde Park house and spiffed it up from the bottom of its basement to the top of its third story.

But they were not content to keep their enthusiasm for the property confined to those four old walls. Before it was all said and done, they turned their attention outside as well.

The couple was lucky. The house had only one owner from 1923 until 1988, which had saved it both from serial renovations and from being chopped up into apartments.

“And we had Ben,” the husband says of late Kansas City designer Ben Sundermeier. “Ben basically steered us through the whole process inside and out. We were simply enthralled by his design ethic.”

When the couple purchased the house, the yard was unremarkable. But they wanted to be able to enjoy both the gracious front porch and be able to entertain in the back. They wanted a pool and an area to grill—that was the fun part. But the ramshackle garage needed some attention. Initially, that seemed less fun. While on a vacation in Spain, the couple stopped in a bar with rough wood walls and a warm, relaxed aesthetic, and inspiration struck.

“If we could have this, it would be great,” the husband said. His son, who was with them, threw down the gauntlet. “Dad, you have great ideas,” he said, “but they don’t always come to fruition.”

But fortunately, they did have Ben. “I told him what we wanted, and he basically sketched it out right there,” the husband says. “It was a complete mess for a year, but we knew it would be terrific.”

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Sundermeier laid out the hardscape and design for the space inside and out. The cozy pool house (on the second floor of the garage) is paneled in whitewashed knotty pine that runs horizontally, creating a warm and welcoming space. Relaxed upholstered pieces, hard-wearing seagrass carpeting and a vintage-looking Smeg refrigerator capture the vibe that inspired the homeowners in Spain.

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“We call it ‘The Old Hyde Park Social Club,’” the husband says. “Every time we’re there it feels like Ben is there with us.”

Sundermeier’s attention to detail carried through the hardscape of the garden design. The couple wanted a fire element, and the designer was aware of the back end of an old tractor-trailer that was sitting outside in the West Bottoms. He had it configured to create the dramatic focal point of the pool area.

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“It’s really great,” the homeowner says. “It’s such a surprise. Nobody expects it. It is just really fun at night when the pool is lit up.”

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The tents, too, are unexpected and add to the boutique hotel feel.

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With the hardscape plans in place, landscape designer Kristopher Dabner set to work on the layout and design of the plantings. To soften the straight line of the stonewall on the perimeter of the property, Dabner planted undulating waves of boxwood. “It creates interest,” he says of the low hedge. “And the texture is a nice backdrop for the annuals”

Hornbeams provide a natural screen, creating privacy along the front yard. Two catalpa trees stand sentry in each corner offering both refreshing shade and a pleasing symmetry.

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With the structure in place, Dabner began to fill the canvas with color and texture. Lirope borders contain exuberant variegated hosta, azaleas, hydrangea and bold, bright hibiscus.

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“The owners love color, and I wanted to provide a lot of whimsy and fun, especially with the amount of hardscape,” says Dabner.

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To soften the fencing by the pool, Dabner planted fernleaf buckhorn to add texture. English ivy cascades down the wall bordering the pool, its soft vines reminiscent of falling water.

Dabner made use, too, of planters to provide color and texture on the pool deck. Faux bois containers that are home to smaller trees provide an organic contrast to the modern feel and materials of the area. Large, low planters with the texture of moon rock enhance the deck as well. Filled with a variety of succulents, including sedum, they deliver a bright shot of color at water’s edge.

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No matter the headache of construction and mess and waiting, the homeowners are overjoyed with the outcome. Even now, he speaks fondly of the process.

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“We were just so lucky to have such talented people involved in this project.”

SOURCES:

Landscape Design
The Greensman
7213 Troost Ave. 816-523-1516

Pool Design and Construction
Swim Things
3010 S.W. US 40 Hwy. East 816-224-2600

Upholstery
J. David Upholstery Works
816-523-0042

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