The Millers had a dream of escaping the stress, hustle and noise of big city life to a private country retreat, taking solace in the woods at a beautiful place of their own where they could entertain and connect with nature on the weekends. Matthew Biron, landscape architect with Hoffman Landscapes, Wilton, Connecticut, helped them turn that dream into a reality.
The clients had purchased a home on 5 acres of forested land in rural Connecticut. The property had plenty of opportunity, but would need vision and a ton of work to turn it into the relaxing oasis the Millers hoped for. Surrounded by mature trees, sloping grounds and wetlands, the goal was to keep as much of the natural ambiance as possible when transforming the outdoor space.
Location: Wilton, CT
Year founded: 1987
Client mix: 100% residential
Service mix: Property maintenance and landscape architecture/outdoor construction
2018 Awards of Excellence winner: Exterior Categories > Residential Design/Build > $100,000 to $500,000 -- https://nalp-awards-of-excellence.secure-platform.com/a/gallery/rounds/39/details/6163
Country Retreat: The Ask
The homeowners wanted a space that could function both as a relaxing retreat and as an entertainment spot. A pool, hot tub, fire pit and audio system were incorporated into the design to meet those requirements.
“The wife wanted to swim laps, so that was an important layout aspect of the pool,” Biron says. “We came up with a great design and a natural freeform pool.”
Biron says the homeowners also wanted to be able to see the bottom of the pool to make sure there aren’t any snakes in the pool. They were in the woods, after all. A separate hot tub was the husband’s request, where he could relax while his wife swam laps.
Country Retreat: The Challenges
The tricky aspect of the property was that it was a sloping yard with wetlands along one side. There was a septic system in the prime real estate where the pool was supposed to go, and on the other side of the pool location were the wetlands. The house had a funky layout that didn’t have a true front of the house. There was no connection from the house to the pool environment and the neighbor’s driveway came up behind the space, so privacy screening would be needed.
Once the project was underway, more challenges presented themselves. For example, while digging the pool, the Hoffman Landscapes team ran into rocks and a lot of groundwater.
“The pool would fill up with groundwater every night and we had to pump it out every day,” Biron says. “It was a battle dealing with the groundwater and then putting in a system so it wouldn’t do it again.”
Country Retreat: The Solutions
Biron and his team designed a layout that utilized the natural slope of the yard, creating a terrace effect nestled into the hillside.
“We had to come up with a plan that didn’t impede the wetlands but bolstered the transition from the hardscape to the wetlands,” Biron says. “There are no man-made materials in the landscape; everything is natural. They wanted the feel of it being here for a while. We saved a lot of elements of the original landscape that the owners liked, including lots of boulders and lots of native plantings along the wetland border.”
They used evergreens to block the view from neighbors, and they added drainage along the pool to capture the groundwater and defer it to the native plantings along the wetlands.
To address the flow from the house to the pool area, the Hoffman Landscapes team took the window out of a spare bedroom and installed French doors leading to a new patio area where the owners could take their coffee before heading to the pool. They also repurposed a shed in the backyard into a pool cabana for equipment and toy storage, and lighting and audio controls. Off the back of the shed, they added an outdoor shower for rinsing off.
“We took a fair amount of trees down,” Biron says. “We made some selective pruning decisions to give some shade on one side of the pool while still allowing for enough solar heating.”
The team installed landscape lighting (controlled by mobile) and tiki torches for ambient light. The husband is very into rock-n-roll and he wanted to play his music, so the team installed and positioned speakers in a way not to disturb the neighbors.
Country Retreat: The Result
Start to finish, the project took about 10 months to complete with a total cost of about $450,000. Permits and approvals, public hearings and construction went through winter and into early spring of 2017. The new landscape allowed the homeowners to utilize the space the way they had envisioned. Since completion, the landscape has filled in and matured.
“The owners love it,” Biron says. “They love their coffee space and then having the pool right there. It’s a retreat party house for them.”
This project was the Hoffman Landscapers team’s first interaction with the Millers. They’re on phase two of three now and have been consistently maintaining the property since the initial project was completed.
Biron says communication and transparency is key to keeping the client relationship a positive one. It’s vital to review all warranties, challenges, opportunities and concerns openly to keep the trust.
“We are moving onto the next phase this spring which will add new detail to the other side of the property and tie it all together,” Biron says. “The amount of lighting we incorporated was really fun and interesting and made it all pop. The audio feature is incredible. It’s set up for the two of them for most weekends, but it can handle 30 to 40 people easily. It’s a big fun playscape for them and their family.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Miller Residence is an NALP Awards of Excellence winner! Enter today! Early Bird Deadline: July 1 ($100 off the entry fee) and Regular Deadline: August 5.