07 Sep Soothing Sanctuary
When the couple bought their Remuera townhouse eight years ago, they did so because the Brent Hulena design ticked the boxes. They liked its no-fuss contemporary nature, with plastered walls and a clay-tiled roof reminiscent of the
Mediterranean – fitting, because Graham’s family business has imported food products from Europe since 1944. With six children between them, the Aitkens also knew the home’s two living areas would come in useful.
The courtyard, however, was dated and messy with a mismatch of floor surfaces and haphazard planting.
“It wasn’t a very usable space,” says Marion. So they called in landscape designer Mark Read of Natural Habitats to build them a “little Bali”. Happily, the garden already contained a number of significant trees in keeping with the island theme. These included bangalow, washingtonia and queen palms.
Simplifying the material palette was a given: the outdoor surfaces were a conglomeration of crazy paving, ceramic tile and gravel. Instead of lifting them, new wide-plank Vitex decking was laid over the top. Not only did this unify the space but it
raised the floor level by 100mm, which gave a more seamless flow between inside and out. A rectangular patch of artificial turf is set into the decking to bring a soothing greenness.
Mark planned two focal points. First, an outdoor fireplace of honeycombed basalt was built in the zone that led off the dining room. Marion bought a square table with a black granite top to furnish this space. “We love to eat our dinner here,” she says.
The other point of focus is a vertical bank of planting with a water feature. This was built along the eastern flank of the garden, in an area that leads from the kitchen. Artificial rock was used to retain the slope and to disguise an ugly wall on this street-side boundary. The team planted the feature in “jungle” fashion, using a mix of natives such as griselinia and asplenium and cyathea ferns, as well as exotics such as monstera, heliconia, strelitzia and cycads. Other planting in this easy-care courtyard includes an assortment of bromeliads – both green and red varieties – that fringe the fireplace and are dotted around the entrance garden.
Upcycling existing structures within the garden was a priority. A curved concrete retaining wall that ran along the eastern and northern edges of the courtyard was repurposed in three ways: the stairs to the spa were built directly over the top of it; the water feature was set into it; and, in one area, it was turned into the base of an outdoor couch. This alfresco bench seat is the perfect place to stretch out on a lazy Sunday afternoon. “If he has half an hour spare, Graham loves to come and read his book here on the weekend,” says Marion.
The transformation of this compact courtyard makes it feel more spacious and the Aitkens now use it as a third living room. At night, when the palms are lit from below, the water in the rock pool ripples in the breeze and the flames of the fire leap into the dark, the garden is a sanctuary from the everyday.