Above: Gerry and Linda Baker get a lot of use from their backyard pool, from early spring to October. Just beyond are two of the 17 red Japanese maples on the couple’s property.
Writer: Missy Keenan
Photographer: Duane Tinkey
Gerry and Linda Baker’s south-side backyard had seen better days. Nestled behind their stately 1937 brick Georgian home, the pool and surrounding patio should have been the shining star of the property. But with crumbling concrete, overgrown plants, and pool equipment that was decades past its prime, the yard’s focal point had become uninviting to use and a headache to maintain.
In the fall of 2015, Linda had just moved into the home with Gerry and the couple was planning a backyard wedding for the following August. They needed to decide whether to renovate the pool and the surrounding patios or to fill in the pool and complete some modest landscaping.
Then Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Once I was diagnosed, the decision was easy,” Linda says. “We realized life is short and we want to enjoy what we have. So we decided to keep the pool and create a space we would love.”
When Gerry, a well-known surgeon, and Linda, a program manager for a home title company, began the planning process, they told landscape architect Lynn Kuhn and landscape contractor Martin Ortiz that they wanted the space to feel relaxing and to be integrated with the overall property. Kuhn’s challenge was to give the couple the intimate, calming space they desired while being true to the grand scale of the home and the four-acre property.
To that end, Kuhn and Ortiz added a wider staircase from the house to the pool, used pavers that coordinate with the home’s original brick, and added curved elements to reflect the home’s Georgian-style architecture.
Prominent new features include an outdoor kitchen with a wood-burning pizza oven, a fireplace with a large mantle as the yard’s focal point, a fountain, multiple seating areas, and soft, colorful plantings.
“They’re lucky to have some beautiful mature trees,” Kuhn says. “They have 17 red Japanese maples on the property, which are such a gift. We sadly had to take out a couple that were interfering with the foundation by the house, but we were able to save three near the pool. In the pool area they also have a beautiful flowering dogwood and a weeping crab apple. These trees were a great backdrop to start with.”
Under the Japanese maples, the Bakers added a flagstone patio, a stone bench, a table and chairs, and a set of wind chimes—one of several Linda has collected over the years. Shade-loving plants include variegated Solomon’s seal, coral bells, hosta, fern and creeping jenny. The yard’s sunny areas feature Linda’s favorite flower, coral-colored carpet roses, with a backdrop of grasses and other mixed perennials.
“We chose smaller perennials so they wouldn’t be in competition with the lovely trees,” Kuhn says, “and we chose soft, colorful plantings to soften the lines of the more formal hardscaping. And since the terrace was large to honor the size and scale of the home, we strategically placed furniture and potted plants to make the seating areas feel intimate.”
Kuhn and Ortiz worked on the yard throughout the summer of 2016 as Linda was undergoing chemotherapy.
“Martin’s guys looked after me and always asked if I needed anything,” Linda says. “They knew I loved coral roses, so they made sure to find them for me. Everyone on the crew was great.”
As Linda was completing treatment and her hair started to grow back last August, the landscape crew was busy putting the finishing touches on the project—right up until the day before the wedding.
“This was such a perfect backdrop for our wedding. We had 200 guests here—and thankfully no one fell in the pool!” Linda says with a laugh.
The newlyweds say they love the results of the renovation. They light the fireplace even in late fall, and they use the hot tub year-round. They fill the pool early in the spring and keep it open until October.
On summer mornings, they have coffee at the outdoor kitchen island and watch the robins bathe in the fountain. They both work long days, and when they come home from work they change into their bathing suits and jump into the pool, and then they make dinner in the outdoor kitchen.
“We feel like we’re on vacation when we come home from work,” Linda says. “People spend all their life trying to save up money to go on vacation for one week. Why not feel like you’re on vacation every day? There’s no place else we’d want to be.”