Home & Design

Informal on a Grand Scale

Surrounds Landscape Architecture + Construction, Sterling, Virginia;
Grand Award, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)

Informal on a Grand Scale


Big houses require big landscapes, and when a house is
grand like this one in McLean, Virginia, it takes talent and
ingenuity to come up with a design that looks both informal
and inviting.

Landscape architect Howard Cohen of Surrounds Landscape Architecture + Construction solved the problem with a multi-level swimming pool, a rustic outdoor living room and lush plantings spread throughout the property.

The homeowners, Cohen said, wanted “what everybody wants now when they put a pool in their back yard: a complete entertaining setup.” He explained that the landscape agenda included an arbor to provide shade, an outdoor kitchen with fireplace and grill, a play area for children and a lagoon-style pool with waterfalls.

The clients also wanted an automatic pool cover, which dictates a rectangular-shaped pool. This made their request for a “natural” pool even more challenging. Cohen solved the problem by bringing in huge boulders—4,000 to 6,000 pounds each—and raising the ground level behind the pool a bit to provide the necessary drop for several waterfalls. Guests can climb into the spa adjoining the pool via “natural” boulder steps, and, just below the spa, a bench was built into the pool itself—providing an enchanting place for bathers to sit.

In the outdoor kitchen area, a rustic-looking granite sink was set into a flagstone countertop with a rough-hewn edge; huge flagstone pavers with plantings in between the stones lend a homey feeling in front of the fireplace; and the roof of the unadorned cedar arbor defines an easy-going, relaxed outdoor living room.

Finally, evergreen Japanese cedars and tall hollies were planted in back of the pool to screen the neighboring property. A grove of trident maples softens the view from the pool back to the house. Plantings of flowering shrubs and perennials, including daylilies, roses, catmint, ornamental grasses and sprawling ornamental strawberry, provide color in every nook and every corner, through every season of the year.

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