Utah Style and Design

House Tour: Making the Garden an Outdoor Museum

June 26, 2017

A one-of-kind landscape makeover transforms a tiny Avenues property for a couple who loves art, food and, above all, entertaining.

written by: Val Rasmussen   photos by: Aaron Shaw

Love it or leave it? After seventeen years of living in their 1895 two-story Avenues home, owners Dean and Tiffani Peterson faced this dilemma. “I’ve lived in the Avenues for thirty years,” says Dean, CEO of Harmon’s Neighborhood Grocer. “I love that it’s close to the city and in a walkable neighborhood. At first, Tiffani and I thought, maybe we should fix up the house to sell. Then, we concluded: ‘No, let’s fix it up to stay.’”

During the two-year remodel, the Petersons took pride in updating the home—on the Utah Historic Registry—while preserving its historic charm.

ABOVE: What was once a flat parcel of dead grass is now an outdoor art gallery of metal privacy screens and murals, abundant seating, a veggie garden and a playhouse replica of the home.

What began as a small project morphed into an extensive renovation. “It started with, ‘Let’s just change the countertops,’” Tiffani laughs. “Then this happened.”  “This” turned out to be a two-year remodel of the home’s master suite, laundry room, entryway and living room, finally concluding with the dining room and landscape.

Tiffani and Dean Peterson—with their 6-year-old Samoyed Enzo—have a few favorite places to relax, including this nook outside their dining room.

To alleviate the formality of a linear gardenscape, the Petersons chose a curving pathway that leads guests throughout the garden.

Theirs was a typical lower Avenues yard: small, flat and exposed to adjacent neighbors. In the Petersons’ case, it also faced a cinderblock garage for a nearby apartment complex. Dean and Tiffani established three musts for the new landscape: Hide the neighboring garage eyesore, add party lights and locate a table for eight.

Consummate entertainers, cooks and art collectors, the couple insisted on an outdoor space filled with a playful personality. “If we found something on Pinterest, we’d think, ‘How can we jack it up?’” Tiffani says. “Or, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea, but couldn’t they have tricked it out?’”

The team salvaged a stained-glass window and integrated it into an outdoor brick wall that extends the home’s unique architectural detail.

To help their visions come to life in the compact yard, Dean and Tiffani turned to landscape pros Jeremy Fillmore and Ryan Talbot of Northland Design Group. “Small-scaled design is the most challenging because you see every detail,” says Fillmore, who was thrilled with the opportunity to work in the Avenues Historic District. “This yard celebrates Dean and Tiffani’s personality. It’s great when we get to push the artistic ability of owners.”

And push it they did. “We want the eyes to wander like on a gallery stroll,” Tiffani explains. Each step into the landscape seems to offer a new surprise. “Jeremy liked to call each outdoor space ‘moments,’” Tiffani says.

The team transformed the unused space behind the garage into a multi-tiered raised veggie garden. “It’s so easy now to run back here for a little mint or tomatoes and basil,” Dean says.

Each moment packs a punch. “The challenge of the lot’s small size gave us the opportunity to create cozy living spaces that create the impression that we have extended the architecture of the home,” Talbot adds. “It is now difficult to tell where the architecture stops and the landscape begins.”

For starters, the Peterson’s new patio—now home for an eight-top table, party lights and two gas fireplaces—feels like it was there since 1895. “Our team designed a freestanding brick wall away from the home that houses a historic stained-glass window preserved during the home’s remodel,” Talbot explains. “It provided a bridge from the historic architecture of the home to a lively series of urban-outdoor living spaces.”

Justin Holt with Outdoor Elements created a metal masterpiece that’s both functional and fun. “He had never done anything like this,” Tiffani says. “It came in as one giant piece.”

Heavy Metal: A large corten steel mural hides an unsightly parking structure and depicts a image of the Petersons’ street. The mural features neighboring Victorian homes, a mom walking a stroller, a parked car and, of course, Dean and Tiffani’s 6-year-old Samoyed, Enzo.

Various seating areas—a nook off the dining room, a brick bench, flowerbed walls and even the porch steps—can accommodate up to 50 people. Tiffani says the back bench is her favorite party perch. “It’s like I can watch the whole world go by from here. I can watch our kids and friends. I can see everyone from here.”

A curved flagstone pathway—dubbed “the yellow brick road” by subcontractors—guides the stroll. On one side, a garage side door showcases a commissioned painting of what appears to be a three-dimensional mirror image of a nearby flowerbed. On the other side, a playhouse—hand built by Tiffani’s stepfather and Dean—stands as a miniature replica of the home. Where most yards end, behind a detached garage, waist-high planter boxes boast beds of cucumbers, lettuces, peas and herbs.  “Justin Holt with Outdoor Elements built raised steel planters to create depth and to calm the spaces,”  Fillmore says. “The steel planters in the garden area are a continuation of the serpentine pathway design.”

Two gas fireplaces and heating lamps enable outdoor entertaining from early spring to late fall.

An artist painted the garage’s flat side door to look like a three-dimensional reflection of the back of the house.

Fillmore and Talbot offered a solution for privacy, too. Collaborating with the Petersons, they designed, built and installed three oversized, silhouetted metal walls, two in the dramatic shapes of shade trees. The third, a large corten steel mural that now hides the garish parking structure, depicts a Google Earth image of their Avenues street.

The couple’s love of art—and wow-factor—extends from garden to interior. Interior designer Jessica Bennett and her team at Alice Lane Home Collection tackled the project.  “Tiffani and Dean love entertaining and have the best taste in food,” Bennett says. “They wanted a space that could accommodate their tremendous knowledge and taste level for all things delicious while honoring the home and all of its beautiful architectural strengths. Tiffani has amazing taste and was craving something bold and fashionable.”

Off the dining room, new French doors—painted to mimic the panels of the home’s original front door—open to the south-facing courtyard.

Designing a modern look for a 100-year-old home doesn’t come without challenges. “Tiffani wanted to honor her historical home’s original finishes like moldings and stained glass windows. As a realtor by trade, Tiffani has a love for homes and sees it all,”  Bennett explains. “We updated the home through the furnishings, dressing each room with beautiful current and timeless silhouettes, and added a punch of color for impact.”

Tiffani and Dean’s meaningful collection of art—showcasing their travels and passions—adds another level of interest. “We love that she wants her pieces to be originals and wants to know the artists,” Bennett says.  “She has a story for everything in her home. She’s a house whisperer.”

So, what’s next for the house whisperer and her sous chef? Tiffani responds with a smile, “We make dinner and play.”  

See more inside the Summer 2017 issue.

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