Since Adam and Eve said good-bye to paradise, the quest for regaining the divine garden has led men and women to create intimate, beautiful enclosed outdoor spaces. No matter its era, style, size, or setting, a courtyard imbues any home-even the newest one-with a soul. A courtyard comforts, protects and provides an oasis of green and escape from the everyday. We found three Sarasota courtyards as individual as the owners who created them.
Credit her artist's eye: Photographer Mary McCulley has created a visual and sensory feast in the effusively romantic courtyard of her Mediterranean-inspired downtown Sarasota home.
Spacious enough for entertaining, the courtyard still manages to seem intimate enough for a perfect solitary retreat. It is McCulley's very own urban paradise, where she can quietly sip her morning coffee, toast the sunset and drink in the night air.
Within its seductive sun-dappled confines, fragrant jasmine embraces a burbling fountain. Its froth of white blossoms spills over the courtyard wall and softens its rugged surface. Colorful potted bougainvilleas and geraniums wrap around a flowing azure swimming pool. The solid heft of stone columns and the recessed loggia's clay-tiled roof evoke the classic elegance of the courtyards of old Italian villas. Beneath the swaying leaves of tall banana trees, a generous chaise sets a relaxed, rustic mood; the loggia shelters weathered wooden benches, wrought-iron candelabras and a graceful dining table and chairs.
McCulley achieved the look of stylish ease she wanted by uniting the simplicity of cross-cultural furnishings. "When I am traveling, I always look for pieces with character and style," she says. "Locally, I love to shop at places like Classic Imports and the Sarasota Trading Company. But sometimes something, like my chaise, pops up at stores like Pottery Barn."
"When it comes to furnishing a courtyard, the options are limitless and the final result will speak volumes about the home and its owners," says Jessie White of Sarasota Architectural Salvage. "For an Italian-style courtyard, look for stone statuary, urns with original patina, concrete or stone columns and fountains to convey a sense of permanence. Use wrought-iron gates and fences as trellises to add a sculptural dimension. Candelabras, chandeliers, old lanterns and mirrors infuse romance."
Where to shop
Sarasota Architectural Salvage, 1093 Central Ave., Sarasota, (941) 362- 0803
Classic Imports, 1839 Northgate Blvd., Suite B, Sarasota, (941) 359-0337
Pottery Barn, Westfield Shoppingtown Southgate, 3501 Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 366-5351
Inspired by her Sarasota School of Architecture home, Donna Pickard created a front-yard courtyard that at first glance, looks as if it could be nestled in the heart of Japan. A closer look reveals native plants that thrive in Siesta Key's sandy soil.
Father-and-son architects Ralph and William Zimmerman had designed the 1954 home with their trademark clean, open lines. "I wanted to link the house to the garden without hard physical barriers, " Pickard says. "But creating a private streetside scene without walls was a bit of a challenge." She enlisted the skills of landscape architect Chris Davis to help her achieve her goal. Davis defined the area with boulders, plants and crushed shells. In lieu of walls, bamboos, palms, seagrapes and aromatic ginger gently hug the natural niche and offer a Zen-like aura. Bromeliads, thai plants and an orchid tree create a discreet, lush green entryway, and old bricks form a meandering path. A wooden swing, sheltered by Australian tree ferns, offers a quiet place for solitary musing or private conversation. A stone birdbath she picked up at the Saturday morning downtown farmers market draws thirsty wildlife. The sound of cascading water gliding down the eaves of a nearby fountain brings calm to the serene space. Trees and shrubs gleam with health; even the boulders seem to glow with vitality.
As a registered nurse who practices hypnotherapy, a peaceful, unique setting was also a must for Pickard. The courtyard she created reflects her imagination, forethought and the quiet and subtle attention with which she nurtures it. "It feels like I imagine paradise to be, a sanctuary," Pickard says.
Meditations on a Zen courtyard
"When it comes to a Zen environment, less is best," says landscape architect Chris Davis. "Simplicity and balance are the key elements of serenity and quiet contentment. Design-wise, a circular shape is favored. Water features, wind chimes, Buddha statues, carved stone and wood furniture with straight lines add to sensory perception. Boulders, gravel, shells or pine needles help the design relate to natural elements."
Where to shop
For wind chimes, engraved stones and bells, Elysian Fields, 1273 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 361-3006.
For birdbaths, birdhouses and other garden items, the Farmers Market, held Saturday mornings until noon on Pineapple Avenue in downtown Sarasota.
For bamboo, weeping arbor vitae, contorted Mulberry and other Zen plants, Crowley's Nursery, 16423 Jomar Road, Sarasota, (941) 322-0315.
For Buddha and stone sculptures: Sarasota Architectural Salvage, 1093 Central Ave., Sarasota, (941) 362 0803.
When neighbors announced plans to build a big new house next door to Larry and Jill Johns' 1925 Spanish home on one of the "flower" streets near Sarasota Memorial Hospital, the Johns created a very private courtyard paradise with sculptural traveler palms, crimson bougainvillea and other mature plantings.
"Because we wanted the courtyard to be in harmony with the house, we looked for distinctive Hispanic architectural details and natural materials elements," Larry says. Set between terra-cotta walls clad with creeping fig, a rustic gate carved from cedar planks and dressed with hand-forged hardware leads to the secluded realm. Beyond the flower-veiled walls is a quintessential Spanish paved courtyard anchored by a mosaic-tiled swimming pool with raised walls displaying two lions' heads-an homage to 1920s-era Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner. A charming guesthouse reflects in the pool's azure waters. Its trademark barrel-tile roof recalls the early Spanish tiles originally made of clay and shaped by hand over the maker's thigh.
White birds of paradise, breeze-tossed palms, bromeliads, brightly colored pentas and aromatic jasmine provide a lush, fragrant oasis for the outdoor dining area. To find authentic furniture and accessories compatible with the courtyard's design, the Johns scoured antique shops rich in vintage Hispanic pieces. "We both love the lines and feel of wrought iron," says Jill. "We found the black wrought iron chairs, tiled tables, indigo glass hurricanes and candlesticks in Orlando and Miami."
The courtyard perfectly complements the Johns' home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "When you look around, you feel as if you are in Costa Brava or Ibiza. Yet we are in Sarasota. It's pure bliss," they say with a sigh of contentment.
All in the details
"For a Spanish-style courtyard nothing beats hand-carved wooden doors," says Compass Traders' David Stahl. "I also recommend stone or tile floors, terra cotta pottery, and wood and wrought iron furniture and accessories."
Where to shop
For custom-made wrought iron work and hand-forged accents,
Kreissle Forge, 7947 Tamiami Trail, Sarasoa, (941) 355-6795
and Pedro's Ornamental Iron, 1001 Central Ave., Sarasota (941) 365-2664.
For accessories, any of the antique shops in downtown Sarasota's Burns Square area, including Sarasota Trading Company, 522 Pineapple Ave., (941) 953-7776.