A contemporary courtyard garden provides the owners of the Butterfly House a peaceful retreat from the city, extending domestic life beyond the walls of the home and into the landscape. Eschewing popular references to mid-century California, this garden borrows from the Japanese tradition of Tsubo Niwa, the design of courtyard gardens that bring nature into the home.
Mitigating the existing slope between the garage and the living room, the landscape architect created a series of horizontal planes that delineate space and guide you through the landscape. A floating cantilevered walkway hovers above the stone patio interspersed with flowering thyme plantings. Ferns and Japanese anemones punctuate the sharp horizon of the cantilever as they emerge from the sunken planter and move with the wind.
At first glance, the garden’s composition emphasizes visual connections to the house’s interior living spaces. Nano-doors create a seamless connection from the interior living space, as the new poured-in-place concrete hearth anchors the space and creates a hub for gathering outside. The hearth itself is an abstract composition of pristine white concrete and the rippling surface of a black basalt fountain wall that slides behind the flame of the linear firepit. Invoking the forces of nature, the afternoon winds from the San Francisco Bay dematerialize in the courtyard as leaves and petals dance across the base of the fireplace.
Through a sequence of catwalks, exterior terraces and roof gardens, the landscape design creates a complex circulation path to the upper floors of the house that capture glimpses of the courtyard, framed views of the hillside, and panoramic views of the Golden Gate and Alcatraz. Custom steel rooftop planters of succulents and sunken gardens at the base of glass railings soften the architectural edges of the rooftop and integrate the house into the stepped patchwork of Victorians that march down Russian Hill.
Collaborating with a local foundry , an installation of cast aluminum cranes is suspended from the breezeway ceiling of the courtyard. The hanging sculpture is bathed in light from a walkable skylight above. A hidden fountain in the deck above envelopes the cranes in a mist of fog at the flip of a switch. Light, mist and shadows reflect the facets of the cranes allowing them to dance on the walls of the courtyard.
Along the breezeway above the courtyard, a linear steel herb and vegetable garden floats above the deck, wafting the smell of fresh mint and tomatoes. A recessed track allows the delicate cedar benches to be moved seasonally reconfiguring the garden for sitting, resting garden tools and viewing the stacking city beyond. Pots of citrus trees complete this urban garden, as the owners harvest lemons, limes and blood oranges in the winter, and sit amongst the citrus blossoms in the spring.
At night, the courtyard is enlivened by a band of recessed lighting highlighting the floating architectural edges and washing the sunken plantings with light. A true expression of indoor/outdoor living, this patchwork landscape weaves through the building enhancing the domestic experience and providing new vantages to engage with the city and broader San Francisco Bay.