Create an Urban Garden in the Suburbs

I've always had a soft spot for urban gardens. I tend to think of them as secret gardens, small oases carved out of tight quarters, nestled behind iron gates or wooden fences, hidden mostly out of view of the casual passerby. One of the best parts of walking around Beacon Hill or the South End is catching glimpses of these secluded outdoor spaces that have been transformed into verdant hideaways. The same can be said of Charleston or New Orleans—those cities know how to make small green spaces feel like they're worlds away from a bustling city.

 Image is my own

Image is my own

 Image is my own

Image is my own

Aside from actually being in a city, urban gardens are defined by their size (usually small, or at least not sprawling), their privacy (typically enclosed by tall plants, hedges, walls, or fences), their abundant plantings (multiple containers or a mix of in-ground plantings and containers), and their focal point (or two). The concept is easy enough to recreate in a suburban setting, and it's an easy way to make a big impact on your yard's appearance with minimal upkeep. Rather than keeping up with lots of plants spread throughout the entire yard, you can concentrate your watering and pruning efforts on one dedicated area.

No matter how big your yard, you probably have a patio, deck, or grassy area where you spend time outside lounging, eating, or entertaining. This is the area to focus on if the thought of doing a full-scale, whole-yard garden installation seems overwhelming. And if you do decide to tackle the whole yard at once, the elements of the urban garden can actually be applied on a bigger scale. Here are some ideas to get started planning your small, pseudo-urban space:

Designate seating zones. Identify places for seating, whether it's lounge furniture, a dining set, or a hammock. If you have room for multiple types of seating, leave a comfortable amount of breathing room between them. Benches can be placed along the outer edges of the area, creating extra seating that won't take up a lot of room in the middle of the space. Keep it neat. If one seating zone is all you have room for, don't try to cram everything together. Overcrowding the space will make it feel cluttered instead of cozy.

Build a buffer. The idea is to create a privacy screen to make your space feel more intimate. The level of privacy you want will depend on how exposed the space is to the rest of your yard and neighbors. If you have two exterior walls that meet in a corner, your home's architecture can lend a hand in creating a natural buffer. If your space is wide open, a pergola overhead or a series of trellises will enclose the space (and offer shade). Fences and hedges are good options if you want a low wall that doesn't necessarily offer complete privacy but sets the space apart from the rest of the yard.

Cluster containers and plant border gardens. It might seem redundant to add more greenery to an area surrounded by grass or shrubs, but potting plants or adding a row of flowers along the edge of a deck or patio adds layers of color and texture, which makes the space appear leafy and lush. Treat potted plants and flowers as accent pieces, and tuck them in corners or along the borders of your space. Fruit trees and tomato plants can make great privacy screens because they grow taller than most flowers and herbs.  

Figure out a focal point. Depending on the amount of space you have to work with, this could be anything from a fire pit to a small fountain or a bird bath or bird feeder. You could also position your furniture to take advantage of a nice view.

Don't forget to decorate. Stone statues, sundials, decorative bird houses, and wind chimes are fun finishing touches that your guests can discover as they look around your space. For a soft glow in the evening, hang string lights. Large lanterns that can be set up with battery-operated candles are a slightly easier, mess-free (and fire-free) option and still provide accent lighting after the sun goes down. 

The key to successfully recreating an urban garden in your suburban space is choosing a small area of your yard to focus on and maximizing its seating potential and privacy while filling in the nooks and niches with lighting and decor. Use flowering plants in one or two hues to create a cohesive, calming atmosphere, or plant multicolored flowers to cultivate a lively, eclectic vibe. Start small to avoid overfilling the space (and overcommitting to lots of plant maintenance). It's easy to change things up from year to year with potted plants and decorative accents, so don't be afraid to try out new flower varieties and swap decor items until you find the right mix.

Think of your small suburban urban garden as an extension of your house and treat it like you would any other room—have it reflect your style, and always make it inviting. 

 

A Topsfield Summer Home for All Seasons

Sometimes I'm amazed at how many country estates exist in the greater Boston area. Many communities to the north, south, and west are home to large houses surrounded by acres and acres of land, many of them having been built in the early 20th century. The house I'm talking about today is a great example.

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Sitting on 10-plus acres in Topsfield, this c. 1900 Ipswich River watershed estate is exactly the type of house I picture when I imagine a New England summer home. Most people's minds would probably take them to the Cape or somewhere closer to the beach, but for me, this countryside setting with a huge yard, multiple gardens, and access to the river is my idea of a summertime retreat! Just looking at the exterior of the house makes me feel relaxed and stress-free.

As much as I love the outside, I really fell for the inside of this house because it features one of my absolute favorite design details: brick floors. Brick is a wonderful material to use as flooring because it adds texture and warmth in place of plain hardwood or tile flooring. I think brick flooring is gaining in popularity because so many people are trying to achieve modern farmhouse style now, but it still feels unexpected when I see it. It's a great option for mudrooms and laundry rooms, but in this house, it was used in the entryway, sitting area, and dining room. It runs the whole length of the front of the house!

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These rooms feel both cozy and cool to me. Imagine opening all of those windows to let a sea breeze blow through the house in the summertime! In the fall and winter, a roaring fire would warm guests at the dining table and make this small sitting room feel nice and toasty.

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Brick was also used in this bedroom to create a small archway leading to a window seat. I'd love to curl up with a book in this spot! Notice how there appears to be three different types of brick used here—two different types on the arch and wall, and a third type around the firebox opening. Perhaps this was an original exterior wall at one point? 

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Many of the rooms have fireplaces, and abundant windows fill the rooms with natural light. There's also plenty of built-in storage. 

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And then there's the backyard, which is never-ending.

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Small patios and walkways lead to different areas of the yard and connect grassy swaths of land to nicely tended gardens.

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This view from the deck overlooks two small terraces and a tiny outbuilding in the distance.

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The walkway leads to a pond and small sitting area. This would be such a peaceful place to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or unwind after a long day at the office. I'm not sure what this small outbuilding is used for, but I'd like to imagine that it would make a great writing or artist's studio, or even a potting shed. 

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With so many inviting areas both inside and out, this property makes the concept of indoor-outdoor living in New England look effortless and appealing. This would no doubt be a magical place to live.

For more photos of the home, check out the listing. All photos shown here are from the listing.

Hello—er, Goodbye, Yellow?

Did you know the sale price of a house that's painted yellow can be impacted by as much as a few thousand dollars? According to this article published on boston.com, yellow houses sell for $3,408 less than expected. This information comes from Zillow, which recently conducted its 2018 Paint Color Analysis. 

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Another interesting tidbit from the study is the finding that houses with front doors painted black or gray (they specifically say "charcoal gray") sold for over $6,000 more than expected. I was slightly amused by that revelation. One of the first things I did when I moved into my current house was paint my front door a bright, sunshine yellow...and then I repainted it medium gray the following year, proudly telling my husband that I figured I just upped the value of our house by doing so. It wasn't the right color for me—but I do think it looks amazing on a lot of other house styles.

Despite Zillow's report (and perhaps my own experience), yellow houses and doors continue to be popular. Country Living recently published a selection of yellow houses for sale around the country. Last fall, Boston Magazine rounded up five adorable yellow houses in the 'burbs that were for sale at the time. When John and Sherry painted their front door yellow, they received hundreds of comments from people telling them how much they loved the new color. And searching Google or Houzz for yellow front doors turns up thousands of results.

 One of the houses featured in Boston Magazine's article showcasing yellow houses for sale in the fall of 2017. Records on Zillow show the house sold for its asking price.

One of the houses featured in Boston Magazine's article showcasing yellow houses for sale in the fall of 2017. Records on Zillow show the house sold for its asking price.

So if yellow houses are so charming and easily marketable, what gives? The article didn't go into specifics, but it did say: "The analysis looked at more than 135,000 photos from homes sold via Zillow, from January to May, to see how paint colors may have affected sale prices on average, when compared to the company’s Zestimate. The analysis compared these homes with similar ones with white walls, according to a press release, and it controlled for other wall colors within each room type, square footage, home age, and ZIP code."

If factors such as outdated interiors and a lack of square footage can't be blamed, then the message is simply that yellow is a less desirable house color. 

In certain circumstances, yellow probably is less desirable. Let's look at the stock photo used in the article (in which the house has yellow siding and red-orange shutters). It's extremely dated. Just looking at it makes me wonder how old the kitchen is and whether the bathrooms have been updated. The shutter color is influencing my opinion more than the yellow siding, although the overuse of yellow is problematic. Imagine if the shutters were black, and imagine if all the trim around the windows, doors, and roof was white instead of yellow. It would go from drab to dreamy pretty quickly.

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In many other circumstances, as shown in the photos throughout this post, yellow houses exude a sense of beauty and romance that other colors can't quite accomplish. Context has a lot to do with it. Accent colors have a lot to do with it. The exact shade of yellow has a lot to do with it. The architecture matters, too.

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I can't say every yellow house is perfect—let's face it, the house equivalents of Dwight Schrute's mustard-colored button downs do exist. I'd love to see the photos of the yellow houses from Zillow's research that led them to this conclusion, wouldn't you? 

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The Fetching Fox Hill Farm in Westwood, MA

The real estate listings in Westwood show that some beautiful historic properties are on the market right now. Here's another gem from the early 1700s known as Fox Hill Farm.

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Fox Hill Street in Westwood has some gorgeous homes on it, and this one is no exception. As charming as the house is, it's the land that I find myself taken with. It is summer, after all, so my mind is in outdoor entertainment mode. Every stone patio looks like the perfect place to set up a grill and sip a cold beverage, and every lawn looks like the perfect place to run around with the dog, play frisbee, and enjoy the sunshine. This property has room to do all of that and more!

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This view certainly illustrates the romantic locale. The gravel path leads to an 8-stall horse barn situated behind the house.

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I love the weathered shingles on the barn's exterior and the brick wall that continues along the terrace. Can you imagine hosting a Kentucky Derby party here? I'm already planning it in my head.

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The moss between the flagstones makes me feel like this place should be in the English countryside!

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This arched gateway appears to be formed by old trees, perfectly framing the view of the apple orchard.

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These photos were obviously taken during different seasons, but look how lush the orchard is in the warmer months.  

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The inside of the house is expansive. The early American-style fireplace in the dining room has an extra-deep hearth.

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There are many other instances of exposed brick throughout the house, along with several fireplaces. The fireplace in the room below is tiny, but the brick surround and angled door make up for in character what the fireplace lacks in size.

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This house looks like a fabulous place to throw a summer soirée or two. Just add a few sets of string lights around the terrace, scatter around some potted flowers, stock the bar, and send out the invites. I doubt many people would decline the chance to relax in this idyllic setting!

To see more photos of the home and to learn more about the property, visit the listing. All photos shown here are from the listing.

A Renovated 1720 Home in Westwood, MA

While driving home over the weekend, I noticed that one of my favorite houses in the area has a for sale sign in its front yard.

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I've been curious about this house for a while because, as mentioned in the listing, it had been undergoing renovations for a long time (the listing says two years, which means construction would have started around summer 2016—that feels like forever ago).

A quick look at Google Maps shows that the previous exterior was nothing special, so as the new exterior started to take form and the black and white color scheme debuted, this property grabbed my attention.

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The black-framed windows are a striking detail on the historic-looking facade. I love the dark frames, as well as the black trim, and the impact of these design elements on this home's curb appeal is significant. It's bold, but had white frames and trim been used, the exterior would have blended in a little too much. Framing everything in black makes this home look special and sets it apart from its surroundings.

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The grounds of this property are just as picturesque as the house. The private backyard has some great spaces for entertaining. I could easily eat dinner out here every night, and then I'd roast s'mores over that firepit! Wouldn't you feel like you're on vacation every day if you lived here?

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The interior of the house has some lovely details, such as the wainscoting on the kitchen ceiling.

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The family room has an unusual treatment on the walls. From the photo, it looks like wood with a light gray wash. I'd love to get a better look at it in person. I appreciate the rustic touch, and with the gray wash, it adds some coastal charm to the space.

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I'm so glad to finally have had a chance to see how the inside of this house looks! After months and months of admiring the exterior as I drive by, my curiosity about the interior has been satisfied.

You can view more photos of the home and learn more about the property by visiting the listing. All photos shown here are from the listing.