Earlier this year, Exterior Worlds was contacted by the owner of an Arabian horse farm located in New Ulm, Texas, just outside of Houston proper. This man is known throughout the world, and clients visit his estate frequently to buy the horses he is famous for breeding. He wanted to create a special vantage point that would better help his clients get a better view of the horses that they travelled so far to consider buying. After consulting with him, we all agreed that the best addition to his property would be a two-section a French courtyard that would create a relaxed state of mind on the one hand, and offer a magnificent view of the landscape and the horses on the other. Since his home sits atop a hill that overlooks the prairie where the horses run, such a setting would be ideal for both personal visits and business negotiations with travelling clients.
The genius of this French courtyard design lies in the fact that it is actually two courtyards in one. The courtyards are slightly from one another, but are connected by a limestone pathway that bisects the center of both sections and runs all the way to the back of the home. A formal vegetable garden lies just to one side of one section, and the side of the hill drops down to the valley below just to the side of the other section.
We designed the first section of the French Courtyard with tranquility and contemplation in mind. To give the area a sense of repose and formal seating, we built two stone benches on either side of the gravel walkway, and built a limestone wall on the far end as a terminus for the entire structure. We installed a wall fountain in this location constructed from an antique spout and an antique limestone trough. The fountain is operated by a silent, remote pump that masks its mechanical nature and allows visitors to only hear the soothing sounds of the flowing water. This creates an aura of serenity for people sitting to either side of the fountain, and adds to the aesthetic of the formal vegetable garden that lies just to one side of the structure.
We then built the second section of the French courtyard conversation and comfort foremost in mind. Because the owner makes his living by selling Arabian horses, a view of his magnificent herd is crucial to the success of his business cycle. This was the primary motivation for building this portion of the courtyard as an observation point that would allow for a scenic overlook of the herds grazing below, and discussion of the attributes and value of each horse in the herd. We wanted these negotiations to flow more like conversation than hard-driven business deals, so we deliberately created a very austere setting for the host to entertain his guests. The patio was not paved, but rather built out of limestone chips identical to those used in 18th Century French gardens. We further expanded this historical theme by decorating the patio with an antique table and chair set that established a very strong Old World sensibility that was strongly suited to the discussion of the finer things in life.
Both parts of the French Courtyard are enclosed by an iron fence that creates a sense of seclusion and separation from the stress factors of the outside world. We wanted to magnify this sense of spatial separation with a separation for time as well, so we decided to make the fencing appear antique to match the furniture. We used some special painting methods to color the panels, and then let them rust a bit to make them mimic 18th Century ironwork. We also added some of the organic basics of French garden design to the courtyard by planting boxwoods and clipped hedges around the fence, patio, and stonework.
Among the more notable features in this French courtyard are its skillful blend of contrasting shades of light and dark colors, and the multiple points of view it offers both visiting clients and friends. The limestone path that bisects the two portions of the enclosure is made from a much darker color of limestone than the surrounding patio limestone. This lends a very strong feeling of symmetry that balances all of the many organic and inorganic elements of the surrounding garden, and provides an ideal aesthetic environment to host either a formal (albeit, very relaxed business meeting), or to entertain a few close friends and relative who drop by to chat for a few hours in the beauty of the garden. For more the 20 years Exterior Worlds has specialized in servicing many of Houston’s fine neighborhoods.