willowbrook farm

historic yellow springs

The Makings of a Backyard Oasis

Once upon a time there was this beautiful pool that was centered between a pond and the forest and placed right at the base of a small hill. It had been constructed by the past owners who chose a beautiful grey blue color that both popped in the green grass yet sometimes with the light, looked more like the muted waters of the pond that you could see in the distance. Which ever way the bottom reflected the light, it was stunning. The issue with its location was the proximity to the house. Being that we had a rather large family of seven and an even larger group of extended family, when we used the pool for the afternoon or evening and cooked out by it, it took a countless number of trips to shlep the accoutrements of a good BBQ to its side…and then back again. 

One day while standing on top of the little hill that rose on one side of the pool, I envisioned a small structure here that could serve as a pool house with a fridge, a grill, serving areas and protection from the elements. There was enough of a rise in gradient that allowed you to see the pond over the pool and it almost seemed as if they became one, sort of akin to an infinity pool overlooking an ocean. I contacted a local architect and shared my vision, but the initial plan that was presented to me was much too stiff and formal. I wanted this structure to look like it had been a part of the farm for a very long time. A ruin, so to speak, that could have risen from the stone walls left behind from structures of the past.

I worked closely with Giverney Gardens to bring my vision to life and loved the idea we landed on. After sketching out ideas on paper and going back and forth, we came up with a three-sided structure of stone walls accompanied by wooden beams that attached to an arbor made of reclaimed wooden beams. The only stumbling block was the cost. To recreate a solid stone structure that replicated original ones on the property was extremely expensive. So why not construct the building with cinderblock, an inexpensive material, and then cover it in stone facing? As you can see here, the entire building was built in this manner.

We used the same method of construction for the stone retaining walls that sit outside the structure and in front of the pool.

While building the structure itself, we had to concentrate on the interior and how to finish out a counter and integrate modern day appliances.

In order to do this, we used reclaimed brick from a huge pile that we had found on the farm and slate pieces that we had cut to fit. We constructed the window frames and doors to storage areas using reclaimed wood and barn beams.

Please pardon the before photos, for at this time I was still working on a Blackberry cell phone. Remember those? They simply didn’t make phones then with the amazing cameras that they have today. Couple that with the fact that I had five children under 16, sufficiently documenting this project and other renovations we were working on at the time was not on my radar screen. Time was a hot commodity and it was renovation projects like this very one that really were the roots of Life’s Patina and what we do today. My business was just an idea spinning in my head as we set out to restore and unearth more of the beauty that this farm had to offer.

As in my typical fashion, I presented the builder with cast off pieces that I wanted him to utilize in the plans for the build. This was always greeted with a shake of his head and an exasperated sigh. I could almost hear him thinking “crazy lady!” For example, the face of the center island in the structure was from a dilapidated old general store counter. His head shook a little more this time as I asked if he could take the front off of the crumbling counter and insert it into the facade of the island.

Painting the new wooden trim around the counter in a distressed manner brought it all together. The initial vision of creating a structure that looked like it had always been there was accomplished!

The builder also did a phenomenal job with bricking around a vintage copper tub that was mounted on metal legs to create a beverage sink on the outside of the structure.

Here is an original photo of the arbor built out of the reclaimed barn beams.

We planted vines around their bases, such as climbing hydrangea, wisteria, climbing roses and honeysuckle, with the idea was that they would eventually grow up, around and over the beams to create shade.

I think this idea was successful and today the vines have grown just as planned and their blooms and scents in the spring are just magical.

We also rewired an old rusty chandelier to create a soft glow at night, although we have since moved this fixture inside the pool house so as to help maintain it.

Adding soft accents of decor that are functional has created quite a magical spot to entertain in. We hope to hold some workshops here next year once spring arrives that will allow you to experience some of this magic yourself.

I thought these visuals were the best way to show how this structure built of a stone facade over cement block has weathered over time and today feels like it is a ruin from years gone by. Hope you have enjoyed this little story!

As always, my mantra and advice to you is to always think outside of the box when it comes to design and builds. Ask yourself these questions before you start:

  • How can I utilize an object that someone might have cast off?
  • How can I bring down my cost of a project? Be careful here for sometimes integrating old objects into new design can cost more.
  • If you are using a builder for the project, makes sure to select one who has experience in this arena of integrating old into new.
  • And most of all, go with your gut…with what YOU like, design that makes you feel something instead of design that might just be hip or en vogue right now.

Enjoy the process, for while it can be full of headaches and stumbling blocks, you will get there and you will end up living in the space you have created and put much heart and soul into…so make sure you love it!

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  1. Marybeth Hurley says:

    “Heart & Soul”, the perfect description for your amazing space. Which brings to mind, “Amazing Grace”.
    God bless you and your family.