Category Archives: contemporary landscape design

McLean Deck & Outdoor Room

UPDATE 7.18, see end of post!

A few months ago we began the design process for a lovely existing home in McLean, VA. The clients wanted a new second story outdoor room (the words screened-in porch, sunroom, screen room, outdoor room, etc all were bandied between us) and also an open deck. In chatting with the clients and in surveying the property, I could see almost immediately that this would be a project where finesse and sensitivity to the existing architectural lines would be important. The home is a late 1970’s ‘Midcentury Modern’, with a West Coast panache that is remarkable. Entirely sheathed in redwood siding, the home underwent a major renovation in the early 2000’s, and the lines vastly improved by Mickey Simpson Architects. Mickey adroitly fixed some longstanding siding issues by giving the home appropriately weighty roof overhangs all around, as well as improving the shading and shadow lines of the facades. Lap-seam metal siding above the garage also improved the feel of the space by modernizing the look and clean lines of the front deck.

prior to major renovation, photo by



The home today

At some point a very large second story backyard deck was built, and it was in this area that the clients wanted to rebuild. Construction methods for this existing deck were ‘creative’,  and in addition to dubious load support framing of the deck and support posts, the deck was also simply coming to the end of its life. So, a teardown was planned with all new appropriate, to-code framing, support posts, and footers dug to carry the load of the new deck.

old awful deck must come down

The design itself came together over a period of weeks as I juggled client wishes (e.g., program elements) with design ideas which honor the look & feel of the space. Above all else, in deck and outdoor room designs I strive to create spaces which do not look ‘tacked on’ as an afterthought to the main house’s architecture. A striking feature to this home are the strong protruding ‘wings’ which extend about 4′ out from the rear facade; they create a ‘frame’ visually, the planes of which I did not want to arbitrarily break with the new deck and outdoor room. I also love the bifurcated roof, and I knew I wanted to bring that strong sloping plane down into whatever room design I would come up with.  The clients’ wishes included having one set of the existing sliding glass doors to open up onto the deck, while the other set of glass doors should open up into the outdoor room. Proximity to the kitchen dictated that the room be positioned to the left, and the deck to the right. I loved the idea of making the space as open and airy as possible, while still making an area secure against rain and wind, as well as our notorious buggy weather. Large open spaces are a lovely byproduct of traditional timberframing techniques, so I combined timberframing with the typical framing techniques found in high quality deck construction and presented this: The outdoor room’s key feature is the use of large retractable screen panels, which allow for the space to be completely open on fair days, as well as unifies the deck floor both under the floating roof and out into the exposed deck areas. At the touch of a button, screens roll down and the entire room can be screened off in just a few moments for bug-free entertaining. The combination of heavy timberframe beams along with the open airy spaces makes for a lively and really pleasant atmosphere. Stay tuned, we’re breaking ground on this project presently and will have construction photos soon…

UPDATE 7.13.14

The old deck has been successfully demo’d and disposed of responsibly:

An interesting architectural feature of the home’s original small balconies can be seen above. The joists for the balcony are actually the same as for the 2nd story floor, they extend out through the facade 4′ (the existing 3rd story master bedroom suite balcony is the same way, you can see it upper left).

Framing starts next week!


Framing continues in earnest, the crew is really going full steam and making great headway.


Some extensive rot was occurring in the fascia boards and railings of the upper balconies, those have been replaced as well.

We’ll wait several months for the new wood to dry down and silver, then we will blend a custom stain to match the existing redwood.


Progress continues, the crew is making haste slowly

Perfect deck-building weather day after day means this project is coming together fast.


Staircase rail posts and railings going in. To do: Install stair lights and top rails

Even though the square footage is quite generous (indeed, it’s larger than the previous deck), because care was taken with lines and railing choices, the deck appears quite tidy and not like a tumor growing from the house. Above you can see one of the 4′ ‘wings’ extending out from the rear facade of the house.

Above you can see how we solved the architectural puzzle of the floating 2nd story interior floor joists. If you recall, in the original blueprints these joists were taken right through the rear wall of the home and extended out into a 4′ balcony. One must tread carefully when dealing with original construction: It would be unwise to simply saw these off, install the ledgerboard, and be on our way framing out a typical deck. In addition to creating holes which would need careful sealing, it’s a dishonorable quick fix which damages the history of the house, in my opinion. Instead, we married our new pressure treated joists to the old joists, then brought the load carrying member out 4′,; you can see the beam to the right in the photo. That beam will carry the load from that point forward to the edge of the deck, replacing the need for the ledgerboard.

one more!

Massive Image Post

Keeping up with social media and greeneyedesign’s other pages around the Internet, sometimes updates and posts here become neglected. To change all that, here are some recent drawings and work:

As always, click the image to embiggen

Another client in Great Falls:

A commercial space in McLean, VA:

This is something to pin up and show clients how the design is developing, below are the finished sheets:


Stick Artist Patrick Dougherty Coming to Dumbarton Oaks– Volunteer!

Back at the beginning of April I had me some scoop: Stick artist Patrick Dougherty would be coming to Dumbarton Oaks to create one of his famous art installations sometime in September of 2010. I spoke with the wonderful Assistant to the Director at Dumbarton, Jane Padelford, who promised to let me know when the call for volunteers went out. Well brothers & sisters, it’s happening:

Dear David, I know you called a while back asking to be put on the list to volunteer on the Patrick Dougherty garden installation at Dumbarton Oaks, so I wanted to give you first dibs. Please see attached the call for volunteers for the Patrick Dougherty garden installation which shall take place September 1 to 21. Mr. Dougherty is a renowned sculptor who creates artworks out of sticks. Please forward to anyone you think may be interested in volunteering. The application form is attached as both a pdf and word .doc format. Many thanks.


Jane Padelford
Assistant to the Director
Garden and Landscape Studies
Dumbarton Oaks
1703 32nd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
P: 202-339-6464
F: 202-625-0432
padelfordj [at]

I’m trying to figure out a way to host the application form on my site here so you can download them yourselves, in the meantime feel free to drop Jane an email and get the form sent to you. Hope to see you there! EDIT: Here is the PDF Form

Na Hale ‘o waiawi (Roughly translated from the Hawaiian language to mean: Wild Dwellings Built from Strawberry Guava). The Contemporary Art Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2003. Photographer: Paul Kodama.

Nine Lives

Call of The Wind

Around The Corner

Sittin’ Pretty

Cell Division

The Carver School Memorial Park

Several years ago I was approached by a representative of a large Multinational Oil Corporation with the idea of designing a particularly challenging space in Baytown, TX.

The green pushpin area, enlarged:

I say “challenging” while many other words are certainly applicable, as I’m sure you’ll agree when you read more about the history of this particular area.

A little background: For well over a hundred years Baytown has been the site of vast  petrochemical complexes and refineries. Believe it or not, for many years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, oil companies stored their crude oil in enormous earthen pits, usually at least 600 x 600 feet, and sometimes covered with shade cloth and/or wood type structures to keep out debris, birds, and the occasional wayward person from wandering in.  Such was certainly the case in Baytown Texas, where on this particular 11 acre site, one of these pits existed.  At some point in the growth and development of the oil industry, executives became aware that so much oil was lost through evaporation and absorption into the earth and the aquifer below, that it actually makes economic sense to build above-ground metal containers–the birth of the modern oil tank farm.

But what to do with this space?  In approximately 1940 it pumped out as much crude oil as possible, caved in the side walls with bulldozers, leveled the space, and then sold the land to the city of Baytown Texas for one dollar. Baytown built a segregated middle school on the property… the George Washington Carver Middle School.

Skip ahead to the 1990s, when decades of production of nearby oil pumps as well as the taxing demands of water consumption began causing subsidence, at which point  black tar and various hydrocarbons began oozing up to the surface— as bad luck would have it right in the middle of the playground facilities at the school. The furor which ensued  closed the school and fenced the entire 11 acre space.

At some point, the city of Baytown gave the land back to the petrochemical company, and the land has sat vacant ever since, except for a school bus park, which sits on the northern end of the property. The legal wrangling is just ridiculously sad, and the end result is that my design has been in stasis for some time now. And what is that design?

Among the design objectives were such diverse elements as:

  • A permanent memorial to the children, parents, and faculty of George Washington Carver Elementary
  • A destination park
  • Native trees, shrubs, and grasses creating a certified wildlife habitat
  • Phytoremediation to alleviate existing problematic soil conditions (tarsands)
  • Migratory feeding station for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) as well as the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Engineers and legal folks fought tooth and nail for a clay cap over the contaminated area. ‘Clay caps’ are in my opinion ridiculous,  short term solutions to alleviating the problems which arise when humans interact near toxic or contaminated soils: Lay 3-4 feet of clay on top, and it’s a job well done. It’s primitive. (Obviously there is more to it than that, however not much more.)

Among many other solutions, one I suggested was a dense stand of tall prairie grasses such as Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi).

The tall prairie grasses have enormous, deep rootsystems that easily plunge 12-15′ in depth. Over time, these grasses break up and accumulate via nutritional uptake methods, a wide variety of heavy metals and other materials, which are ‘vacuumed’ up and stored in the plant’s tissue. Such plants are called hyperaccumulators, and there’s ample evidence supporting the efficacy of using phytoremediation in this space.

Here is the original rendering, a 3 foot by 5 foot color sketch on vellum which outlines the proposed solutions as well as ways in which the history of the space could be memorialized (please click the image for greater detail).

To date the space sits as it did when I first saw it. A complex and baffling layercake of fireblankets weigh it all down from moving forward.