Backyard Gone Beautiful

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Why move when you can create the house of your dreams outdoors?

The way Cynthia Forney tells it, something she and husband Mark hear repeatedly from friends these days is: “Oh my God, we never knew your yard was this big!” Measuring just 33 feet from the back of their Carmichael house to the property line, and 84 feet from side to side, the Forneys’ lot isn’t especially big. But it looks and feels that way. “It’s just like the flow you have in a house,” says David Yakish, the Sacramento-based landscape architect with a national reputation for creating harmonious outdoor living spaces. Yakish designed the couple’s new backyard from the ground up, fitting in a pool and spa, fire pit, dining area, outdoor kitchen, planters and lots of room for ambling. “You can make dinner in the kitchen and then move to the dining room, and after dinner, you can have dessert by the fire . . . and still be able to see and hear the fountain at the end of the pool,” he says. “What I do is relate the garden to how people live, because when you do that, you get a garden that’s going to be maintained and used.”

Yakish’s creative approach was a far cry from the advice the couple got from another landscape expert. “He told us we should move,” Cynthia remembers. “We had talked about moving for a long time, and we had looked at houses and looked at houses. But then we thought, why leave? We decided this is our place, and we were going to stay and enjoy it.” So in late 2008, the Forneys decided to remake their own little part of the world—“bite the big bullet,” as Cynthia says. “Instead of adding onto the house, we have a new living room, a new kitchen and a new dining room outside. I’m so excited that for the first time, I have a dining table with two leaves that can expand and seat 12. To me, it’s like a dream come true.”

For Yakish, watching the Forneys realize the potential right outside their back door was one of the most gratifying parts of the process. “They got all this new living space,” he says. “The details worked, and we didn’t lose sight of the goal of creating a unified project. It all works together.” While Cynthia had a huge collection of images from books and magazines to show Yakish, she credits the landscape architect with bringing vision and focus to the task. “It was wonderful to have him come in and talk to us and give us his ideas,” she says. “He is so creative.” But the Forneys didn’t idly sit by during the construction. They scouted tiles, light fixtures, a ceiling fan for the outdoor kitchen, furnishings and all kinds of other details. The result? They spend so much time outside now, Cynthia plans to serve Thanksgiving dinner under the arbor. “I’ll do it even if I have to bring in those portable heaters,” she says, laughing. And if temperatures really plummet, her guests can bundle up and camp out by the fire pit. It’s been known to happen. Once they get comfortable there, she says, “it seems they just don’t want to move.”

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