Great Room: Garage Oasis

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What would you do with a crumbling, 97-year-old structure behind your house? It wasn’t a hypothetical question for architect Jim Stapleton and his wife, surgeon Elizabeth Shaughnessy. It had once been a three-car garage, but the couple found it easier to park on the street. They settled on a jardin d’amis, which translates to  “garden of friends”—a place of “architectural and artistic respite,” says Stapleton.

The project was influenced by the works of numerous artists and architects, most notably the self-designed home  of Italian writer Curzio Malaparte on Capri. That surrealist structure and its Mediterranean surroundings became, in fact, the subject of the room’s back wall mural. The idea for the vertical plantscapes came after a visit to Paris, where Stapleton stumbled upon the Quai Branly Museum, “clad in the plantings and vertical gardening system developed by noted French botanist Patrick Blanc. I thought it was the coolest thing.” Although the inspirations were lofty, “I didn’t want to make things too fancy,” he says. “Everything had to be available from Home Depot and Lowe’s.”

Although the space’s formal name, gas grill, and colorful bar stools evoke social gatherings, the room is missing the standard electronic amenities found in many modern outdoor rooms. That’s because the space is not so much about “what you do, it’s about what you can’t do,” says Stapleton. “You don’t need a TV everywhere you go.”

Open Plan
When a tree branch pierced the old, rotting roof, Stapleton replaced it with insulated clear polycarbonate panels from a greenhouse company. The roof has a UV filter in it, so Stapleton “can be in here all day long and not get burned.”

Mood Lighting
Seven lit pendants hang from sheets of shower door plexiglass above the island; the ornate white fixtures, which are made of Tyvek, came from the Museum of Modern Art.

Going Up
Asparagus ferns, hosta, and spider plants are tucked into strips of synthetic carpet padding stapled right onto a base material to create a small wall garden.

Topped Off
The island’s tabletop is made of 10 unfinished two-foot-by-12-foot pressure-treated wood joists topped with chroma clear panels from 3form. Stapleton salvaged the panels from a local architecture firm’s offices when they were renovating. “A worker mis-made three panels, so I bought them.”

Drink it Down
Plants are watered using a standard Rain Bird system set on a timer; there are two sprinkler lines hidden in each wall panel. Three times a day it goes off for 10 minutes; excess water drips down through the plants, into a gutter, and ultimately drains onto the grass strip that divides the polished concrete floor.

Originally published in the September  2014 issue.

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