Extending Interiors into the Garden
What is a garden room? As Bunny explained it in her book On Garden Style:
“Enclosure, more than any other aspect, separates the garden room from the great outdoors. The very qualities we seek in our homes–privacy, serenity, intimacy–can be approached in nature by creating ‘walls.’”
But when one seeks to integrate an interior room with the outdoors by making walls disappear, rather than erecting them, can it also be categorized as such?
Those who visited Bunny’s gardens recently as part of the annual Trade Secrets event will have noticed a new addition to her house. Bunny’s new bedsit, which was recently featured on the cover of Veranda magazine, is nestled among gardens more than thirty-five years in the making. Inside, the ceiling soars to 18 feet and towering windows forego any treatment besides multi-tiered interior shutters, which swing open to reveal unobstructed views of the topiary and hedges that long predate them.
Rooms built to seamlessly integrate with surrounding gardens are of course not new. Ancient Roman houses were typically built around an atrium, a central open-air courtyard surrounded by rooms on all four sides. It served as the primary source of light and ventilation for the entire house, and was often decorated with fountains, greenery, and frescoes.
The lovely muraled interior gardens of Pompeii, preserved by Vesuvius’s eruption in the first century AD, reveal a people who so valued their roses, fruit trees, and mosaic garden fountains that they built their homes around them.
Another favorite example is Munstead Wood, a historic house located in Surrey, England that was designed by architect Edwin Lutyens and lived in by the famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll from 1897 until her death in 1932. The house and garden were designed in collaboration between Lutyens and Jekyll, and are considered one of the best examples of their partnership.
One of the most notable features of Munstead Wood is the covered walkway that connects the house to the garden. This walkway, or “cloister” as Jekyll called it, was designed to provide a sheltered space for outdoor activities and a transition between the indoor and outdoor spaces. A brick floor, wooden trellis, and climbing plants create a sense of enclosure and intimacy.
Munstead Wood also had a garden workshop and garden room incorporated into one wing. A small, intimate space that was designed for entertaining and relaxing, the garden room features a fireplace, comfortable seating, and large windows that overlook the garden.
Lady Clark bought the house in the mid-1960s. A well-known figure in the English aristocracy, she was known for her social connections and philanthropic work. She lived there with her husband, Sir Robert Clark, who she’d met in Italy during the war, where both served as part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive. Since purchasing Munstead Wood, Sir Robert and Lady Clark have served as careful stewards of the property, restoring the gardens to honor Jekyll’s original vision. Most recently, the house was purchased by the National Trust.
Another shining example is the Ray Kappe House. Designed by architect Ray Kappe in 1967, the modernist home is one of Los Angeles’ crown jewels. Situated on a steep slope on a property that has natural springs running through, the raised house is built onto six concrete towers whose 600 square feet of surface area support the entirety of the 4,000-square foot home.
One of the most striking features of the Ray Kappe House is its use of natural materials such as wood, stone, and glass, which allows the house to blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. The house is set into the hillside and is constructed with multiple levels, each of which offers a different view of the surrounding trees and hills. An open floor plan and large sliding glass doors that open onto outdoor terraces create a strong connection between the indoor and outdoor living spaces.
A central courtyard, which is accessible from multiple areas of the house, creates a tranquil and peaceful oasis in the heart of the home.
Knowing that their house in Connecticut is their forever home, Bunny and her husband John decided to add a downstairs bedroom for ease of use. Due to the surrounding gardens and its connection of pathways, the only plausible location for the addition was a space where an early tack room turned potting shed once stood.
Not wanting to destroy the existing 18-century structure, Bunny relocated the potting shed to another part of her property, near her greenhouse and vegetable garden.
The classical proportions for the new bedsit, which includes an adjoining bathroom and closet, makes reference to the English architect Inigo Jones. The floor was hand painted to resemble marble by decorative painter Bob Christian, and the 19th-century carved mantel was an Instagram find from Hudson Valley House Parts. A 19th-century Moroccan mirror from Loft Antiques hangs above.
The grand tester bed was a gift from the late Furlow Gatewood, who knew Bunny had long coveted it. It is dressed in a new melange of fabrics, including a Cowtan & Tout fabric for the canopy and Guy Goodfellow stripe on the headboard. The 19th-century American patchwork quilt was a find at the Brimfield Antiques Market, which perfectly complements the collection of blue-and-white porcelain used throughout the room. An antique chair that Bunny purchased over 40 years ago found a new home next to the bed.
An eclectic mix of artwork that spans periods and styles decorates the walls. Pictures are stacked to draw the eye up. Here, a 1940s French abstract painting is paired with a contemporary floral still life by John Funt, and an early 19th-century English paintings of dogs acquired from the Estate of John Nelson.
The windows frame views to the surrounding gardens. Here, a view of the undulating hedge which Bunny was inspired to plant after a visit to a Jacques Wirtz-designed garden in Belgium.
Bunny and John with their dogs, Annabelle and Bebe, outside the new addition–perhaps the closest one can get to falling asleep immersed in the garden.