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Modern Oasis

What was once a forgotten, unused space is now a tranquil escape

David Winger

It’s hard to believe that this small back yard was once “a leftover space,” as Jeff Sheppard, architect and principal of Denver-based Roth Sheppard Architects, calls it. To give new purpose to the small plot of land, the architect, who also reworked the interior of the 1950s Hilltop home, designed a modern, Zen-like retreat.

“Our goal was to make the space a surprise; a soft, comfortable gem for relaxing with a book or entertaining a few friends,” he says. The quiet, simple design, installed by Designs by Sundown, features a sleek custom bench that accentuates the long, narrow footprint and a natural-gas fireplace made of precast limestone. To hide the utility boxes on the back of the house, Sheppard chose a species of high-altitude bamboo, called “yellow groove,” that is drought- and cold-tolerant. “It’s a great vertical plant that covers the wall but still allows access to the utility boxes,” says landscape architect Adam Hallauer of Designs by Sundown. A simple wood screen hides the air conditioning unit; carefully chosen plants, like English ivy (which will grow to cover the retaining wall) and ornamental grasses, used sparingly, keep maintenance low. 

“Everything is structured and made with very few materials,” Sheppard says, explaining that in a small, modern space, simplicity is key. “People try to incorporate as many materials as they can, but then nothing is special.”  

Style tips  

Don’t fight oddly-shaped or small spaces; work with them. “We stressed the linearity of the space by adding the wood screens on either end as a focal element,” Sheppard says.  

Selecting native or drought-resistant plants and using gravel and cement tiles in place of grass reduces water consumption and time-consuming maintenance. 

When dealing with small—and modern—spaces, be a strong editor. “With so many choices, it’s easy to make things complicated,” says Sheppard. “Pull back and pare down.”  

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