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Southern Comfort

Carving Out a Little Slice of the South in the Heart of Irvine

After: The beautifully lit bocce ball court is lined with self-watering pots of citrus trees and other greenery, with no lawn to mow.

She’s been a Californian for over 40 years, but Georgia native Carol Bailey still feels a bit like a Southerner at heart. So when she and her husband, Byron, decided to reimagine their outdoor living space in Irvine’s Deerfield community, where they have lived since the 1970s, Carol was determined to bring a little bit of the real South to her Southern California homestead.

“I love Southern homes and the exteriors and all the plants that go with that,” she explains, “and that gracious way of living that I miss.”

Chatting with the Baileys, along with Orange County landscape designer Annemarie Hall of Annemarie Hall Design and contractor Richard Cohen of Richard Cohen Landscape & Construction in Lake Forest, in their award-winning outdoor space, one certainly gets a hospitable feeling. The retired couple depended on the two professionals’ expertise in a collaborative process that took over two years to realize.

“I started the project about two years ago,” Bailey recalls, “when I got the reference for Annemarie, and we started working on it. She was so patient with me, because I changed my mind a lot. Then, in the process, my mom passed away, so I told her ‘I can’t do this right now; we’ll have to put this on the shelf for now.’ So we did, and she waited for me. When we started again, I drew up several designs and we went back and forth and back and forth.

“Then Annemarie drew up some fantastic plans. I mean, they were so detailed, I’ve never seen anything like that before. With all the lighting and everything. And she said, ‘This is if you had all the money in the world’ – which we don’t – so then we were like, ‘OK, what do we want to cut out?’ And honestly, I don’t think we cut out very much at all!”

Hall’s landscape design for the 2,100-square-foot home’s tiny 100-by 65-foot, L-shaped lot and front yard began with a complete facelift for the house itself, a decision made to create harmony with Bailey’s Southern bluestone tiles, a key design element.

“I had been in Charleston, and I had seen all the bluestone – they pave the streets with it there  – and I thought, that’s what I think I want,” Bailey says. “So when Annemarie brought some over and put it out, it was like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t go with the brown house at all!’ And then when we looked at all the other materials, I said, ‘Hey, why do we have to stick with a brown house? Let’s change the color of the house.’ ”

Her husband adds with a laugh, “The whole project revolved around the bluestone!”
So, as Cohen explains, “We covered the whole house in smooth stucco, a grayish-colored stucco that reflects the bluestone.” And that’s not all his team did, as they completely changed the whole façade of the house, removing massive brick columns, adding a porch with a swing sourced from Hilton Head, S.C., and even tearing down the front fence (which they eventually rebuilt) to transform the backyard.

“The space was the biggest challenge on this job. The size was so limited, so for us to do all of this stuff in such a small space was really tough. Every inch counted. Everything had to get kind of shoehorned in. We hand-dug the spa, for instance, because we couldn’t get a tractor in there. And we had to take the front wall down to get a small tractor in to
get the trees and the tree roots out, so the front wall went down and then we rebuilt it,” he recollects.

The changes to the yards in front and back were legion, including tearing up a narrow lawn area and the trees on it to create a bocce ball court; installing a large spa/pool that also acts as a water feature, covered by a pergola; keeping the existing magnolia tree as a reminder of the South and planting trees and an herb garden, as well as adding azalea bushes, succulents and other greenery; and placing outdoor furniture (including a waterproof television) and a fire pit that doubles as a coffee table.

The beautiful, harmonious result is a place that has expanded the Bailey homestead into an indoor-outdoor play space, both for the couple and their extended family, which includes five grandchildren.

“We feel like we have added two rooms to our house. We even have an outdoor television; we watch the games on the TV with the whole family. The kids love the spa and it really is like we have a whole new place for the family to enjoy,” Bailey says contentedly.
As Cohen explains, this outdoor renovation is a real star.

“I entered this job in our chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association, the local Orange County awards, both in the lighting category and in the landscape category,” he says with a grin. “It won the lighting award in the local chapter but it didn’t win anything else, which surprised me, because I thought the job was worth at least a first place in its category.

“So I thought, Well, I’m going to enter this in the state competition. And I was totally blown away when it won Sweepstakes, the highest award in the whole state out of 130-plus jobs that got entered in various categories.” When Cohen asked the judges why the home won the Stuart J. Sperber Memorial Sweepstakes Trophy for best of show, “They said the attention to detail and the craftsmanship was just superior to anything else they had seen in the whole state.”

Happily, the Baileys consider this renovation a rousing success as well, and Carol Bailey finally has the best of both worlds. “I love my space; I never thought it would be possible to design and execute such a beautiful plan for a small area.

And it gives me reminders of the charm of the South every day, but I have the California weather all year round. It’s a dream come true!”

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