Written by: Hilary Daninhirsch/Photos by: Craig Thompson
While watching the game on a barstool in this majestic outdoor kitchen, you would never know that this sanctuary in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh is a stone’s throw from a busy commercial district.
The house sits on a private, secluded lot adjacent to the homeowners’ place of business, but the sounds of commerce are drowned out while practicing your golf swing on the putting green, relaxing by the outdoor koi ponds or while simultaneously chilling out and warming up by the fire pit.
“The whole outdoor area is just a great entertainment area. There is so much space back there; it is like a park setting,” says the homeowner.
Creating curb appeal
The homeowners undertook a massive exterior renovation, which transformed a barren, asphalt-laden back yard into a premiere and inviting outdoor living space. But it wasn’t just the back yard that received attention.
“The lot size was approximately two acres and we landscaped in one degree or another most of those two acres,” says landscape designer Jawn Funyak, who, along with his brother Joe, owns Funyak Landscapes, L.P., in Mars. The company had been involved with other projects for the family’s business, so it was a natural fit to work their magic with the family’s home.
Despite the home being tucked away, Funyak made sure to give it quite a bit of curb appeal; the governor’s driveway is encircled with pavers and serves as the grand entrance to the home. “We were able to do it so there are no steps at all; everything is sloped, so you can walk from the governor’s circle into the house without a step,” says the homeowner.
Beacon Hill flagstone pavers by Unilock were used throughout the space. Unilock’s Courtstone and Copthorne accents, which resemble cobblestone and brick pavers, were used as borders to seamlessly connect the whole project together.
A privacy fence in the front yard delineates the boundaries of the home to separate the property from the next-door business. In so doing, Funyak created a terrace effect with natural stone using stackable boulders, creating a linear look. “This gives it a natural effect where boulders are jutting out of an embankment. We planted trees that will grow large and create privacy as well as other plantings that soften the hillside, where the mulch bed is delineated from the turf,” he says.
To soften the hardscape as well as to integrate some color, Funyak installed many plantings around the property. “Some of the key plantings were a Lion’s Mane Maple tree in the center of the circular drive and a Tri-Color Beech tree on the right front of the house. Begonia annuals were planted along bed edges, and urns and planters were installed for seasonal color with individual drip irrigation to each one,” he says.
Though the front of the home is inviting, most of the living is done in the back yard. One of the major projects for the landscapers was to build segmental retaining walls in order to elevate the sloped back yard up to the threshold of the patio doors, giving it a walkout effect. Ultimately, the landscapers raised the area by about five feet.
An avid golfer, the homeowner requested the installation of two putting greens; there is one on the upper portion of the back yard, allowing for some chip shots down into the lower putting green, which also has a sand trap. A variety of red begonias encircle the upper putting green like a wreath, while lights were installed in an overhanging tree for nighttime putting practice.
Two aquatic planters on display in the back yard are especially lovely, as they double as 5×8-foot koi ponds, built from cut natural sandstone from a local quarry, sunken into the patio, which integrates with the rest of the project. The 3-foot deep ponds hold 600 gallons of water and have a waterfall that cascades from the rear low wall into the pond. In addition to koi, Funyak added such aquatic plants as Hyacinth, red and orange Canna lilies, Black Beauty Taro and Variegated Cattail, to name a few. The result is a serene space, where the homeowners and guests can relax on outdoor furniture in the company of this low-maintenance but stylish water feature.
Complementing the cool water feature is the warm fire feature. Funyak built a gas-burning, circular stone fire pit made from locally quarried, custom-cut natural stone boulders. Glass mulch reflects the flame and gives it a decorative look. “It’s great even in summertime; it extends the whole season of using the outdoor space because it gives warmth,” says Funyak.
Surrounding the fire pit is complementary stonework, such as the stone accents on the fire pit cap. “The same coping and caps were used on the retaining wall and the koi ponds to tie everything together,” says Funyak.
Cooking al fresco
The outdoor kitchen is as thoroughly equipped as any indoor gourmet kitchen, and perhaps even more so, as it boasts an assortment of appliances, including a large grill with infrared burners, automatic ice makers, a beverage refrigerator, a wet bar, storage space galore, a bar area and a television against a glorious stone backdrop. Funyak’s team also designed a new roofline to align it with the rest of the house.
The U-shaped kitchen and bar features a black granite countertop with a leathered finish. The wall above the kitchen bar is cultured stone veneer, while the bar base is made of Unilock stone with a Copthorne accent focal point running throughout.
The yard offers an abundance of seating, both covered and exposed, which is ideal for large groups. Several clusters of seating options throughout the back yard promote a more intimate feel when the homeowners are spending quiet evenings alone.
When the sun goes down, low-voltage LED landscape lighting illuminates various key points around the outdoor property for both ambience and safety purposes, including throughout planting beds, path lights and walkways. Funyak says that this unique system is powered by a Luxor transformer and can be controlled via smart device, with capabilities for zoning and dimming adjustments.
The lighting creates a picture perfect nightscape and a tranquil atmosphere. “The landscape lighting accentuates the house,” says the homeowner. “The stone is so beautiful, and at night, it really looks cool.”
Resources: Landscape contractor: Funyak Landscapes, L.P. ; Landscape designer: Joshua Funyak; Lighting: Hunter FX Luminaire LED Landscape Lighting System; Lighting supplier: SiteOne Landscape Supply; Outdoor kitchen appliances: Fire Magic, The Fireplace and Patioplace; Pavers and walls: Unilock; Retaining walls: Versa-lok Segmental, R.I. Lampus Company; Natural sandstone: Raducz Stone Corporation