A Rowayton Landscape Balances Privacy and Community Connection

March 27, 2021

This Rowayton backyard with its century-old magnolia tree embraces public and private.

Text by Meaghan O’Neill    Photography by Neil Landino


The house on Five Mile River had terrific views across the water of a local park and charming downtown Rowayton village, but the homeowners wanted to maximize the long, narrow lot for outdoor living. And while they wanted a certain amount of privacy, they were also acutely aware that their home was part of the visual landscape, too. The resulting plan for the outdoor spaces, by Kathryn Herman Design, was driven by both ideas. “They wanted to be part of the community, which is a unique way of looking at things,” says landscape architect Joe Werner, director of operations at Kathryn Herman Design and lead on the project, “but it’s also very private.”

In the backyard, which leads to a private dock, the designers created a covered terrace and beautiful granite fire feature, however, the existing pool needed to be replaced; its paving endangered the roots of a stunning, roughly 150-year-old cucumber magnolia, a rare survivor of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

Because it sat in a flood zone, though, the new pool would have to be sited within the footprint of the original one. Working closely with the architect, engineer, and pool contractor, Werner and his design team devised an elegant solution that maintained the natural grade, could withstand a flood event, and, importantly, created a permeable surface surrounding the magnolia. As a bonus, the terraced pool coping now doubles as a pretty seat wall.

To add layers of visual interest out front, the Kathryn Herman team redesigned the driveway as a curvilinear path that lends “a meandering, experiential quality” to the linear plot, says Werner. Transplanting existing arborvitaes and rhododendrons along neighboring properties added screening, while new dogwoods and a deciduous beech hedge surrounding the parking area complement existing plantings. And while some trees were carefully removed, certain mature varieties, including white oaks, Norway maples, dogwoods, and a magnificent columnar beech specimen tree, were kept in place.

“This added nice age to the property, so it doesn’t feel like it’s all brand new,” explains Werner. “It’s rare to come onto a property and have two awesome specimen trees, so we were really lucky.”

Landscape design: Joe Werner, Kathryn Herman Design
Architecture: Vicente-Burin Architects
Builder: ERI Building & Design

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