As spring approaches, Karen Forey begins her yearly ritual. The 13-foot umbrella is brought out of storage and set up in the middle of the courtyard in her urban Denver townhome. The wicker furniture is dusted off and arranged under the umbrella. Flowerbeds are cleaned out and replanted, vines are tied to trellises, the fountain is filled. Slowly, and with great deliberation, the most important room in her house is called back into active duty.
It is here that she and husband Dan sip coffee on balmy summer mornings. It is here that Karen, an interior designer, holds weekly staff meetings as the sun spins into orbit high in the sky. And it is here that the active couple entertains friends on starry nights.
For Karen and her husband, moving from their home in the Rocky Mountains to one in the city three years ago brought several changes in lifestyle that the courtyard has helped bridge. “We love the outdoors,” says Karen, “but we’re right in the heart of the city. We wanted to recreate some of that outdoor ambience we’d grown used to.”
World travelers, she and Dan have been heavily influenced by the European villa-style architecture with central courtyard that, in turn, serves as another room of the house. “We didn’t want a patio or a porch,” says Karen. “We wanted an outdoor living area.”
Guests who enter the house are embraced by design that, indeed, replicates a European villa. Textured walls in warm colors, rich leather furniture, a hand-crafted stone fireplace, ornate chandeliers, and arched entryways create the feeling of an Old World country house where the inhabitants can relax and enjoy the good life. The courtyard reinforces this scene.
To create design continuity between the interior and exterior, Karen turned to natural materials. She opted for rugged Colorado flagstone for the terrace floor, a perfect extension of the multicolored Indian slate used inside. The textured interior walls melt into creamy exterior stucco walls. The iron and metalwork that distinguish the dining room and kitchen chandeliers are echoed by wrought-iron trellises, balcony railings, and the burnished lanterns that provide outdoor lighting. The arbor that leads to the courtyard recalls the interior eyebrow arches.
An outdoor room requires natural practicality. The umbrella and furniture cushions are covered in a waterproof cotton fabric that will not mildew. The wicker has been treated to be impervious to weather. Two limestone end tables can withstand the worst rainstorm. From early spring to late fall, the courtyard is intact, ready for use on a beautiful day.
To capture the outdoors that the Foreys so love, Karen has focused on two natural elements: plants and water. Attracted to red, fuchsia, and purple—punctuated with splashes of yellow—she’s created a flower garden that explodes with riotous color. Bright red Spanish trumpet vines climb the trellises; pots of red roses flank the outdoor fireplace. Flowers cascade off the shallow balconies that overlook the courtyard. A mature ash tree provides shade and privacy, and the arbor is smothered in grapevines that allow just enough sun through to nourish the ground cover between the flagstones. Shrubbery and other of Forey’s flora are hydrated with a computer-operated, drip-irrigation system that requires little maintenance and helps conserve water.
A stunning two-tiered fountain recycles water, minimizing the “splash” factor. The soothing sounds of the fountain water obliterate the sound of traffic, just a half block away, and it reminds Karen of the rushing stream that ran near her Rocky Mountain home.
An outdoor “room” like this is meant to be shared, and the Foreys love sharing it. From intimate dinner parties to a lavish Kentucky Derby party, the courtyard is filled all summer long with guests who, upon seeing the large gas grill built into a stone wall, might mistake this for an “outdoor kitchen.” Karen is quick to say it is not. There is no sink, nor is there a dining table and chairs. “I didn’t want it to be that formal,” she says of the courtyard, “and there’s a sink right inside the kitchen.
I like people going in and out of the house.”
Entertaining, no matter what the size of the group, is always casual. Dan may be the grill chef outside, while Karen tosses salad and cuts bread inside. Karen will then set up a buffet on the granite kitchen counter, including bamboo trays for each guest to fill and take outside.
Karen’s culinary tastes run toward simple gourmet food, simply prepared. “We marinate chicken or fish, then grill it,” she says. Because eating off a tray can pose logistical hazards, Karen slices the grilled meat in the kitchen, then tosses it with pasta so guests don’t have to cut, juggle, and eat their meal at the same time. Hors d’oeuvres are always finger food.
For Karen, the courtyard has made the transition from mountain to city living that much easier. “I walk to my office a block away,” she says, “where I’m in the middle of hustle and bustle. Then I come home and sit in my outdoor room, surrounded by beautiful flowers, the sound of water, and leafy trees. It is so peaceful and relaxing and wonderfully close to nature.”
But that’s what living inside out is all about.
Sally Stich is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Women’s Day, Country Accents, Ladies Home Journal, and Sunset.