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Before & After: A Barren Courtyard Transformed Into an ‘Intimate, Green, and Cozy’ Urban Garden

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Before & After: A Barren Courtyard Transformed Into an ‘Intimate, Green, and Cozy’ Urban Garden

June 19, 2024

Earlier this week, Remodelista readers were treated to a tour of a row house in Ghent that was was formerly “charmless” and now fresh and chic thanks to its resourceful new owners, Arthur Verraes and Kelly Desmet, who did much of the remodeling work themselves. Today, we’re visiting the elements that make the outdoor space equally cool.

While Arthur, architect and founder of Atelier Avondzon, led the house renovation, his girlfriend Kelly, a corporate lawyer, is the mastermind behind the overhaul of the back garden. She had no prior experience with gardening. “I grew up without having a garden myself and knew nothing about plants,” says Kelly, who discovered her green thumb during the COVID pandemic, when they purchased the house. “Ever since, I’ve been thinking about studying to become a landscape architect or to do something with it in a more professional way. For now, I’m indulging this passion by helping out friends and family from time to time and by designing our next project.”

The landscape design was actually the first thing the couple tackled, before turning their attention to the house renovation. “I would definitely recommend this sequence. The moment we were able to move, it already felt like home and the garden was already in full bloom,” she says. “Not to mention, this allowed us to plant trees that we wouldn’t be able to plant afterwards (urban townhouse).”

Below, she gives us a tour of the newly reimagined outdoor space. (Be sure to scroll to the bottom for the before images.)

Photography by Tim Van de Velde, courtesy of Atelier Avondzon.

Arthur and their dog posing at the front door of their remodeled row house. Two simple changes to the exterior transformed the entire look: \1) painting the new garage door, gutter, and window frames green and \2) adding a wisteria to frame the front door.
Above: Arthur and their dog posing at the front door of their remodeled row house. Two simple changes to the exterior transformed the entire look: 1) painting the new garage door, gutter, and window frames green and 2) adding a wisteria to frame the front door.
The couple tackled the backyard before renovating the house. Next to them on the lower left is a Mediterranean spurge shrub (Euphorbia characias).
Above: The couple tackled the backyard before renovating the house. Next to them on the lower left is a Mediterranean spurge shrub (Euphorbia characias).
&#8\2\20;We wanted to create an intimate, green, and cozy environment. a perfect place to catch some morning sun, to have a coffee next to the master bedroom or a place to cool down on a hot summer day. That&#8\2\17;s why we decided to plant multiple trees in it, despite the small space,&#8\2\2\1; says Kelly. The tree on the left is an Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense).
Above: “We wanted to create an intimate, green, and cozy environment. a perfect place to catch some morning sun, to have a coffee next to the master bedroom or a place to cool down on a hot summer day. That’s why we decided to plant multiple trees in it, despite the small space,” says Kelly. The tree on the left is an Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense).
Arthur and Kelly added these concrete steps that lead to a green roof above. The stairs serve as plant shelves as well for their collection of potted succulents.
Above: Arthur and Kelly added these concrete steps that lead to a green roof above. The stairs serve as plant shelves as well for their collection of potted succulents.
Kelly chose gravel for the hardscaping for environmental reasons. &#8\2\20;We really wanted to ensure a permeable surface. Too much impermeable paving is a big problem in Belgium.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Kelly chose gravel for the hardscaping for environmental reasons. “We really wanted to ensure a permeable surface. Too much impermeable paving is a big problem in Belgium.”
Looking down from the green roof onto the small garden. &#8\2\20;The back of our house is southwest oriented so we catch a lot of light. We deliberately planted a lot of trees in our garden to create a cooler environment on hot days. Next to the cooling effect, the trees also make the garden feel more private, whilst maximizing the &#8\2\16;green effect&#8\2\17;,&#8\2\2\1; says Kelly.
Above: Looking down from the green roof onto the small garden. “The back of our house is southwest oriented so we catch a lot of light. We deliberately planted a lot of trees in our garden to create a cooler environment on hot days. Next to the cooling effect, the trees also make the garden feel more private, whilst maximizing the ‘green effect’,” says Kelly.
Both the coral-colored door and the sconce were bought secondhand from Rotor Deconstruction, a Belgian company that specializes in salvaged materials.
Above: Both the coral-colored door and the sconce were bought secondhand from Rotor Deconstruction, a Belgian company that specializes in salvaged materials.
&#8\2\20;The metal door used to be a facade panel of the WTC towers in Brussels that were demolished a couple of years ago. We re-purposed it and created a sliding door from it,&#8\2\2\1; explains Kelly. Behind it is storage space for their gardening tools and a bin for gardening waste. Growing next to it: a Japanese angelica tree (Aralia elata), Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias), and ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea).
Above: “The metal door used to be a facade panel of the WTC towers in Brussels that were demolished a couple of years ago. We re-purposed it and created a sliding door from it,” explains Kelly. Behind it is storage space for their gardening tools and a bin for gardening waste. Growing next to it: a Japanese angelica tree (Aralia elata), Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias), and ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea).
Above: “Belgian designer Bram Vanderbeke created this bench made-to-measure. We love to sit on it in the shade of the trees to have a coffee or lunch on hot days, looking at the garden and the house. It truly creates an intimate corner in the garden. It is one of my favorite places in the yard,” says Kelly.
Above: The gutter spout empties into a stylish rainwater collector. “I love looking at it from bed on rainy days when the water overflows,” she shares.
Arthur perched on the green roof. Just below it is the couple&#8\2\17;s bedroom, which enjoys views into the garden. &#8\2\20;It works perfectly: This bedroom is always nice and cool, even on hot summer days.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Arthur perched on the green roof. Just below it is the couple’s bedroom, which enjoys views into the garden. “It works perfectly: This bedroom is always nice and cool, even on hot summer days.”
Planted on the green roof are ground covers, structural plants like euphorbia and curry plant, wild grasses, and a lot of flowers, including &#8\2\20;asters because they bloom until late in October; Verbena bonariensis; Kniphofia as an eye-catcher; Eupatorium because of its height; Phlox because I love its silhouette in autumn,&#8\2\2\1; says Kelly. And since the kitchen is nearby and on the same level as the green roof, they also grow wild herbs like allium and rosemary here.
Above: Planted on the green roof are ground covers, structural plants like euphorbia and curry plant, wild grasses, and a lot of flowers, including “asters because they bloom until late in October; Verbena bonariensis; Kniphofia as an eye-catcher; Eupatorium because of its height; Phlox because I love its silhouette in autumn,” says Kelly. And since the kitchen is nearby and on the same level as the green roof, they also grow wild herbs like allium and rosemary here.
The view from the second floor, which houses the living room and kitchen, to the green roof.
Above: The view from the second floor, which houses the living room and kitchen, to the green roof.

Before

The front of the house was greenery-free and charmless when Kelly and Arthur purchased it.
Above: The front of the house was greenery-free and charmless when Kelly and Arthur purchased it.
The backyard was lifeless and in ruins.
Above: The backyard was lifeless and in ruins.

For more transformations, see:

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