Laying Tracks For a Kid-Friendly Space

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A swing set was out of the question when Scott Mulholland of Creo Landscape Architecture + Urban Design embarked on designing an outdoor space for his family. A principal architect at Creo Landscape Architecture + Urban Design, he felt that his children, three-year-old Liam and one-year-old Carson, would eventually outgrow the equipment and the family would be left with a clunky contraption in their backyard. “Play structures can be very limiting for kids and don’t inspire them to use their imaginations,” says Mulholland. Instead, he and fellow principal Todd Lansing designed mound-like berms and covered them with hardy fescue grass. Rising up through the shaggy greenery and seeming to roll through the yard like waves, the mounds are the ideal structures to stimulate Liam’s and Carson’s creativity.

“We wanted to create a cool, modern design for entertaining but something that would also be fun for the kids,” says Mulholland. He dissected this backyard, located in San Francisco’s Lake District, into a green play space and an adult-friendly patio.

“In my head I had an idea of how the space would be used, but then my son and his friends came up with something completely different: using the berms as racetracks for their cars,” says Mulholland. The decorative sculptures that Mulholland placed atop the hillocks became playthings as well. The kids like to roll the spheres up and down, providing hours of entertainment. The unconventional lawn has also engaged the imaginations of Mulholland’s grown-up visitors: “Friends come over and use the mounds like La-Z-Boys, lounging with their legs stretched out,” he says.

Integrating the modern, kid-friendly design with his home’s Edwardian architecture was a challenge, says Mulholland. “I think we made those connections through the warmth of the wooden fence and the reclaimed-brick patio,” says Lansing. While digging up the original yard, Mulholland found about 300 square feet of bricks that he recycled for the patio, allowing him to work within both his small space and his small budget. “Landscape grading is an art form,” says Mulholland. “I love using the earth to create different shapes and spaces that inspire.”

This was originally published in California Home + Design’s Summer 2013 issue. Click here to subscribe.

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