Outdoor Oasis

A modest Birmingham lot lives large with a creative layout // Photography by Laura McCafery
Longtime designers Dan Davis, Paul Johnson, and Michael J. Dul lent their expertise to a Birmingham backyard makeover, creating an inviting space with a variety of gathering spots.

As a natural extension of an interior renovation, Dan Davis and Paul Johnson, co-owners of Dan Davis Design in Ferndale, helped their bachelor client, Joe Luther — who has since married — create an extra-special outdoor space. Landscape architect Michael J. Dul, director of design at Birmingham-based Michael J. Dul & Associates Inc., was also instrumental in the transformation.

Welcome additions include a back porch with heated floors and retractable screens. The color palette used indoors, featuring blues and other hues, spills from inside out, as seen on the teak seating with custom upholstery that surrounds a custom table made from an old beam. A stained cedar ceiling caps the cozy space. Free-form pieces of bluestone that Dul calls “peanut brittle” lead the way to the spa area and garden patio, where an infinity-edge whirlpool and an organic fireplace and landscape await. And while the modest lot may be standard for Birmingham, the unique fence made from white cedar logs was a first for Dul.

Native varieties used in the landscape design include spruce and hemlock trees, and arborvitae. Hydrangea, azalea, and myrtle add further interest. “The accent plants contrast with the fine texture of the evergreens, (and the) flowery shrubs not only bloom, but have nice, thick leaves,” says Dul, who also added a small garden where Luther can plant his own floral mix. “The buffer landscape and natural plantings create a very efficient and intimate space that lives larger because everything flows together,” Dul adds.

Luther wanted a Zen feeling with natural elements, reminiscent of northern Michigan. “When you’re in the space, you can see the surface of the water reflect the flames of the fireplace,” Dul says. “You appreciate the subtleties, like the lighting that makes the space come alive at night.”

In addition to helping with furniture and other selections, Davis and Johnson also consulted on the placement of the fireplace and seating arrangements. “Joe wanted the flow from inside to outside to be consistent, so it’s one cohesive space visually,” Davis says. Adds Johnson: “He wanted the backyard to feel like it’s been there. He loves going up north and wanted it to feel naturalistic. It looked like an empty yard, but now it looks like it’s been there for years.”

The project was completed shortly before the pandemic began, and it’s been a blessing ever since. “There are so many places to sit and it’s so comfortable. Just being in the backyard was like getting out, and I had relatives over with social distancing. It turned out to be a great haven for us,” says Luther, who also appreciates the mature silver maple he named Alfred, believed to be 150 years old. “I bought the house almost because of the tree. Now I can see it from the hot tub. With the sun baking down, it feels like heaven.”

More information: dandavisdesign.com, mjdul.com