Nestled among the lush greenery and gorgeous blooms of Chickasaw Gardens, well-appointed architectural housing styles, both modern and historic, exude a unique charm that walks the line between upscale sophistication and inviting charm. One such home that captures this mix of old-meets-new is a 1930s dwelling renovated by RKA Construction and designed by Carlton Edwards Architecture Firm. “The steep roof and dormers provide a warm, cozy feel to the home. I would describe it as an eclectic cottage style with a storybook character,” says Carlton Edwards Architect JD Caldwell. “Our goal was to edit the existing house and let its original charm and character shine.”

An avid plant and garden enthusiast, the homeowner’s main request was to have an enjoyable outdoor living space, so the Carlton Edwards team set about enhancing the existing appeal of the house with architectural details and landscaping, including an heirloom peony plant that had to be saved and replanted. “The goal was to create an outdoor venue that the client could enjoy whether hosting a book club or needing to escape for some personal time,” says Hunter Cooper, RKA Construction’s project manager on this serene space. JD adds, “All in all, the owner was very generous throughout the process and trusted us to create a space that not only functioned but felt like the vision she wanted — a crisp, clean feel while also being soft and inviting, which leans towards the traditional nature of the existing residence.”

Let’s take a look at six ways this team created these gorgeous alfresco rooms.

Beautiful white home with lush landscaping

While each detail is perhaps not striking as a standalone element, when brought together, the level of detail in this project is quite impressive. “It harkens to the phrase ‘the devil is in the details’,” says Ryan Anderson, owner of RKA Construction. “This project is one where at its completion, an observer will note that the space feels special or elevated in an inarticulable way — that’s the level of detail.”

Beautiful walkway with gas lamp

“Another favorite item has to be the post-mounted gas lantern in the front,” says Carlton Edwards Project Architect JD Caldwell. “It’s a custom-made unit and really emphasizes the cottage-like nature of the residence.”

6 Ways to Create a Stunning Outdoor Living Space

Thoughtful Organization of Exterior Rooms

The way that the outdoor rooms are segmented has a major impact on the homeowners’ experience of the outdoor spaces. “The lower patio adjacent to the house with a water fountain, fire pit, and dining table focuses on entertainment. The upper lawn and boxwood parterre provide for an experience of the varying plant life and a quiet garden-like experience,” says JD of this important design feature. “By terracing the rear yard into two zones, the lower courtyard becomes a place unto itself. It gives the upper grass yard an identity and tranquility, much like a secret garden.”

Outdoor living space with patio furniture and landscaping

The lower outdoor living space is perfect for entertaining.

Outdoor living space with lounge chairs and beautiful landscaping

The verdant upper terrace is simple and serene.

Smart Stone Selection

Selecting the correct stone in a hue and texture that doesn’t compete with the home is crucial. “The soft color palette and subtle texture of the stone hardscape sets the tone for the furniture and complements the landscape,” says JD. “We were looking for a material that didn’t overpower the landscape and appeared to be as old and mature as the house itself.” The result is seamless and elegant.

Outdoor living space with beautiful landscaping

In muted neutral hues, the stone walkway allows the charming cottage and pillowy hydrangea blossoms to shine.

Outdoor living space with dining table

A brick accent wall perfectly frames the al fresco dining area on the lower outdoor living space.

Statement Piece

Just as with any interior room, a statement piece — a stunning light fixture, an antique mantelpiece, or a fabulous work of art — always ups the style ante. And it’s even better when that WOW factor also meets a functional need, as with both JD and RKA Project Manager, Hunter Cooper’s favorite feature in this garden oasis. “The 72-inch-long corten-steel fire table on the rear patio doubles as a coffee table in the summer. So with the surrounding furniture, this area can be used up to 9 months out of the year,” says JD.

The imported corten-steel fire table provides warmth in winter, then converts to a sleek coffee table for summer soirees. This is a perfect nook for a gathering with friends as the sun sets.

Strategic Lighting

In an outdoor space that needs to beautifully transition from the golden hour to dusk to starry night, especially when hosting guests — lighting is everything. “Exterior lighting, which is typically an afterthought, really is the secret weapon to making the landscape shine,” says JD. “By being very selective and planning ahead with the number and location of lights, the important features and elements are expressed and highlighted. The hornbeam hedge and standalone dogwood become prominent features, as well as the path and wall lighting for the stone hardscape.” With thoughtful lighting, evening soirees exude a certain romanticism, while also providing guests with enough illumination to safely and easily navigate the outdoor room.

Walkway with pristine landscaping

By night, this pristine outdoor living space offers illuminated walkways.

Outdoor living space with lounge chairs and pristine landscaping

With well-lit walkways, one can make their way to stargaze on these lounge chairs in the upper “secret garden.”

Personalized Ambience

Make your outdoor oasis feel like a serene spa, your ideal wine bar, a private theater … whatever whisks you away to your happy place. Sounds are one place to start, and this sophisticated space needed something timeless. “We put in a water feature to help create white noise, which leans into the concept of a secret garden or escape from reality,” says JD of the simple piece of equipment. “It only needed power. The pump is self-contained in the base of the fountain and the product is off-the-shelf, which really makes it feasible to put in most yards.” And you can capitalize on overgrown hedges. Says JD, “The surrounding landscape is large and grown in, so it obfuscates the neighbors and nearby garage. You really feel like you’re in an isolated and special place.”

Lush landscaping in an outdoor living space

Aged trees, a handsome privacy fence, and smart landscaping offer an air of seclusion and escape.

Size & Species of Plant Life

“It’s very important to get the size and species of plant life correct; otherwise, the overall look of the space won’t feel as intentional,” says JD. Plus, you want plants that are curated to seamlessly transition with the changing seasons, and for that, you need a professional. Luckily, for the homeowner, Carlton Edwards not only handles architecture but also landscape and hardscape elements, as well as selection of interior and exterior furnishings. “We have a team capable of handling a wide array of design tasks which helped create an integrated and cohesive final product,” says JD. And it doesn’t hurt that Carlton Edwards and RKA Construction are longtime collaborators. Hunter of RKA explains, “Having the same design team through the home construction, landscape, and décor processes really pays off. The project’s design goal was met from start to finish thanks to JD designing all three phases together.”

Lush landscaping in an outdoor living space

The house features five custom trellises that add more opportunity for greenery and blooms to grace the outdoor rooms.

Lush landscaping in an outdoor living space

“Many residences have the same elements and features, but the organization, scale of furniture, and scale of plant-life really make this project stand out,” says JD.

JD finds the most satisfaction in knowing that the homeowners will savor and enjoy their alfresco oasis, saying, “The potential for dinners, entertaining, and the overall enjoyment in the long-term … In reality, it doesn’t matter how gorgeous the end product is, it only matters how it’s used and enjoyed.”


Contractor: RKA Construction (Ryan Anderson, Owner; Hunter Cooper, Project Manager; Larry Dawson, Superintendent)

Architect: Carlton Edwards (Design team: Jeff Edwards, Creative Director; JD Caldwell, Project Architect; Lisa Bertagna, Design Assistant)

Thank you to Stefanie Rawlinson Photography for these beautiful images. 

This article is sponsored by RKA Construction.