Lush Bethesda Landscape

How a family transformed its manicured backyard into a rustic playground

Photo by Bob Narod

There was nothing wrong with the grounds of the spacious Bethesda home that Kendall Thompson purchased in 2011. “It was in great shape,” she says. “The previous owners were huge landscape gardeners.” Yet the former event planner found over time that the terraces, pool and yard didn’t fit the way she and her three children wanted to live. Thompson called on Chad Talton of Surrounds Landscape Architecture in Sterling, Virginia, to expand the patios for large-scale entertaining, replace an awkward screened porch with an indoor-outdoor bar and lounge, and transform the pool and surrounding landscape. “She wanted something a little more rustic, a little more free-form,” Talton says, “not so much of a straight-lined environment.” The resulting playground delights both adults and children. Says Thompson: “He was able to tap into my style.”

Photo by Chad Talton for Surrounds

Floor-to-ceiling glass doors on two sides of the addition fold completely open to make the bar and lounge an integral part of the outdoor design. Tennessee flagstone flows inside and out. All furnishings are from Frontgate. The bar includes a keg fridge and margarita machine; a flat-screen TV descends from the ceiling over the fireplace. A touch-screen panel on the wall controls the outdoor lighting, sound system and pool settings, including two waterfalls.

Photos by Bob Narod

Tennessee flagstone and boulders act as a naturalistic base for deer-resistant native grasses, plantings that flower in all seasons, and textural ground cover. Waterfalls (above) cascade over a ledge from a shallow kid-friendly pool and into the main pool and a semicircular spa. Family and friends gather around a fire pit (top) that Talton designed with the same flagstone as the patios. Umbrellas dot the terraces, providing plenty of shade when it’s hot.

Photos by Chad Talton for Surrounds

Photos by Chad Talton for Surrounds

At first, Thompson wanted to tear out the pool and start over—a desire that proved to be cost-prohibitive. Instead, Talton retained its existing shape, replaced its lining, installed new tile, and added a shelf with a built-in umbrella stand that creates a shady water lounge. Talton then added a children’s splash pool one level above, connecting it to the main pool with an installation of boulders and a waterfall. A thick buffer of landscaping provides visual richness and privacy. Since the renovation, Thompson has hosted many
large parties in the new backyard. Her children,
Skyler, 9, Colten, 7, and Beckam, 4—all students at The Woods Academy in Bethesda—have also enjoyed numerous gatherings and celebrations with their friends.

Photos by Chad Talton for Surrounds

Jennifer Sergent ( is a home and design writer based in Arlington, Virginia.

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