A well executed courtyard makes a house memorable as well as more livable. The strong indoor-outdoor connection is a powerful lure but also the geometry of the space, its openings and wall surfaces, and paving materials play important roles. One of the most alluring courtyard houses that I can
think of is the home designed for silent film director Fred Niblo in Beverly Hills of 1927 by Wallace Neff (photo courtesy Propertypal). The dramatic curve of that entry court clearly celebrates automobiles and a theatrical sense of arrival by
literally sweeping them around to the front door (image courtesy Stefanos Polyzoides of Moule Polyzoides Architects). The rest of the house falls into place around it like a perfectly drilled chorus line. The design is a silent movie in its own right — see how the oval hall between living and dining rooms echoes the motorcourt, a Mini Me echo of the main event. At a house in California’s Central Valley from the early 1980s architect William Turnbull
deftly turned the veranda outside-in and opened up the roof at the same time
— so that the wood-framed courtyard becomes a grand open-air hall at the center between two wings — almost like a small piazza shaded against the summer heat. (photo courtesy Open Buildings). But a smaller home on a
tighter lot can also boast a central courtyard, as this Eichler tract house by architect Claude Oakland from our Signature Collections shows (Plan 470-6).
Architect Gregory La Vardera has reinterpreted that atrium design for today, as shown above (Plan 431-11).
At a lecture recently I met Jawed Umerani, a talented structural engineer who very graciously gave me a tour of his wonderful new courtyard home, which was designed by Apple Stores architects Bohlin Cywinksi Jackson. Of course
Jawed, whose firm Umerani Associates is a frequent consultant for the Bohlin firm, did the engineering and contributed much to the design. It shows how to fit an exciting light-filled, outdoor-oriented, one story house onto a tight suburban
lot. From the street, it’s impossible to tell what lies ahead — you see the garage, a ribbon of walkway leading to a sheltered entry. That remarkable stone-paved
outdoor room awaits just beyond the front door, on the other side of a small sitting area. The elegant U-shaped house puts the bedrooms on one side and the
great room on the other. Light floods in from all sides. The Umeranis treated me to breakfast and it was hard for me to sit still because the center of the house became the center of my attention — another film about to start.