Lighten Up!

A dark and dull outdoor area was transformed into spaces of openness and light.

By Elena Acoba | Photography by Matt Vacca

Beach serenity and desert views. Lightness and shade. Openness and intimacy. The desires of a couple changing their Foothills home’s backyard appeared to pull in different directions. But landscape designer Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery, APLD, saw the potential of meeting them all in the redo of the 1993 hacienda-style home.

The pool’s facelift includes a cantilevered edge and light-blue paint job. New pool edging is accented with a border of black beach stones.

The pool’s facelift includes a cantilevered edge and light-blue paint job. New pool edging is accented with a border of black beach stones.

“They were just a pleasure to work with,” Przygoda-Montgomery says of the homeowners, she a Canyon Ranch employee, he a University of Arizona professor.

“She really drove the bus,” Przygoda-Montgomery adds. “She was adamant about being very involved with the color choices.”

The palette leans toward light and monochrome, the direct opposite of the old landscape that was filled with red brick, green grass, dark wood and a dark-blue pool surface.

To the homeowners, that old color combination said hot and overbearing. With a south-facing backyard that already was subject to intense sun, it wasn’t the relaxing feel they were after. “They wanted to take advantage of their city views and lush vegetation,” the designer explains about the desired ambiance.

There were several other landscaping issues that the couple wanted to tackle after living in the house for two years. A gathering area with a non-functioning fireplace was enclosed on two sides by a solid wall, and a ramada made it so dark and isolated that Przygoda-Montgomery called it a cave.

Additionally, a solid wall extended the length of the backyard, obscuring the mature eucalyptus and the desert beyond the barrier. There were other issues, as well. Even the plants were surrounded by walls that visually blocked the bottom of the planters and chopped up the space. The grass was contrary to the homeowners’ desire to conserve water. Lastly, the pool had been abandoned.

Grass, brick, the planter walls and the ramada were taken out. A big section of the wall perpendicular to the fireplace was cut out, allowing light to flow in and providing a view of the pool, the planters and the rest of the yard on the other side of the pool and to the desert in the distance.

Small windows on the wall with the fireplace added more light.




The newly renovated outdoor living space exudes a modern and minimalistic vibe.

Both walls were covered in raw concrete stucco, providing texture and a neutral gray background for colorful pillows and potted plants. The fireplace was repaired so that it burns either gas or wood, and a built-in concrete bench was installed.

A light-colored rug dresses up the area around the dining table, which is surrounded by six white molded-plastic chairs.

Brick pavers have been replaced with ivory-colored ones, in which pearlized shells are embedded. They cool down the space, both to the eye and to the touch. By using a color palette of white, gray and blue, Przygoda-Montgomery bucked the trend of adding accents in vibrant Southwest hues that pop in the design.

“When you do reds and oranges, you’re seeing those hot colors,” she says. “I really love bringing in agave blues and seaside colors. It’s a relief to the eyes.”

The outdoor kitchen, a new feature, is of minimal size since a place to cook wasn’t a priority. “She wanted the tiniest barbecue,” the designer says of her client. A short countertop, made of recycled glass, surrounds the 24-inch-long barbecue.


A portion of the wall was cut away so the homeowners can enjoy the nighttime city views around their new firepit.

The stunning feature that commands attention is the replacement for the ramada. White-painted wood beams radiate from the fireplace wall and end well past the dining area and over the kitchen.

They are held up by cross beams that seem to float above the walls. It’s engineered so that only one slim post was added, keeping the space open.

They’re topped by a five-sided piece of corrugated metal designed to provide as much shade as possible during the times the couple are likely to use the space. Przygoda-Montgomery says she was glad she was able to add this bit of rustic feel to the modern, minimal design. “Maybe it’s the Bohemian girl in me,” she says, “but I love the sound of the rain on a tin roof. It’s like a musical instrument.”

The pool was put back into service and given a facelift with a new cantilever edge and a light-blue paint job.

Next to it is a new gathering spot that features a square concrete fire pit. The area is defined by groundcover of stabilized decomposed granite.

Part of the back wall was cut away at this spot so that nighttime city views can be enjoyed by those seated in white Acapulco chairs or big pillows. It also allows the professor to see out of the yard from his home-office window.

With the planter walls gone, Przygoda-Montgomery could add low-growing cacti and flowering shrubs to complement larger trees and cacti.

A few stair steps from the fire pit is a lounge area with furniture that mirrors the pool in color and the dining area in style. Strings of light snake up the mesquites on this side of the yard, as well as hang from the beams of the metal roof at the fireplace. Globes of white light in the dining area and in the pool provide soft illumination for nighttime gatherings.

The project was completed nearly two years ago and the designer feels it has held up well. “What I love about this design is that it’s relatable for most people,” she says. “Sometimes designs can be so over the top that most people couldn’t afford it. This is practical, beautiful and affordable design.

“I call it barefoot luxury.”

…and the Winner is…

2018 HGTV Ultimate Outdoor Awards. As the editors’ pick in the Stunning Scriptures category, the project is described as a “backyard turned private paradise,” according to the HGTV website. “This outdoor space…seems like something out of a dream.”

2018 Landscape Design Awards. The project earned a gold award – the highest of three levels of recognition – from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. The international program honors excellence in landscape design.

2017 Gardenista Considered Design Awards. A panel of judges picked the finalists, who then were voted on by the public. As the winner of the best Hardscape Project, the project was described by judge Deborah Needleman this way: “This striking hardscape creates a sense of place.”









TOP A large opening in the wall created a window for additional light and views of the surrounding garden.
RIGHT Cacti and succulents add texture and sculptural forms against the patio’s hardscape.

Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery, APLD,
Boxhill Design,
Pavers: Artistic Pavers Mfg.,
Accessories: Today’s Patio,
Installation: Turf Tek, LLC,
Shade Structure: Made for Shade,
Pool tile: Noble Tile Supply,
Photo Styling Assistant: Hot Cool Vintage,

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