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Designing with Nature's Color Palette

Designing with Nature's Color Palette

The Creation of a Mediterranean Zen Sanctuary in St. Petersburg, Florida

The Intention: Creating an outdoor sanctuary inspired by nature, a rich and warm setting that is imperfect yet comfortable for several different experiences within one space. From connecting with family at the dinner table to sharing stories by the fire, or staring at the stars from a ten people hammock, the intention is to slow down and enjoy life. 

Imagine…Dining Al Fresco in the perfect evening surrounded by your friends as your glasses full of Sauvignon Blanc clink. Surrounded by the richness of terracotta, cacti of all shapes and sizes, peaceful Buddha heads as you make your way to the fire pit. You sit in your Adirondack chair placed on top of large slabs of grey stones, and you're ready to enjoy the simple things in life.

 But first, let's get back to reality.

BEFORE

st petersburg florida backyard landscaping

A complete backyard makeover, starting from scratch in the Florida summer heat, is no small task. Add removal of loads of overgrown and invasive bamboo (PS, bamboo attracts lots of bugs and mosquitoes) and a broken sewage pipe surprise, and it's a miracle that this project took off the ground. Still, our inspo was clear and our passion strong: a Mediterranean Zen Sanctuary. A backyard that looks nothing like Florida when you're first experiencing it, and so hours on Pinterest began.

White exterior paint in Florida can be tricky because it reflects light and will create even more heat. Terracotta seemed to be the perfect upgrade, and to pull it off, it had to be the ideal shade. It also had to be complemented by luscious, velvety greens, cacti of all shapes, and of course, ornamental vines to give it that European flair.

cactus desert clay sedona

Ok, but still, why terracotta? Because a dreamy desert palette is simply so grounding, natural and awe-inspiring. Just think of incredible rock formations in Sedona, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon. These clay-like tones are nothing short of inspiring for artists of all types. From musicians to fashion designers, nature is such a pure inspiration.

Are you with me? Taking a color palette from nature is always a great idea. Making it work in a Crescent Heights backyard in St. Petersburg, Florida, in an effortless way - that's about balancing tones, textures, and lines. But how do you find the perfect shade of terracotta? Depending on the time of day, it was incredible how different each trial shade looked on the house's exterior. The perfect shade is not too pink, not too orange, but like a traditional clay pot. You know which ones, the ones made in Italy, are rich, earthy, organic. After watching the sunlight interact with the colors, the only way to avoid a yellow look was to pick something with a red undertone. And the winner was: Red Cent by Sherwin Williams, with Cavern Clay being a close runner-up.

Browns and greens are naturally complementing tones to terracotta, and we let mature cacti do the balancing work. Believe it or not, I scored two 15-year-old cacti on craigslist for $120! And on Operation Cacti began. Transporting over 6 feet tall cacti wrapped in Lacoste Sheets (shootout to the best craigslist experience) from Orlando.

AFTER

They pulled the look together in that effortless organic way I imagined. I know you were wondering, yes, the two euphorbia cacti (technically, succulents) have names: Kaia and Zulu, honoring their African heritage. Other cacti friends joined Zulu and Kaia in the built-in concrete planter.

What do you do with an unappealing wall in your backyard that gets blasted by the Florida sun? You use it as a backdrop for a built-in cacti planter and line it with Mexican hand-painted Talavera tiles from La Fuente Imports.

There is something rich and warm about authentic, hand-painted Mexican tiles. They celebrate tradition, imperfection and bring a fun, playful element. 

To balance all the red, brown, and green, we opted for an indigo table runner. It plays with the blues in the Talavera tiles and breaks up the color palette.

Painting the doors and windows was a must to pull everything together. An old cream, sort of dirty white color, doesn't quite spell Med-Zen. A play of browns – dark doorframe and lighter brown doors and windows worked like magic.

We went with Sherwin Williams Vinyl safe paint to avoid warping and fading, which is formulated without black pigments.

orshi wren interior designer

Growing up in Europe, I got to vacation in Italy and Spain as a teenager, and I always admired the pops of pink and red flowers everywhere. I love beauty that is unique and can't be duplicated, like a plant that vines upon structures and becomes part of a scene in its unique way. Thankfully we lucked out, the pergola gets loads of sun, and a red Mandevilla vine looks stunning on it. We repurposed the bamboo cut down in the early phases of the project and created shading under the pergola. Along with a ceiling fan and misting system, outdoor dining got a lot more comfortable.

Once you had dinner and you're ready for another glass of wine around the fire, an Adirondack chair with a cozy blanket has your name on it. Put on some throwback happy music and let the conversations flow. Since the beginning of time, we gathered around fires, our first light source (sorry, iPhone) to connect, share, and relax. Have you noticed how meditative it is to stare into the fire? As you watch the flames dance, it calms you and brings you into the present moment.

What does your dream sanctuary feel like?

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