Atlanta’s Coolest Backyard

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Men laying new hardwood flooring


Photo courtesy of Sanctum Design Group

Life on a lake is already a dream come true for many, but add the perfect backyard setting, and any time not spent outdoors seems like a waste. From doing morning exercises on the dock to watching the sun set over Lake Lanier from their stone patio, the Kalinowski family takes full advantage of everything their property has to offer.

Dan and Sandra Kalinowski bought their house in Cumming on Lake Lanier in 1999 as a second home, where they could spend weekends and holidays entertaining guests, fishing in the pond and enjoying smog-free sunsets. In July, however, the couple and their two sons, 14-year-old Roman and 10-year-old Sevin, gave up city life for good, leaving their Sandy Springs home behind to enjoy permanent lakeside living. We were definitely ready to move up here year-round, says Dan, who is now retired. The boys are both involved in swimming and sailing, so theyre happy to be here full time.

Since they bought the home, the family has been working hard to fix up the inside, including the difficult task over the past few months of trying to merge two households full of stuff into one. The backyard, however, has also been a priority as they have worked to create their dream home. Tom Flowers of Sanctum Design Group began designing the yard for them in 2002, and its been a work in progress ever since. We explored their lifestyle and created a design that basically grew into an adventureland for the family, Tom says.


The challenge in creating the yard was in trying to blend the new landscaping features with the natural beauty of the wooded lot surrounding the home. Making everything look natural was a big deal to us, Dan says. The house was built in the 70s, and we didnt want to see too much contrast of old and new. Luckily, Tom had a great eye for the property and what we wanted.

Two rounded patios were created from natural, tumbled stone, and climbing vines planted at their bases are well on their way to helping the stone blend in even more. The lower patio, built on a point of land that sticks out over a steep slope, houses comfy deck chairs and a large fire pit, already stocked with kindling for the first marshmallow toast of fall. A few steps above, the upper patio features lounge chairs for mid-afternoon naps. Both patios face west and look out over the lake. Weve got a beautiful view of the sunset, Sandra says. A hot tub, tucked away on one of the wooden decks attached to the house and reached by a lighted, natural stone pathway, also offers gorgeous evening views.


Beside the pond are two rounded patios
created from natural, tumbled stone.


The most striking feature of the yard is the pond, which began as a small retention pond, and with a little landscaping, became a gorgeous water feature. A fountain on one end constantly recycles water from the lake, while on the other end, a weir, or small dam, creates a series of four miniature, side-by-side waterfalls. The stone ledge of the weir, shaded by a Japanese maple, makes a great spot to relax. The boys will sit on the ledge, having a snack and feeding the fish, Sandra says.

Bass, brim and crappie fill the pond, along with turtles and frogs. Theyre almost like pets, Dan says. Thats what so fun about the pond. With all the wildlife, its like our own little ecosystem. The whole family enjoys fishing in the pond, but the fish are almost always tossed back. Remote- controlled sailboat races from the ponds dock are another favorite family pastime. I love the dock, Dan says. Its probably my favorite spot in the yard. Its the perfect place to throw down a mat and get some exercise first thing in the morning. One of two small guesthouses on the property overlooks the pond and serves as an office for Sandra, who works from home.


An arbor-covered gate and stone walkway
lead to the main entrance.


Even the entrance to the yard is striking. The arbor-covered gate and stone walkway leading to the main entrance to the home are flanked by bursting flowerbeds. A small seating area by the gate, complete with its own small goldfish pond, provides a cozy spot for quiet reflection. Another goldfish pond is located by the lower stone patio. I love being surrounded by all this water, Sandra says. I like listening to it. An arbor draped in grapevines covers the pathway that leads to the dock of their closest neighbor, the former owner of the Kalinowskis home. Otherwise, large trees and foliage provide natural privacy barriers from neighboring homes.

As gorgeous as their yard is now, the Kalinowskis arent finished. Theyd like to be able to do some landscaping with native plants along the wooded pathway that leads to their dock on Lake Lanier, where their boats are housed. Weve also thought about putting in a pool, but were not sure where yet, Sandra says. For now, though, this water-loving family is content with the natural beauty that they enjoy each day in their own backyard.


Dan and Sandra Kalinowski enjoy their yard with their
two sons, 14-year-old Roman and 10-year-old Sevin.

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