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Front Yard Courtyard

Designer Courtnay Tartt Elias of Creative Tonic pulled out all the stops when creating a lively outdoor area for endless fun at her Houston Home.
covered courtyard space with mirrored wall

Sometimes the best ideas spring from a frustrating situation, as designer Courtnay Tartt Elias of Creative Tonic discovered at her home in the Tanglewood neighborhood of Houston. “The houses on my street are set way back from the curb with huge lawns, which was perfect for my three boys to play all their games when they were growing up,” she says. But when Courtnay’s next-door neighbors tore down their existing house and sited their new home closer to the street, it changed everything. “The house effectively blocks the gate that leads to our backyard and pool.”

cigar-smoking nook and a boccie ball court in courtyard
Courtnay Tartt Elias carefully considered how she and husband Mark wanted to use the space, so they included a cigar-smoking nook and a boccie ball court in the design.

When Courtnay and husband Mark became “free birds” (her charming phrase for empty nesters) with more time to relax and entertain, they came up with a way to solve the issue. “Instead of reworking the backyard, we decided to create a courtyard on the front of the house,” says the designer. “The front yard is so big that we don’t miss the 20 feet used for the courtyard.” Their front yard courtyard idea was born.

Courtnay Tartt Elias at front gate
Designer Courtnay Tartt Elias welcomes guests to her front courtyard entertaining space at her Houston home
A graceful curved wall with metal trellis inserts
A graceful curved wall with metal trellis inserts offers the right amount of privacy.

As Courtnay explains, they struggled with the design for the space a bit. “Our 1980s stucco house is contemporary in spirit, so at first, I was thinking of a mid-century cantilevered treatment,” she says. “When that didn’t feel right, I decided to call Michael Landrum, a favorite Houston architect. He came up with the most elegant plan.” Michael took his inspiration from the old Hollywood Regency style used in the Trousdale Estates of Los Angeles—a masterful collection of modern homes built in the 1950s to 1970s by some of California’s most sought-after architects and a favorite of celebrities. (Elvis Presley and Groucho Marx lived there.)

Courtyard with table set for alfresco meal
Courtnay’s family loves to play games, so the space includes cornhole and a boccie ball court.

Michael designed an engaging integration with the house,” says Courtnay. “The wall connects the new terrace to the existing garage structure. It’s slightly curved and is pierced with metal trellis inserts. We live on a friendly cul-de-sac, so we didn’t want a solid wall that would completely block out neighbors.”

covered courtyard space with mirrored wall
Indoor accents such as blue-and-white porcelain give the covered courtyard space the feeling of a true living room.

With the architecture settled, Courtnay took the reins to create her specialty—happy, colorful rooms with personality and practicality. For the banquette built-in, she was inspired by the stucco designs of the Greek Islands and the haciendas of Mexico. “I chose faded blue zellige tile for the wall and white oak for the cabinetry,” she says. “The white oak is repeated on the ceiling to tie everything together.”

Then she added a periwinkle blue, white, and green palette with her favorite cheerful stripe accented with a star fabric and lots of dressmaker details—pom-poms, fringe, and tape trims. “In a covered area, you can treat the outdoor space just like you would an interior room, so I like to have fun and be creative,” Courtnay says.

Covered space of front yard courtyard
In the courtyard's covered space, the designer transformed traditional French-style indoor furniture using a fabric combination of jaunty stars and stripes.

For the furniture, the designer went in a fresh direction by reworking some old wood pieces. She had them stripped down and restuffed to bring them back to life. She completed the décor with blue-and-white porcelain, a wicker pagoda, mirrors, fabric poufs, and garden stools.

Artificial turf in front yard courtyard
An artificial turf lawn looks beautiful year-round with little maintenance.

Outside the covered area, an artificial turf lawn is ready for boccie ball, Ping-Pong, cornhole, and picnics any time of year. String lights glow after dark, and a cigar-smoking area is ready for after-dinner gatherings full of lively conversation. As Courtnay says. “It’s always a party in the courtyard!”

table set for al fresco meal in front yard courtyard
In Courtnay's front yard courtyard, a built-in stucco bench provides seating on one side, with additional chairs pulled up for alfresco meals.
table setting with mixed patterns and colors
Courtnay loves mixing colors and patterns in her settings.
“Except for the hottest months of summer, my husband and I basically live out here. The versatility makes it ideal for a couple or a crowd.” –Courtnay Tartt Elias

By Alice Welsh Doyle

Photography by Claudia Casbarian for Julie Soefer Photography