Northeast Ohio is not known for having balmy, pleasant weather year-round. Instead, we face long, gray and often harsh winters. Trapped inside, dreams turn to warm afternoons spent lounging under the bright blue sky. Then one day, the flowers begin to bloom, the sprouts open up to the life-giving sun, and warmth radiates through your once-frozen veins. Summer opens its arms to Ohioans, welcoming them back outside.
“ Living in [this area], you just can’t wait to get outside,” says Darlene Justice. Both a resident and business owner in Medina, Justice and her husband, James, work to make spaces spectacular. With over 30 years in the design industry, Architectural Justice creates stunning interior and exterior spaces. Originally, James Justice says that they worked on interior projects; however, as many people have expanded their living space beyond the traditional home’s foundation, so too has their business. “Starting in interior remodeling and renovation—and primarily granite fabrication—the design of outdoor living spaces and exterior renovation just naturally goes hand-in-hand with our already established core business.” When the Justices looked out into their own backyard, they saw a blank canvas waiting to become something special. They decided to take their professional experience and design an outdoor space that would be the perfect expansion of their home.
“The retreat-like atmosphere can provide an escape from the pressure of the normal work week.”
Beginning with the design, Darlene Justice says they had to determine what the focal point would be. This is vital in design work, she says, and often reflects what the owners wish to get out of the space. “Currently, outdoor fireplaces and covered structures are really popular in this area,” says Justice. “The weather in Northeast Ohio can be temperamental at best. By adding these elements, a homeowner can extend the season that their outdoor living space can be used.”
Expanding their living space beyond the boundaries of their back door, the Justices love the open feeling. “We open up those doors right above the steps and have an open-air feel. It just extends the whole space so that when we’re entertaining, we can be inside talking to people outside, just gathering around the fireplace or at the table.”
Walking out into their covered outdoor living space, the Justices can cook, host dinner parties, watch a game on the TV, enjoy a roaring fire in the fireplace or simply enjoy their yard from a comfortable seat. “In that space, it is kind of an overflow or an extended space of the interior of the house. We use that all of the time,” says Justice. From cooking breakfast to hosting a hungry group of friends, Darlene Justice says that the ability to make meals outside is simply wonderful. “We come out there and cook breakfast, and it’s just great in the summer time.”
“We’d be out there in our sandals in the snow if we could.”
The large rectangular structure features a high ceiling with cedar beams that provide a rustically elegant feel for those relaxing under its vaulted ceiling. At the end of the room, a fireplace lights up the evenings. The detailed stones surrounding the fireplace were actually designed by the Justices and created in their Medina shop. The custom metal railings encircling the space were also created in their metal shop. Above the fireplace is a TV that can be tucked away behind doors during the winter months. “During the nice weather, we have the TV so that we can watch the game out there. Then in the winter, we cover it. It works out really well,” says Justice.
Moving down into the rest of the backyard, the space is divided into tiers, each with its own purpose and feel. The land itself drove this project’s design. Various elevations coming off the back of the house led to the decision to create levels. “[We were] working with the lay of the land and enhancing it with those levels,” says Darlene Justice.
Each level has its own features and a slightly different purpose. “You move down each space,” says Justice. “From the top space, coming down to the pool level, then you’re at the hot tub level, then a couple steps down is the pizza oven, and it all just flows.”
“Each space in this plan was designed with the idea of family, friends and entertaining in mind.”
On a lower level, and on the opposite side of the fireplace, is a unique item that Darlene Justice says is a fan favorite among guests. The pizza oven is built into the back of the fireplace and was designed by James Justice. Like the fireplace, this feature sports detailed stonework, as well as a domed interior. The wood-fire pizzas took a little practice to learn to make, but the Justices now love to incorporate them into their entertaining. “When we have parties, people are out there and they’re making their pizzas. We have different toppings so that everyone can make their own. You put it in there and it takes about four minutes to make an amazing pizza,” says Justice.
Cozy seating areas welcome people from level to level, each offering a different view of the beautiful natural scenery. At the end of the pool, seats are gathered around the vibrant LED-lit granite overflow, where water rushes continuously over the edge. Another seating area is tucked behind the covered patio, away from the glamorous pool. This side of the space offers a completely different feel, one that is accompanied by the gentle trickle of a stone waterfall that flows down the wall of the home into a large pond that wraps around the front of the home. The peaceful nature soothes anyone resting there. “It’s nice to hear that trickle of water when you’re sitting down on that level,” says Justice.
Bright pockets of flowers surround the space. These pops of color add to the warmth of the entire backyard and invite people to continue down each level. “Many people are a little overwhelmed—there is a lot to look at and to take in,” says James Justice. “But overall the space is very inviting and comfortable. Our family and guests easily feel right at home.”
Expanding the joys of their home into the great outdoors brings a lot of joy to a warm summer evening. For the Justices, their backyard is the perfect place to sit down, relax and spend quality time with family and friends.