Outdoors In: A Mediterranean-Inspired Sanctuary in Raleigh

With its floor-to-ceiling windows and herb-filled courtyard, Ela and Lars Gardner created a dream home for their family that’s anchored in their love of nature
by Addie Ladner | photography by Liz Condo

As a child, Ela Gardner spent her summers in Turkey, swimming in coves in the Aegean Sea, picking ripe figs, and perusing the bazaars. “I loved watching the boats, and all the bougainvillea that grew everywhere,” she says. “There was so much great family and outside time.” Her husband, Lars, grew up with a similar connection to nature in rural Southern California. Surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and lush gardens, he hiked and biked in his spare time.

So when the two settled in Raleigh, they wanted to recreate that connection to the outdoors for their daughters Zara and Lola. They moved here after having spent 10 years in Chicago, where, Lars says, “Snowmageddon and polar vortex winters really made us want our own sunny space to garden, swim, and let our children explore.”

The Gardners found a way to do this in a sprawling 1.5-acre lot tucked off Lake Boone Trail. Together with architect David Kenoyer, builder Greg Paul, and landscape designer Tom Nowell, they designed their dream home: a 6,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, urban oasis. The new space, built in 2018, blends the breeziness of Mediterranean and coastal California homes with a touch of modern farmhouse style. “That pallet of materials they used to build the house was simple but impactful,” Paul says.

Behind ancient oaks in the front yard, white-painted brick showcases wrought iron detailing and wooden beams and shingles, a Southern take on the stucco homes that Ela recalls from her childhood. “We love clean lines and industrial components, like concrete walls and exposed wood beams, juxtaposed with more traditional features like the painted brick and shingles,” says Lars. The home is surrounded by a spacious and secluded yard that bursts with color and scents of lavender, rosemary, and jasmine. A pool takes up half the backyard; the other half houses a vegetable garden, courtyard, and generous lawn. “We loved the idea of a courtyard in the center,” says Lars. “Jasmine grows up the walls, and the girls can pick the daisies, peonies, and hydrangeas for our dinner table.”

Nowell turned a steep slope in the backyard into a terraced garden wall with stone paths that connect it to the pool and garden. He worked with the Gardners to fill the yard with herbs, fruit trees, and even a unique variety of holly tree that resembles the olive trees Lars remembers from his childhood. “What they’ve done is amazing,” says Nowell. “They really knew how to turn it into an escape.” The Gardners used every opportunity to bring the outdoors inside. The home is anchored by an open-plan great room, with salvaged wood beams and skylights punctuating the ceiling. “We wanted a ranch with a winding ‘U’ shape where we could see out to parts of the house from inside,” says Lars. 

Glass-paned French doors and generous windows highlight the view beyond. “When you walk through the front door, you immediately see the gardens — it’s so cool,” says Paul. The kitchen and dining area open up to a screened-in porch that lines the back of the house, perfect for family dinners and movie nights. “The ability to open the doors and use the outdoor space for daily living was very important,” says Ela, who recently started her own interior design firm, Fig Tree Homes. “These areas are our favorite, hands down.” It all flows together in a breathtaking, light-filled oasis comfortably adorned with family heirlooms, photos, plants, and art collected over the years. “We love how the house turned out,” says Lars. 

In the formal sitting room, hand-painted Turkish plates, family photos, and other knick-knacks fill the shelves. “This is one of the rooms that we did later,” says Ela.
The couple mixes high-end furnishings with bargain finds, antiques, and artistic pieces (here, chairs from Bassett Furniture, an Ethan Allen table, an IKEA buffet, and a mirror from Revelation by Uttermost). 
The wrought iron staircase with a Chippendale-inspired railing is a nod to traditional Southern style.
 The Gardners salvaged the limestone laundry basin from the house that originally sat on the property. “It’s great for bathing the dog or washing the kids’ paint supplies,” says Ela. The Paris print was an estate sale find. 
Above and below: Reclaimed wood beams from a barn in Virginia are combined with white oak floors in a natural matte finish to give the open kitchen a modern farmhouse look. In the kitchen, a Turkish rug adds softness and texture, and neutral-toned linen couches and pillows in the adjacent living area create an airy look. With floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors that open to the screened-in porch, the space is ideal for entertaining and sharing family meals outside. “My mom lives nearby and is always coming over with Turkish food, so the kitchen is where we spend a ton of time,” says Ela. The globe light in the dining room is Serena & Lily. “I liked that it was substantial and big, but felt airy and not too formal,” she says. The dining table is made from reclaimed wood and cast iron. “I wanted to find something we didn’t mind beating up a bit with dinners and art projects.”
In the main hallway, which leads to the bedrooms, large geometric wood panels line the walls. 

Ela and Lars’ bedroom looks out to the garden with floor-to-ceiling windows. The mantle was an estate find, decorated with a picture frame from Turkey that was from Ela’s dad’s office, botanical prints she tore from an art book, framed prints found at local home shops, and a driftwood sculpture from Uttermost. Above their bed is a piece of white plaster art from Z Gallerie. 
For their bathroom, the couple chose a Merola cassis blue cement tile to mirror the pool outside. “It reminded me of hand-painted Turkish Iznik tiles, which are so pretty,” says Ela. They chose to do an arch over the rectangular bathtub as a contrast to the straight lines elsewhere. “I saw it in a book somewhere and loved it — I felt like this added some romance,” she says.
Zara and Lola’s rooms are connected by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom and filled with estate finds and homemade items. Lars’ mother, a retired kindergarten teacher, handmade their name banners. 
Ela loves using wallpaper that reminds her of the outdoors in smaller spaces like the bathrooms, including grasscloth and patterns in blue tones or with florals and animal prints. 
The screened porch boasts comfy seating, orchids (Ela’s favorite), and ferns, plus an outside TV for family movie nights. 
A covered patio at the pool level houses a ping-pong table and rustic seating; the painting is by Samuel Kane.
On the lowest level, Nowell installed a seating area with a fire pit and container vegetable gardens in galvanized feeding troughs. This time of year it brims with eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers. “It was an opportunity to add some definition to the rear lawn,” says Nowell.
A bell pepper ripens in the vegetable garden.
A vine climbs a trellis in the back courtyard.