In what was a boringly flat, oddly shaped back yard, Bryce Baker has created an outdoor environment dramatic in its design and filled with visual surprises.Not the least among the novel touches is a boulder-flanked hill topped with delicate trees and small shrubs that from most vantage points cleverly hides the entrance to the cozy cave concealing the underground spa.
The hill provides a spectacular view from the interior of an open, airy, glass-filled $700,000 home in Heathrow built by The Bridgewater Companies of which Baker is president.
The four-bedroom home, says Baker, is ''an entertainment home,'' and the landscaping serves to reinforce this theme.
Baker designed the landscape to create two separate living areas -- the home and the pool/spa. The curious, inviting configuration of plantings, pathways, a stream and the hill evolved from Baker's efforts ''to use every square foot of space'' on an irregularly edged, pie-shaped lot that narrows from the back of the house down to frontage on a small lake.
High retaining walls flank the contours of the property and form a wide planter filled with lush trees that create a natural privacy screen between this and a neighboring house. The walls follow the downward slope of the property until they converge at a point anchored by a bathhouse/snack area.
But it is the hill, just outside the family room door, that is the centerpiece of the property. Boulders -- 60 tons of them -- anchor the base of the hill and accent nearby planting areas. Graceful trees -- predominately slash pines, redtips, crepe myrtles and junipers -- top the hill, which serves as an effective separation between the pool and house areas.
A pathway bordered by a man-made stream winds from the house and around the hill before ending at the pool area. The stream is a series of small, terraced basins that gently spill from one to another before reaching the final basin, the black-toned swimming pool.
Stroll around the pool and back to where the hill and pool meet, and tucked into a side of the hill is the entrance to the cave. Venture a few steps farther inside this hollowed-out passageway and in the center of the cave is a bubbling spa.
The cave idea, says Baker, is an adaptation of the grottos he saw while visiting Austrian castles on a European trip last year. Orginial plans for the yard had placed the spa near the pool, but when he returned from Europe, he shifted the arrangement -- plus much of the dirt that already was in place for the hill -- and installed the spa so it would be under the hill.
This cave, he explained, is like an upside-down swimming pool. A foot- thick Gunite shell was built, then covered with 5 feet of dirt, thus creating the hill.
The interior walls of the cave have been tinted in muted shades of gray, taupe and hints of clay.By day, the entrance and exit openings provide shafts of natural light to this cool retreat from the sun. Lights are recessed throughout the interior to make the cave functional at night.
Says Baker of the grotto: ''It makes for a separate, intimate, and remote space although it's 20 feet from the house.''
Source: Orlando Sentinel