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As an architect, I often look for the bigger picture item that a client may not see at first. When Michele S. contacted me asking if we could build something that she and her husband, Tim’s, two cats (Andre’, a rescued feral black cat, and Gaston, a black house cat with a neurological jaw issue that results in a hanging tongue) could use to enjoy watching the birds and the squirrels in the trees outside their Florida lanai, I had no idea what to do. Square Paws had spent its first four years building indoor furniture for cats. How would we make something for the outdoors? Especially an environment with extremes of both harsh sun and hurricane winds?
Meeting Michele at her home, though, the answer presented itself pretty quickly. At the back of their home was a Florida room with a sky-lit vaulted ceiling and sliding glass doors to the left and right. To the right sits a beautiful koi pond brimming with colorful fish. Looking upon them is a stone Buddha and a traditional Japanese stone lantern. And, though the screened-in lanai had fallen to disrepair, it was still surrounded by very lush greenery of ferns, date palms, and a host of other thriving fauna.
Though the lanai space was modest, we wanted to fill it with items one would encounter in a Japanese garden: a river, a bridge, some benches, and a Torii (the traditional gate found at a Shinto temple). We also wanted to maintain room for the outdoor dining set, but I felt it could all fit very harmoniously together. Benedito and I worked at each design to provide for easy removal during inclement weather: lag-screw anchoring for the bridge, easily removed; mortise and tenon joints for the tea-house base and tea-house roof, each easily removable.
At the start, though, it was clear that the lanai required quite a bit of work to make it a fitting backdrop for the Japanese garden pieces, including re-screening, frame repairs, and re-paving. Benedito and I, with Michele and Tim’s assistance, quickly went to work!
Benedito and I setting flagstones in mortar
“Field condition” #1: Stone Pavers
While the koi pond was outfitted with gray slate, a finish I had hoped we would replicate in the lanai, it turned out that the existing stone in the lanai was flagstone of a very red-brown color. Further, it was not nearly enough material to cover the area needed. The majority of the remaining existing pavers turned out to be concrete squares. None of this was apparent, however, until we had dug them all up and power-washed them. Enter Plan B: we would use the flagstones as decorative elements under the “bridge” and purchase new paver bricks with which to outfit the lanai.
““Field Condition” #2: Vistas
At the start of the project, I had only been considering the view from the Florida room. What I hadn’t accounted for was the Master bedroom window which also looks upon the lanai. Michele and Tim noted this to me, which made me question the strict and rigid orthogonal layout I was pursuing. Suddenly, the cat-bridge wanted to be turned slightly askew to create much more dynamic views. Back to the drawing board…, er, computer, once more.
We rounded out the design with a hand-cut, black “Kanji” symbol that doubles as a cat-shelf. The symbol represents “sky” or “heaven,” which seemed appropriate for a client whose email signature includes the Steven D. Wolf quote you see at the top of this post. Would the cats understand the meaning imbued in this item, or would they just see it as a means to get closer to that squirrel that mocks them from the tree outside?
Please enjoy the videos below showing the behind-the-scenes work that made this vision possible