written by: Brad Mee photos by: Adam Finkle
In Holladay, landscape pro Willie Eschenfelder transforms old farmland into an oasis of lush gardens, tranquil ponds and outdoor living spaces designed for year-round entertaining.
As is often the way with renovations, the complete overhaul of this bucolic Holladay property evolved from a single project. In this case, it was replacing a decades-old swimming pool. The homeowner had enough of the failing feature and asked Willie Eschenfelder to design and install one befitting an old estate. As the owner of Eschenfelder Landscaping and Omega Pools and a contractor specializing in landscapes, he was the right man for the job. The new pool soon led to another project and then yet another, as Eschenfelder and his team masterfully transformed the two-and-a-half acres into a spectacular estate.
“It started with the pool. Then the client requested a fire pit, which then led to the idea of a sauna building, an outdoor hot tub and a pond,” says Eschenfelder, describing the job’s natural progression. As he explains, once the desire for a sauna arose, the team decided on a Japanese-style for the building. This led to the need for a Japanese-themed garden, which in turn called for a tranquil water feature. Here, as with the rest of the redo, there was no master plan; the property’s renewal just organically developed. “We were blessed with so much land, so we just let it evolve,” Eschenfelder says.
Today, the spectacular estate includes a remodeled main house, a revived barn, a guest house, a new sauna building, a striking swimming pool, numerous water features, countless wandering paths, bridges, gardens and a pasture abloom with red poppies. For Eschenfelder, who grew up nearby, it was important to retain the original charm of the woodsy farmland, while adding style and elements that reflect his client’s taste and accommodate her love of entertaining.
At the estate’s entry, a new, massive freeform stone wall and spectacular cast-aluminum gates resembling framed branches provide a hint of the captivating landscape that waits beyond. Eschenfelder used more than 100 tons of rock to create the wall, inspired in part by Salt Lake City’s sculptural Gilgal Gardens and the homeowner’s desire for whimsy. “Rather than creating a typical masonry wall, we wanted one that appears to rise naturally from the ground,” he says. The distinctive gates open to a drive of pavers and crushed limestone designed to resemble an informal farm road cued by the property’s original use. It winds through layered gardens and large trees before opening to the main house and its private grounds.
The landscape surrounding the house presented its share of challenges. In front, weed patches, a sloped brick walkway, tired rose beds and many century-old spruce trees ravaged by bark beetles led to the front door. “It was a mess,” Eschenfelder recalls. Working with arborists, Eschenfelder saved all but one of the infested trees. “It was very important to our retaining the original feel of the estate,” he says. He also transformed the front gardens with a large patio, stone stairs and low, freeform walls shouldering flower pots created from hollowed-out rocks that delight guests approaching the house.
Behind the house, an unsightly parking area dominated views and a hodgepodge of old trees blocked enviable vistas of Mt. Olympus. The team relocated the driveway and parking area and hauled out 16 truckloads of the messy trees to open mountain scenery. “I’m a proponent of removing junk trees and replacing them with better versions,” says Eschenfelder. By moving these obstacles, he freed the center of the property for lively, significant changes.
“This is where the owners live and entertain,” says Eschenfelder of the rear grounds. He and his team remodeled the house with this in mind, creating a new kitchen, master bedroom, back balcony and pergola-covered patio to provide a visual and emotional connection to the gardens. “People don’t give enough thought about how their homes interact with their landscapes,” he says. His holistic design seamlessly links the main house, pool and out buildings to the spectacular landscape. So too does a central hillside garden where he layered lush plantings, water features, paths and patios to create an experiential Eden. The owners wander the gardens along entwining paths and up stone steps. They stroll past ponds and trickling streams bordering patios that overlook fish-filled pools. And they gather with friends around a blazing fire pit and leisurely perch on low stone walls.
“That these clients use every bit of this place every day has been the most rewarding part of the project,” Eschenfelder says. With the pool complete, the gardens flourishing and the landscape catering to their passion for entertaining, the owners now relish staycations, he explains. And why not? When paradise exists in your own backyard, there’s little reason to go elsewhere to find it.
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