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Exteriors: Earth, Water and Light

Meticulous planning turns Jack Blanton's outdoor pool and gardens into an art-lover's oasis.

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Before bringing in the art, Blanton carefully planned the space. He bought his gray brick Colonial in 1976. Seven years later, he had Richmond's first black pool installed in the yard. He thinks of it as a "sculptural element" of what he refers to as his outdoor living room. Today the pool has lightened slightly, he says, "fading to a nice patina." Blanton says he wanted the pool "quiet, not screaming," and its clean lines, uninterrupted by stairs or diving board, achieve this, acting as the calming water feature in his understated outdoor space.

Eleven years after putting in the pool, Blanton added a decidedly modern wing to the house, doubling its size. There's a bold contrast between the original "Ozzy and Harriet Colonial" and the "Bauhaus extension," Blanton says. But because the older part of the house can't be seen from the yard and vice versa, the two drastically different chapters work well together. Blanton even designed a tartan pattern to be carved into the extension's stucco to break it up and give it the appearance of limestone.

When planning how to design the back of the house, Blanton carefully took into consideration proportion, axis — even sun patterns. The result is a loggia, a stucco overhang coming off the house, which provides shelter from both the sun and summer storms. The pillared openings are in proportion to the pool and its surrounding aggregate pavement patio. Blanton was careful to plan a "polite entrance" into the house from his so-called outdoor living room. Glass doors lead to the downstairs gallery where guests can retreat to examine the art, fix a drink at the bar, or shower and change in the downstairs bath. There is also a full kitchen on this lower level, where caterers work behind closed doors and are out of sight to guests.

Blanton's corner lot is enclosed by a wooden fence. The carefully planted layers of green almost completely hide the fence. This green includes a line of aristocrat pear trees, thick azaleas and ground covers of ivy.

Stone planters of impatiens pierce the green with an occasional shock of white. In the summer, Blanton's garden is completely green and white. "I do a lot of entertaining at night, and the white impatiens come alive," he says. He also has the garden glowing meticulously with 150 inconspicuous lights throughout the yard — like the two aimed up the dual trunks of the 100-or-so-foot Leyland cypress tree, setting its red bark aglow. His lighting direction is as discreet as his two-color palate.

This tasteful backdrop serves as the setting for the 38 pieces of art Blanton has positioned at strategic locations throughout his yard, 22 of which surround his pool. Blanton has curated a varied show that pairs both high and low art, along with one of his own creations. Most of the outdoor sculptures are made from weathered metal or stone, giving them an organic feel. But there are exceptions, like the mosaic fish Blanton purchased from Richmond's Go Fish! project. It stands on its chest-high pole, catching the sun from its blanket of green leaves. His favorite piece, a smooth stone sculpture of a partial torso by former Virginia Commonwealth University student Mark Power, relaxes beside the side of the pool.

If one looks hard into the lush foliage, an almost medieval-looking machine with a sense of humor can be seen. The piece, made by another former VCU student, Riley Robinson, is made from a 19th-century pipe trolley and looks to be a cannon. The work is called "A Field Generator," because if it shot its fiberglass cannonballs filled with grass seed, the seeds would scatter and eventually generate a field. Then there is "sphery," which Blanton good-naturedly attributes to God and himself, because it's simply a rock he found on the coast of Maine that he put atop a limestone base. Amid all this whimsy, Blanton has dropped sculpture by several area artists such as Tom Chenowith, Aggie Zed, Karen Abse and John Torres.

A simple, but elegant, metal gate made by local metal artist Maurice Bean closes off Blanton's tranquil outdoor living room from the hustle of Cary Street. It's the only entrance to the property, and it gives the exterior space an air of escapism. That's just the way Blanton likes it.

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