Karri Files Paul has always had an eye for design, whether it’s apparel, architecture, or landscapes. After 20 years in New York, where she worked as a design director for several brands including Tommy Hilfiger, the Durham native was ready to shift mediums. “Growing up, my mom and I would go to the garden center and plant stuff all the time,” she says. “In New York, I had a terrace with custom vegetable beds.”
She got certified in landscape design at the New York Botanical Garden and picked up a few clients in Connecticut, the Hamptons, and Westchester. Then, in 2019, her husband’s job with ESPN brought them to Charlotte. It was an ideal time for Paul to make a career change.
But a few months after their move, the pandemic happened. “Landscape was still considered essential business, though,” Paul says. “It was a beautiful moment of opportunity. My specialty is translating a New England look in the South. A lot of people come here from the tri-state area and want that look. Being from the South, I’m also familiar with classic Southern architecture.”
We caught up with Paul for a breakdown of a backyard transformation in Eastover. See how she incorporates greenery, pavers, a vegetable bed, a putting green, and a standalone office—all in one 5,600-square-foot space.
I get a lot of requests for putting greens. It’s all the rage. In the grand scope of pricing, it’s not super expensive to do. We used SYNLawn Carolina for turf. If you’re spending the money on redoing your entire backyard and have issues growing grass, a lot of clients see the value in faux turf, and if you do that, why not put a putting green in? They don’t take long to install, and they’re not hard to do.
This already belonged to the homeowners. I’m not a huge fan of swingsets, but they are very practical for families. To make that space feel less choppy, we put it directly over the faux turf to give it longevity. When the kids outgrow it, they can just remove it and have extra faux turf for play space.
We demolished an old shed, excavated soil, and installed a brick retaining wall in the very back, which allowed us to gain an additional 12 feet of space. We painted the wall with a limewash technique to match the color of the house, which was Benjamin Moore’s Swiss White. When you order it by the gallon, you can have the supplier match it to the color of your house.
The vegetable bed needed to be in full sun, so it had to be on the right side of the property. You also want it close to the kitchen.
To connect the design to the homeowner’s existing patio, we installed bluestone steppingstones leading to the office, which is framed out in a bluestone patio. We separated the lower natural lawn from the faux turf with a long thermal bluestone step. The hardscape is minimal but intentionally guides you through the space.
The standalone office was outfitted by Hillbrook Collections, and we ran all the plumbing and electrical. The office window looks straight out onto the kid’s play set and the putting green. Dad enjoys his putting green during coffee breaks, and the kids have putters, too.
ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM A PRO:
I believe in circulation points, which is how you move about your property. Kids like to run in circles. Can you make a full circle around your property? If the answer is no, I’m going to solve it. It would be like having a room central to your house that has one door instead of two. You have to create different ways to run around.
Projects of this scale can be pricey, so we often phase our installs. We did the front of the house first. This was phase two.
My goal is to provide function in every corner of a backyard. Everybody has at least one space in their yard they don’t even walk to, or they don’t like the way it looks. It’s my job to look at it and say, “How can I force you to use your entire property?”
Turf is green all year round, but it does get hot. Some are coated with a cooling mechanism. You have to think about your dog doing its business there. You don’t want it to smell. There are different technologies for mitigating that.
Some clients are avid gardeners, and some don’t know anything about gardening—they might prune their plants once a year. Some have deeper pockets and hire maintenance services. If I’m installing a super-expensive topiary, I’ll make sure the client has someone who can trim it and not kill it.