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Home Project: Pergola and Picnic Table

Home Project: Pergola and Picnic Table
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A Connecticut couple transforms their yard into a magical spot.

Photo/Art by Julie Bidwell
A Connecticut couple transforms their yard into a magical spot.

Project: From fish pond to tabletop gathering place

When Richard Paul and his wife, Martha, bought their 1780 property in Pomfret, Connecticut, in 1995, the backyard was a wild and tangled place. “We knew there was a sunken garden in there,” Richard says, “but it was filled with trees.”

Intensive bushwhacking uncovered matching oval goldfish ponds on either side of the sunken garden, built sometime during the 1940s. But with a gift and garden accessories shop–Martha’s Herbary–on the premises, the couple was reluctant to have a water pool so close to the building. “We didn’t know what to do with it,” Richard adds. “We’d sit on the edge of the [dry] pond with our feet in it.”

Pomfret is in the heart of a Connecticut antiques mecca. “A picker was going around here trying to sell columns,” Richard recalls. “We were sitting in the pond one day and thought, ‘Well, let’s make a table here and use the columns to put a pergola over it.’” It seems like the most intuitive evolution imaginable–romantic and completely inviting. “It’s never about the money,” Richard says. “It’s always about effort and creativity. There was lots of discovery here.”

Process

Richard designed and cut the 55×90-inch oval tabletop, which fits neatly inside the former pond; the table is raised up on a 31-inch pedestal, bought from a statuary company. “The hardest part,” Richard explains, “was cutting out the concrete [in the floor of the pond] to set the pedestal.” The flat stones edging the pond form natural seating, although for dinner parties he pulls out padded cushions for added comfort.

The arbor itself is simple. Six columns surround the raised table, defining a 10×13-foot rectangle. Vines climb up and over the homemade latticework at either end of the arbor, providing shade and organic red grapes. Overhead, two 6×6 beams sit on top of the posts; they’re bound together by seven 2×6 crossbeams. In the evening, soft candlelight from a hanging iron candelabrum spills onto the table.

Cost

About $860 for base, lumber, and porch posts

What would you do differently?

“The only thing,” Richard notes, “is that I would have taken the advice of a local vineyard owner who told me that white grapes wouldn’t leave stains on the table and red would. She was right.”

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