Chai-Style Exteriors

Usually I take our readers into the interiors of some of Atlanta’s most intriguing homes, but recently I have been asked, “Did you see So-and-So’s incredible back yard?”

Atlantans know that autumn is our most pleasant season, and it coincides with our joyful harvest festival, Sukkot, when we are urged to spend time looking at the stars, eating outdoors and shaking our symbolic greenery.

Gardening is the No. 1 hobby in the nation, according to Scarborough Research, and 100 percent of the investment in landscaping returns as increased property value, according to Gardening World.

Walk outside to three of Atlanta’s most spectacular, well-tended gardens.

Photo by Duane Stork Sandy and Dave Abrams enjoy the hand-crafted metal chairs in their 70-piece back yard.

Photo by Duane Stork
Sandy and Dave Abrams enjoy the hand-crafted metal chairs in their 70-piece back yard

Sandy and Dave Abrams

I have reviewed many homes, but this was certainty the most fun.

The Abrams’ yard is a treasure-trove in layers of history, travel, totem poles and frivolity. Married for 54 years, the Abramses banter with Yiddish, folk art and contagious joy.

“Who started all this? Who is the real collector?” I ask.

Dave smiles and says: “Sandy definitely has the art bent, but I jumped in like a duck to water. We agree on most things.”

Sandy elaborates: “I started with this totem pole by famous folk artist Tubby Brown. He also did the ‘Four Swimmers’ (bought during a drive to Athens), flanked by the R.A. Miller Life Guard. One of my favorites is this Dalmatian (acquired on Edgewood Avenue in 1980) sitting on his throne drinking a Bud. Our housekeeper, Sherry, just happens to be a master refurbisher. This is one of her redos.

“We enjoy sitting outside in these iron chairs — red, lilac, lemon and blue. I had a client 25 years ago who was an ironworker; I bought these from her house. This is the original paint.”

“We probably have 70-plus pieces out here, including a cow from the Atlanta Cow Parade,” Dave says. “Howard Finster, a preacher (on display at the High Museum) who has designed album covers for rock stars, was one of our inspirations to collect folk art. He was a visionary.”

In deference to this accumulation of large structures, I ask: “What will be your legacy? Where will this vast collection go?”

Sandy says, “My dream is to donate it to a children’s hospital to establish a garden where it can bring the most joy.”

Heleen and Steve Grossman

Photo by Steve Grossman The Grossmans use four areas in their back yard to highlight their sculpture collection.

Photo by Steve Grossman
The Grossmans use four areas in their back yard to highlight their sculpture collection.

A decade ago, Heleen and Steve Grossman began work on their 120-by-60-foot iron sculpture garden. Inspired by the walkways in European gardens such as the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria, and Versailles outside Paris, they designed quadrants in the garden to display their collection of predominantly musical scrap-metal sculptures.

Photo by Marcia Caller Jaffe Heleen and Steve Grossman took inspiration from the world’s great gardens in designing their back yard.

Photo by Marcia Caller Jaffe
Heleen and Steve Grossman took inspiration from the world’s great gardens in designing their back yard.

“We wanted to take the best part of each of the world’s famous gardens for our backyard design,” Heleen says.

Other than the retaining wall, Steve did the work himself, including building the gazebo.

“We have scrap-metal figures playing a violin, trumpet, clarinet and trombone (designed by Kathy Walton), in addition to the frivolity of bunnies and butterflies (some made of PVC tubing). Most of what we have was acquired at regional art shows,” Steve says.

Heleen adds, “We want to support outdoor artists; we believe that metal will last the test of time.”

No stranger to the arts, the Grossmans own Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs. Steve also is on the board of Art Sandy Springs, which promotes art in public places. Within their gallery-size, musically studio-ed house, they host shows throughout the year to support the arts.

Metal, music and art blend and contrast spectacularly amid the brick-red chips, shrubbery and pebbled walkways in the Grossmans’ backyard gallery.

Randy and Jay Cohen

He took three years to research and experiment with multiple strains of grass to determine what to plant in his front yard. Jay Cohen, owner of Sports Performance Gear (SPGGEAR.COM), comes home, kisses his wife, Randy, and heads for his back yard of 8-foot ledges and 18 waterfalls he constructed.

At age 9, Cohen, an Atlanta native, stood on his father’s 2-ton boulder in his back yard and declared his love of gardening. That rock now stands in his own front yard.

Photo by Marcia Caller Jaffe Randy and Jay Cohen have stocked their back yard with sentimental, mostly Asian sculptures.

Photo by Marcia Caller Jaffe
Randy and Jay Cohen have stocked their back yard with sentimental, mostly Asian sculptures.

“It took four months to artfully lay 400 tons of rock and boulders in this back yard. Each boulder weighs around 2,500 pounds and can take up to two hours to place,” Jay says.

The 100-foot-wide, 28-foot-high rock garden has its own ecosystem that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Jay got his elephant ear bulbs, which grow to 10 feet tall, as a gift, and eight koi came from his neighbor. The koi have propagated, resulting in two healthy ponds with over 110 fish. The koi control their own population based on the size of the pond.

“Installation is important, but maintenance is everything,” Jay says. It’s breathtaking to witness the bright-lemon, sunset-orange, gray and bright-white fish swirling about.

Randy says: “We drilled our own well that provides the water. With a total of 18 waterfalls, we are recycling the water using a pumping station that pumps about 11,500 gallons of water an hour.”

She adds: “The elephant ear leaves span 30 inches; every season we dig up the bulbs to store in the garage to replant in the spring. I especially enjoy the family sentimental ornaments we have around the waterfalls and rock garden.

“Jay likes to eat dinner in his back yard, and he works in it about eight to 12 hours on most weekends. He definitely enjoys the journey.”

It’s truly a paradise. They’re in it for the long haul because koi live 50 years.

Photos: Chai-Style Exteriors