Alex Deringer is co-owner of interior design company 2 Ivy Lane, so she knows how to make a house a beautiful home. But when it came to designing the 2-acre property surrounding her farmhouse estate in the city of Alexandria, Deringer went to landscape architect Susanne Fyffe, of Fyffe Landscape Architecture.

Fyffe took the once steep, unevenly sloped yard and turned it into a family retreat, with rooms as functional and elegant as Deringer was creating inside the home.

Deringer and her husband purchased the property with plans to renovate the house and the grounds. The house, built in 1912, had undergone several disjointed additions.

"It was a mess," Deringer said. "When we gutted the house, we found horse hair and newspaper that had been used for insulation in the walls."

2 Ivy Lane
Fyffe Landscape Architecture

With the interior remodeling underway, Deringer went to work developing designs that included incorporating the outdoors into the overall plan. Although she often selects fabric and furniture for patios and porches, she felt out of her element with a property this size.

"It was the first time I'd really done something this expansive on the landscape side of things," she said. "Patio layouts and furniture layouts in outdoor spaces, I do that quite a bit in my job. But things aren't usually living."

The project meant working around fixed elements, such as a tennis court and a large swimming pool. The Deringers, who have three children, wanted the space equipped for entertaining, family gatherings and youth activities. More than anything, they wanted a seamless transition in mood and aesthetic from the interior to outdoor spaces, reflecting Deringer's "casual elegance" approach to design.

An obstacle at first, the uneven grading of the property presented an opportunity, Fyffe said. "Through raised areas you can create rooms -- like the fireplace area -- with their own special feel."

In all, the project included an outdoor kitchen, dining room, family room around the outdoor fireplace and an entertainment terrace.

Deringer left the plant selection to Fyffe. "My only condition to her was to please make them something that require little TLC," Deringer said. "Because I won't spend the time, nor do I have the knowledge to care for them."

Blooms from a fringe tree and Japanese pagoda are visible from the interior dining room. A Japanese zelkova shades the outdoor dining space. The kitchen window captures a view of a flowering dogwood, while a crepe myrtle shades granite cobble steps that lead to a play terrace.

Patches of grass grow between cobblestone steps and pavers, to break up the vast hardscape and to soften the look, Fyffe said. An elaborate drainage system was installed that keeps a soccer field dry and the neighbors happy when it rains.

"The entire property drains into a dry stream swale," Fyffe said. "We took all the down spouts from the house, and they run through a drainage system under the soccer field to a dry stream. When it does rain, it runs into a gully and not in the neighbor's yard."

Although Deringer considers the outdoors a three-season retreat, she enjoys the lovely landscape year-round, including the view from her bedroom balcony that overlooks the playing field.

"You forget you're in an urban area," Deringer said. "It's not just a big vast area. Each little nook has its own identity. The scale is nice. There are wide-open spaces, but it doesn't feel overwhelming."