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Taking the Long Way Home

A new driveway helps the Manchester house make a great first impression.

If your parents taught you that "first impressions count," then you'll

understand the challenge the McCues used to face when they stood at the end of their driveway. While their house takes full advantage of its spectacular south-facing waterfront site, with views to die for out of most of the rooms, it pays for its glory by presenting its front entry to the colder, darker north. Look at our front Web cam and you'll see how deeply in shade the front façade usually is.

Making this aspect even more forbidding were two other factors: the

house sits on a slight rise, causing it to loom over the arriving visitor; and the driveway itself was a 20-foot-wide expanse of asphalt making a straight shot up the rise and dumping visitors right at the base of the front steps. The overall effect was one of imposing grimness, completely out of step with the sunny, open feeling of the rest of the house and the personalities of the people who live there. There wasn't much to be done about the elevation of the house, but there sure was something possible with the driveway.

Enter landscape architect David Hawk. Like any LA worth his or her salt, David knows that the "entrance experience" is absolutely crucial to any home, and how the driveway approaches the building is an essential element of that experience. He didn't have to convince us that a new driveway might go a very long way to solving the Manchester house's problem — we had learned the lesson firsthand in our Milton project, when we did away with the original, dark parking tray of a driveway and built a graceful, pebbled sweep up through a meadow, completely transforming the property.

In Milton, the decision to change the driveway was ours. In Manchester,

the McCues pay the freight, so David Hawk presented them with two

different ways of tackling the problem.

One option — the cheaper of two — called for narrowing the

existing driveway, enlarging the turning island in front of the house,

and pulling the drive back from the entry steps, so that there would be

at least a small amount of walkway up to the building. Like many cost-saving measures, it was a compromise: the drive would still head straight at the building, making for a less interesting experience.

The option the McCues chose takes advantage of a large swath of grass to the right of the original driveway. Most visitors assumed it belonged to

the neighbors, but it's the McCues'. The new driveway quickly narrows

down to 12 feet and sets out boldly across this lawn, curving away from

the house before arcing lazily back towards the front door, taking in

glimpses of the ocean and, when they're planted, passing a few specimen trees along the way. After this leisurely diversion, the driveway

approaches the house and presents the visitor with another experience: a

beautiful oval car court of 2-foot-square granite pavers ringed with brick. Pulled a good 8 feet back from the front steps, it provides a

sense of arrival and lessens the looming effect of the house. Another

key experience is provided by a dramatically larger turning circle,

filled with a centerpiece 25-foot magnolia surrounded by plants with

year-round interest.

Landscape contractor Roger Cook was charged with pulling off the

changes. He called in an asphalt pulverizer, mounted on the bucket of a front-end loader. In three short hours, it ground up the existing driveway, providing 80 tons of gravel to use as part of the base of the

new drive. He had to call in another 300 tons to fill in the rest of the

excavation — it takes a lot of material to fill a 200-foot-long void dug 2 feet deep to hit the subsoil. An asphalt binder course went in next, at $1 per square foot, followed by a finer finish coat of asphalt, for slightly less. By using the pulverizer, Roger avoided having to tear up the old driveway, ship it out, and bring in all new materials. He also spared us the fumes and expense of a dump truck and loader rented for the minimum 8 hours.

Total cost of new driveway: about $17,000. Planting up the center

island: $8,000. The fancy flourish of the auto court: $15,000. Forty grand is not cheap. But for what some people happily spend on a new car,

the McCues have permanently improved the first impression their house makes. And that counts for a lot.