Designing outdoor spaces

Recycled horns make music again as waterworks fountains by artist Douglas Walker.

When I am developing a room design, there is usually a simple idea or theme that sparks my imagination and starts the process. Facing a blank slate is the most difficult challenge of all; with nothing to guide us and a world of colors and patterns and furnishing styles and accessories from which to choose, the task can be paralyzing. Fortunately there are always one or two clues that narrow down the possibilities. It could be an awkward layout or a wall of windows, an oversized chair or a pair of antique lamps ... each situation shapes what can be done. It is sometimes the most difficult spaces that lead us to an a-ha moment and a great finale.

Our personal outdoor spaces are no different. I have an acquaintance who is blessed with a huge backyard, perfect for her busy young family. There it sat, a mishmash of overgrown gardens, weedy grass and little else. “I've absolutely no interest at all in mowing and planting; I've a black thumb. The kids can do what they like out there,” she said. But it could be so much more, and I nudged her enough that she sought some professional advice and now has a backyard that is a combination of reading room, relaxation pit, play space and entertainment center, beautified by container gardens that have little upkeep, a wood and stone patio and a grassy play area for the kids. OK, to be honest, that acquaintance is me.

But something was missing. I did some research into water features and discovered a most exceptional artist, Douglas Walker, who creates fountains from musical instruments. I just stared at the photographs. In one, called “Triple Threat,” a trio of saxophones, some copper pipe, a collection of long legged birds and a pair of glass flowers are woven together and spout water in a quiet pool. In “Honkfest,” shown here, it's fascinating to see how many bits of horns you can find, from trombone slides to tubas. Each sculpture is one of a kind, fused from recycled copper, brass, silver and glass. The musical instruments are recycled mostly from the school system. Instruments have a shelf life — when it becomes too costly to repair them, they are sold as scrap ... or in Walker's case, artists' supplies.

Garden art adds a whole new dimension to outdoor spaces. “You don't want to take away from the garden, but enhance the experience with an element of surprise that holds audio and visual interest,” says Walker. As well as fountains, he creates bird feeders, birdbaths and garden gates. Half of his business is commissioned, and he ships all over the world (

Walker loves a challenge, and is always expanding his repertoire of eclectic pieces. Wanting to make items that people could use indoors, he has crafted bed headboards, and now lamps. His mellophone lamp, a recycled horn topped with an old swag lampshade, shows how versatile you can be when you mix talent with a sense of discovery and humor. This artist wants to make the world happy with his sculptures, and I can guarantee that any garden or home that plays host to one of Walker's musical sculptures will be a joyous place.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email questions to You can follow Travis on Twitter at and visit her new website,