Harmony Inside & Out

Homeowners Mary and Dan Tramelli designed their Richmond Heights garden as an extension of their home's exterior.

By Lucyann Boston
Photography by Kim Dillon


If it weren't for the patch of blue overhead, you might not realize you were sitting in Mary Tramelli’s garden and not her home. Colors, textures and ambience flow so perfectly from the inside to the outside, it’s hard to tell the difference.

It was the stucco walls, tile roof and Mediterranean feeling of the residence that drew Mary and her husband, Dan, to their Richmond Heights home 30 years ago.  Through the years they’ve added on and raised three sons within the walls, all the while keeping the rustic, Italian ambience of the home intact.

As the house has taken shape, so has the garden, changing form when the couple transformed the garage into a family room, and morphing again when they recently scaled down yard space to enlarge the kitchen. While the garden is not large, Mary’s eye as an interior designer (Call Mary is her company name) has focused so well on making both the house and garden compatible, both spaces seem bigger than they are.

Terrazzo floors indoors blend with blue stone floors outdoors. Warm wood and earth tones of the interior furnishings are picked up in the colors and accents of the outdoor furniture. Multiple windows and sets of exterior doors both in the family room and breakfast room make moving from indoors to outdoors inviting and effortless. What’s more, the containers that add pops of floral color outdoors are the exact colors she uses for bursts of color inside her home.

The transition from indoors to out works so well, that “when we need extra seating in the garden, we just move these chairs outside,” Mary notes, holding up a breakfast room chair, covered in a leafy print. “The outdoors is just another room.”

Mary’s love of gardening began in childhood, working with her father, Jack Erker, who was an avid gardener. “I grew up in a family with seven kids,” she explains. “My mother had seven of us to deal with; she didn’t want to take on the yard work too. But I loved being with my Dad in the garden. He inspired me.”

Mary also was not without inspiration from her mother, Grace. “Both my parents had an artistic flair,” she notes. “My mother originally wanted to be a dress designer. She was a wonderful seamstress and made all our curtains and drapes. She and my dad could reupholster anything. When I started my interior design business, she made all the curtains and drapes for me.”

Mary’s philosophy of interior design and garden design are much the same.  “I don’t have an individual style as an interior designer,” she explains. “I like to talk with clients and learn about their lifestyle and what they enjoy. Houses should be a reflection of the people who live in them.”

“Then, I try to help people take that lifestyle and extend it outside the home; some people like to entertain more formally; others love barbecues,” she continues. All-weather fabrics for outdoor furniture and cushions have been a tremendous boon to the creation of outdoor rooms, she adds. Both indoors and outdoors, “I like to keep the larger pieces of furniture neutral and add color through decorative accents.”

Mary carries the color palette of her own home, neutrals accented with bright earth tones, out to the patio through the use of orange throw pillows and chair cushions and orange impatiens and salmon Dragon Wing begonias in containers and window boxes. “I love pink; if I have a granddaughter I’m going to buy her pink everything, but if I tried to put a lot of pink in my garden, it would look awful,” she explains.

In the landscaping that frames her outdoor room, Mary concentrates on a palette in varying shades and textures of green occasionally accented with blue and purple. Lacy, evergreen arborvitae work as a backdrop for much of the property, and evergreen boxwood and laurels keep the garden interesting in winter. Estimating that 95 percent of her garden is perennials and mostly in shade, she blends hostas, Japanese maples, heuchera, ferns and grasses for textural interest. In early summer, a thread of bright blue/purple campanula runs the length of the landscape, adding to the seasonal interest.

The rocks that were part of the garden when the Tramellis purchased the home have found their way into walls and a waterfall. “They were all here when we bought the house, but I don’t think any of them are in the same place,” she says, laughing. Charming statues and urns, many of which were part of her father’s garden, dot the landscape and break up the expanses of green.

She loves working in her garden, Mary reflects, because of the sense of peace it gives her. “Plants don’t talk back to you, and you have something to show for your hard work. If you clean the house, it just gets dirty again. If you clean up your garden, you see more flowers. I like to get up really, really early to work in the garden. I’m always sad when I have to go in.” 

Designer: Mary Tramelli, Call Mary, 314-602-8218