The Grand Illusion

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By JULIA BENNETT

The soft stream from the fountains and the cool breeze pushing the wind chimes creates a simple summer melody in Sharon and David Berto’s Coeur d’Alene backyard.

Sharon has created what she refers to as “the grand Illusion,” a collection of outdoor summer rooms.

She has been collecting patio furniture and setting up background settings for about a decade. Three years ago, when the couple moved to their current home, the backyard had dried-out yellow grass, a random scattering of boulders and a wooden patio covered with cigarette butts and beer cans. The couple has spent hours gardening, arranging furniture and building structures to curate a harmonious summer scene.

“The lawn here didn’t really exist,” Sharon said. “There were just big nasty clumps of non existing grass with dandelions, dying trees and lilacs. What I have now are all rescue plants.”

Her yard now features 13 room-like setups, including a dining area, tea room, beer garden and even an Arabian room. Sharon spends about two weeks each spring preparing her Garden of Illusion.

David, for his part, follows orders. “She just tells me what to do and then I do all the heavy lifting,” David joked.

Sharon finds many of her treasures in thrift stores. The best time to start shopping for the next season is autumn and winter, David said. His wife like to use vintage American flags, Christmas ornaments and bright fabrics and other material to bring the rooms together.

“If I am lucky, some lady is redecorating and she’s donated these beautiful things to thrift stores,” Sharon said. “And that is where I got lucky: Someone had my taste in colors. The greens, the purples, the whites — and I picked them up from the thrift store.”

Some things, however, had to be bought new. Among the most expensive items the couple has bought are the gazebo frames, which each had a sticker price somewhere between $1,000 ad $2,000. The total outlay for the project exceeds $10,000. The layout and rooms change every season.

Although Idaho’s weather is unpredictable, the garden hasn’t been damaged by any storm. Four of the rooms offer shelter from the elements; the most damage the wind has caused has been a little broken glass.

“I just enjoy being able to show people what I created and share it with others,” Sharon said. “It’s just been amazing but I am slightly worried I’m a hoarder.”

Sharon is a Red Hat Society member and has hosted meetings with more than 40 people in her backyard. She gives tours to friends, neighbors and anyone else who’s interested.

When winter returns, the grand illusion fads. Sharon retreats indoors to plan the next grand illusion. Sometimes she emerges to go bowling with her husband.

“It’s kind of sad during the winter,” Sharon said. “I will be inside, quilting myself stupid.”

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