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The Modern Estate
A Good Match
by Kathryn Herman

A landscape designer or architect can turn your house and its surroundings into a harmonious whole, making it more pleasing to the eye and more valuable as well

Landscape_Spring_07.jpgConsonance: a stately word for a lovely idea—harmony, a balanced interrelationship, agreement, accord. In landscape design, “consonance” refers to the combining of forms, textures, and colors in order to pull a house and its surrounding landscape into a harmonious whole. Landscape designers pay attention to these compositional elements—as well as lines, points, light, shadow, voids, and solids—to create a design that will develop agreement between a house and its setting.

Making sure that the surroundings of a house add to its appeal seems like a simple objective—yet too many properties fail to achieve it. That is often because it is so hard to find a beautiful building site these days: Properties are subdivided so frequently that a house’s location is more often dictated by zoning rules (setback requirements, for instance) than by where the choice spot is. Or perhaps an older house lacks consonance because its landscape has suffered years of neglect, with trees and shrubs overgrowing their boundaries and losing their sense of purpose.

There’s a remedy! By organizing and reordering your outdoor spaces—lawn, trees, gardens, walkways—a landscape designer or architect can make them fit well with the style of your home, making your estate not only more pleasing to the eye but more valuable as well. A well-crafted garden is one that respects the architecture of the house and plays to its stylistic theme. A home with a strong symmetrical façade will do well with formal gardens, while a rambling, asymmetrical house is better served by gardens that are less formal.

How best to connect the house and garden? There are two ways. One is through the use of visual ties, “linking” the house and garden by directing the gaze of residents in the house to a particular spot outdoors. The other way to achieve consonance is through the creation of “physical ties” between house and garden that are sensed as you journey through the garden. The two experiences are intrinsically linked. The visual tie stimulates thinking and encourages exploration, while the physical tie envelopes you in movement and creates the drama of spaces unfolding as they are journeyed through.

To visually unite the interior of a home with its garden, your landscape designer will create clear sightlines from inside the house to a focal point somewhere outdoors. The goal: to direct the viewer’s eye out to a delightful spot on the landscape—to make sure the gaze falls upon something pleasing in the garden, not something offensive on a neighbor’s property. To achieve this, the designer may create a long axial perspective, perhaps starting inside a room, running through a set of French doors, out along a pathway, and terminating at a garden ornament. Having the garden dramatically illuminated at night will provide instant interest and command attention. This visual linking silently signals a sense of purpose and thoughtfulness: Someone conceived the layout; time, thought, and discernment obviously went into the design. The most intriguing things in life are those that are rich in detail.

Physical links are those that are experienced in the outdoor setting, such as passing through an allée of trees or aligned shrubs, or walking into a garden room that is enclosed by hedges or a stone wall. You experience a sense of boundary and territory. These allées and hedges mimic the home’s structural elements, such as hallways and walls. The house is “brought out into the garden,” and this creates the notion of integration between landscape and building.

A house in harmony with its surroundings usually boasts a great garden—a dynamic garden that changes throughout the season and matures with time. A well-designed garden creates a series of changing experiences for the visitor, including tension (going from a small, enclosed space to a large, open lawn) and moods (moving from a dark, wooded area to a sunny clearing). Sound (rustling leaves, moving water), scent from fragrant shrubs, the touch of a soft, velvety perennial—these elements all enhance the sensual experience.

There are many ways to add this sense of purpose to a landscape. Enclosed spaces, such as a hedged garden room, will actually make a landscape feel larger. Focal points like urns or statuary draw visitors through space and add a sense of destination. And there should be interplay between the house and the garden. Outdoor entertaining spaces should be offered just off the house, and pathways should lead back to the doorways of the home. A circular opening in a hedge that frames the view of the house while the guest looks back at it from the garden will augment the connection.

These design techniques can help unite the interior of the home and the landscape, making your property feel more refined and complete. TME

Kathryn Herman is a landscape designer at James Doyle Design Associates, in Greenwich, Connecticut. She is a member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America. 203.869.2900;
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