Friday, November 30, 2012

Pillow Talk

A few months ago we were commissioned by the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts for a fun and unusual project.  Referencing the large scale graphics that we produce for residential and commercial use, we were asked to create pillows referencing some of the art in their collection, which would then be sold in their gift shop.

A high resolution image was taken of the art pieces, which we then cropped into a size that would create an interesting pillow.  Many hours ensued of color adjusting and print sampling in order for the images to gain approval from the museum's archival department.

We're proud of the results! Here are a few shots of the finished pieces.

This is probably my favorite painting in the museum's collection!

Another beautiful painting....this is only a small detail of the original.

The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is really a jewel in its own right!  Their collection is varied, and the museum is on a scale that I personally find perfect...not so large that it's overwhelming to the senses, but large enough to captivate the mind for as long as you might wish.  The setting is beautiful, and the gift shop is as charming--and as carefully curated--as the museum itself, by the shop's manager, Audrey Ranon.  Take the time to visit the museum, and be sure to check out the gift shop...and pick up a cool pillow.  They will only be produced in a small quantity, and we expect them to go fast!  A perfect Christmas gift!

Friday, November 16, 2012

13 and Counting

In June of this year, we were commissioned to design a new home for a client who had just purchased a lot on the water.  Custom home design is a very complicated process, beginning with multiple discussions to determine the clients' needs and wishes.  But it's also an excellent way to get exactly what you want in your home!

Wait, did I mention it's a complicated process?  Oh yes, I think I did.

We are currently on our thirteenth version of this home plan, and not quite there yet.  When plans go from a "concept in your mind" to paper, compromises have to be made along the way to make sure everything fits properly, the rooms communicate well together, and you get all the spaces you need and want.  Sometimes what seems like it ought to work just doesn't when you view it drawn to-scale!

As you can see from this photograph of the plan for the first floor, it is a fairly large home, with a full second story and semi-attached garage.  Many changes happened along the way such as moving the staircase, enlarging the master bedroom, downsizing the kitchen, deepening the back porch, changing the window configuration and placement, changing the garage from two story with bonus apartment to single story with no apartment...and now to story-and-a-half...  And like any puzzle, changing one piece in any area will have a ripple effect that may require changes to the entire floor plan.  Then, once the floor plans have been approved, the exterior shell is drawn, revised and re-drawn.

It's a complicated process, but a fun one!  It requires a good deal of patience from the designer and the client, but knowing in the end that you've given someone the home of their dreams is a reward that's worth the effort!  And after this, imagine how simple it will seem to be to design a simple home addition...well, maybe not all that simple...  But then, the easy stuff is never much fun!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Clean It Up, Put It Away

Earlier this year we looked at a small interior project we were working on.  The clients had asked for help with a fireplace wall, and it pretty much turned into a complete living room redo, including new paint, rug, furniture, art and lighting.

Well, once completed we moved right into the adjoining dining room.  The living room and dining room basically become one room, so it was an easy transition to the new space.  The family does a lot of entertaining, and didn't have ample room to store what they in effect the dining room was doubling as a bar/refreshment area.  (I knew I liked these people right off!)  But unfortunately, neither function was working very efficiently.

The smallish room was cluttered with small tables and surfaces that were too easy to be used as receptacles for all kinds of things that could be stored away to relieve the visual confusion.  And the art--much of which has family significance--was in need of a little editing and more appropriate placement.

We started with a simple design for a large built-in wall unit for storage of glassware and decorative serving pieces.  Underneath are deep cabinets for storing liquor and larger serving trays and china that is rarely used.  We designed the cabinet to accommodate their hanging glass rack so that this piece could be re-used.

 The room was repainted in a shade just slightly lighter than the adjoining living room, since it has no windows for natural light.

We then began replacing the art and grouping it in ways that hopefully bring it greater attention.

Also, the wine cooler and adjacent cabinet were topped with the same marble that was used for the counter top on the new built-in unit.  The room is too small to mix too many colors, surfaces or textures.  This marble was also used on the mantle for the living room fireplace!

Once again, these are fairly simple changes that bring a great deal of order--and pleasure--to daily life.  Time and money very well spent!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Plant Choices

Last week, we looked at a new landscape design project we're undertaking that has some unusual features.  The property backs up to a very natural Florida semi-wetland area, and our landscaping needs to tie into this as well as offering some screening and dressing the area up.  Our goal is to make the installed landscape look like a somewhat "tamed" version of what it adjoins.

There are many factors that go into choosing specific plants for a landscape design, such as color, texture, size, ideal sun exposure and growth rates.  And with current undeniable changes in the environment, any more, none of these are more important than water needs.  Though we've had a couple of good years for rain in Central Florida, we could just as likely be in a drought situation next year.

Since most of the areas we're planting at this site won't have irrigation, drought tolerant plant varieties are important.  When in doubt about what will work best, a close look at native plantings is a great solution.  You can be pretty much assured that any plant that has evolved to survive in the wild in your area will make a good addition to your landscape, and hold up under most circumstances.  Here are some of the varieties we chose for this project.

Florida Gama Grass, Tripsacum floridana.  Grasses are always a welcome plant choice for their texture.  Their movement in breezes brings a lot of interest to a garden planting.

Purple Lovegrass, Eragrostis spectabilis.  Another wonderful grass, this time with a color all it's own.

Weeping Lantana, Lantana depressa.  Available in sever colors, this plant makes a great ground cover, and is very forgiving of almost any environmental issue!

Simpson's Stopper, (Twinberry), Myrcianthes fragrans.  This plant can grow up to 30' height and 15-20' wide.  They will make a great backdrop for the garden, and help to add a natural screening from the adjoining neighbor's yard.
Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia.  Beautiful bright green, oak-shaped foliage, and clusters of pink or white flowers.  What more could you ask for?!

Firecracker Plant, Russelia sarmentosa.  This is the only non-native plant we've specified for this installation, but it has a medium drought-tolerance, and it attracts bees, butterflies and birds.  I love the texture, and color!

Coontie, (Florida Arrowroot), Zamia floridana.  The deep green color and texture will ground the other plantings.  This plant is Florida's only native cycad.
Researching your plants carefully can make a big difference in their success in your garden.  Find out what will work best in your soil and light situation, and always take water needs into consideration for buying!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Solutions 102

Last week we took a look at a challenging landscaping project we're currently working on.  This week, we'll see some of the solutions that will be incorporated in the final design.

The site is a property that backs up to a preserve area of boggy, natural Florida plants and wildlife.  The area on three sides of the house has been tamed into a manicured landscape, and the back is natural.  Here are some of the ideas.

This area will be cleaned up and organized by building a pergola and potting bench.  This will offer the homeowners a clean work space, and a modicum of shelter and shade.  In order to avoid building complications, it will nestle into the space, but not be attached to the house.  There will be a paved path leading from this to the new patio outside the rear door.
The next space considered is the area where you exit the pool cage.

This is where water erosion is a major issue.  The area will become a step-out patio, with a pergola/trellis structure on the adjoining property side to provide some privacy from the neighbors. 
Stepping off  this new patio area, there will be a series of what I call "bubble steps" leading down the grade to the lower ground.  Planting beds will be interspersed into the steps to help create an overall organic shape that fits naturally into the existing landscape.  These steps and planters will be created using stacking paver blocks, which you can see from the elevation drawing of the steps and pergola, looking back towards the house. At the bottom of the steps, there is a seating deck with fire pit.
This plan shows how the pergolas and hardscape fit into the site.

And the next drawing shows the planting plan, and the system that will be incorporated underneath the new hardscape elements to carry the rain water down the slope properly.

The plantings will consist of Florida natives and Florida Friendly varieties.  Next week we'll look at these selections and talk more about why they were chosen.  Questions or thoughts?  Don't hesitate to ask!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Problems 101

Sometimes the main design goal of a project is just to make things pretty...and other times it's a two-fold process of solving real problems, then making things pretty!  We were recently hired for a project of just this nature.  And I do mean "nature".

Our new client lives in a beautiful home that backs up to a natural wetland preserve.  The house is built onto ground that was raised about 6 feet above the wetland floor, and the yard is sloped into the wetland on the back and side.  In one area, the yard almost literally "falls off" into the preserve.

In addition, there are major drainage problems because of water-shed from the roof of the house.  These issues--combined with the need to clean up a potting area and create an outdoor patio space--became a significant and exciting challenge.  Here are some photos showing what the property looks like now.
This area is tucked in to the side of the house, and is a natural space for plant potting and maintenance.  But it's easy for an area like this to become cluttered.

This side yard retains a lot of water during wet weather.  Drainage needs to be resolved.  And, since this is where a new patio will go, the pool equipment could use some camouflaging!

Because three different roof lines meet at this corner, a huge amount of water pours down and is slowly eroding the soil away from this step-out area from the lanai. 

The Florida wetland immediately behind the pool cage is beautiful, and filled with wildlife!

As beautiful as it is, it does get a little swampy!

The challenge here was to find solutions that would both resolve the problems, and still fit well into the surrounding landscape.  Though still on paper, next week we'll take a look at what we've come up with.  You'll see something very different from the simple elegance of our most recent outdoor project!

Friday, October 12, 2012

All About Why

In our final posting on this project, I wanted to look at some of the details that went into it and explain the reasons why I made these choices.

The client requested an elegant, Newport look for the pool and landscaping.  Unfortunately, most of the beautiful plants that will grow in Rhode Island wouldn't last one season in Florida!  So finding plant varieties that give a similar feel was the goal.  I tend to favor "green garden" designs (not a lot of flowering plants), so this concept was exciting to me!
The client wanted black planters.  Love these!  They are vinyl, with a well-designed self-watering system.  The black adds a lot of elegance, and opened the door for other design elements.  A mixture of tall and short plants, with some annuals, and a small nod to color by using 2 varieties of coleus.
The plant beds outside the pool decking were filled with a low growing juniper that will become the ground cover, podocarpus that will be trained as a hedge in the background, and variegated liriope to add a different texture and add a little "sunshine" into the green selections.

Podocarpus were also used along the fence line.  These will be trained as tall, thin hedges to separate the pool area from the driveway, and add privacy.

On this side of the pool, white crepe myrtle were selected for height and summer color.  White is always an elegant choice for a garden, and in fact, the only flower color that will show up in the dark!  The trunks of the crepe myrtle also add a lot of visual interest to the plant beds.

To flank the fireplace and trellis backing up the jacuzzi, I selected Juniper chinensis for the deep green color and soft, cedar feel.  In front of these we used a low, standard gardenia (the client's favorite!) to continue the white flowers, and completed the bed with the low juniper and variegated liriope as elsewhere.

Two espaliered Magnolia "Little Gem" plants will be trained to cover the trellis.
A full-skirted magnolia repeats the theme, and adds a dark, glossy foliage to this corner.  It will also hide the odd transition between fences!

One of the Magnolias graced us with a bloom right after planting!

Confederate jasmine will be carefully trained to follow the lines of this trellis, and the low juniper continue as ground cover.

The light columns were painted black to match the fence, trellis and planters.  After reviewing thousands of choices (literally!), this fixture was selected for its color, scale, overall design, and the fact that it had frosted glass as the shade.  It has a built-in LED light, and should last forever!
The fact that the planting spaces were small left no room for arbitrary choices here.  When grown in, this garden should give a full, soft, (and softly lit), surrounding to the hard surfaces of the pool and the fireplace.