The Holiday Landscape: Design Details

 

 

Any design – whether it be landscape, garden or holiday design – pertinent to the front door involves much more than the door.  A front door comes with a house, that has a certain shape and size.  That door comes with a stoop or porch.  There is a walkway that gets you to that door.  There is a landscape that accompanies  that walk to the door.  Some doors have a portico, or a roof, or no shelter from the sky whatsoever. Some front doors are on the side of the house. Consideration of all these factors plays a big part in successful holiday design.  This is a house of considerable stature.  The drive court, walkway, and portico are all of a massive scale.  The house is a long way from the street.  Big and bright helps to make a holiday statement in proportion to all of the other existing elements.

The portico is massive, and supported by massive columns.  The door is somewhat dwarfed by the structure over head.  A garland, and integral wreath over the door visually lowers the ceiling.  The is a friendly gesture aimed at creating a more human scale.

The rectangular pots are large, and were designed to fit in between those columns.  A thicket of Cardinal red twig dogwood and berried Michigan holly stems makes a holiday statement that is visible from a long way away. There are but a four elements in these boxes, but there is a generous amount of each. These boxes also make that porch a more private space.   

This pair of front doors are painted a very dark grey.  The porch is wide, and very simple, as is the brick walk.  A pair of Belgian oak boxes are kept company by a pair of antique English chimney pots, and a single concrete French poodle.  The double ball moss topiaries with their twig top knots and vine swirls are 7 years old-they look great with that poodle.  This fall I added a new layer of moss to the old.  As the boxes are so large, I had no worry that the moss balls would be too big, given a new moss layer.  We stuffed mixed greens into the big boxes, and borth green and variegated English boxwood into the chimney pots.  A smaller scale green is a good choice for a smaller container. 

The dark doors asked for a detail that was light, or sparkly, or both.  I glued a pair of vintage gilded angel wings together via a wood plant label.  Short screws through both layers insured the wings would stay together.  A square of foam core board glued to the back was a base for a few layers of magnolia leaves.  A gold metallic bow in the middle speaks to the season.  This detail can be changed after New Years, as the pots will look welcoming all winter long. This detail endows the front door with the greetings of the season.

An asymmetrical placement of a front door asks for an asymmetrical treatment.  A low concrete planter with magnolia and red twig dogwood provides a compact landscape for a trio of nutcrackers.  The magnolia wreath on the front door-a third element providing holiday interest. 

These clients requested a winter theme for their containers.  The pussy willow centerpieces repeat the dark chocolate stain color of the concrete pots.  The curly willow provides a little loosely described volume without interfering to the access to the door.  The decor is very simple and understated, just like the door.  

This front door is part of a large porch which extends across the full width of the house.  The pots on either side of the door are always in shadow, given the roof of the porch.  A pair of pots integrated into the landscape provides an opportunity for winter interest at the half-way point from the sidewalk to the door.  These pots also provide a frame for a stately antique English sundial. This front yard brick terrace is a room of its own.  The stairs are a transition from that public space, to the more private porch space.  The central design issue here was all about making a drastic change of grade from the front yard to the front door seem graceful.

These containers are generously sized, and for good reason.


The house is tall, and a considerable distance from the street. The walkway to the front door originates at the driveway, and is laid parallel and close to the front of the house.  There is a vast amount of lawn between the street, and the front door.  These large pots with large winter arrangements provide a winter outfit for the entire house.

This front door has a small and intimate portico; the holiday garland makes much of this.  A holiday wreath on the glass storm door completes the look.


From the street, an entirely different feeling is at work.  A massive portico covers the front door, and its personal portico.  A pair of Christmas trees set in black ceramic pots make that door seem more important.  The firewood stacked outside and to the left of the front door adds visual interest, and balance, to the treatment of the doorway.  It is important to make much of the front door.  It is the friendliest gesture you might make to your guests.

This recessed front porch features a pair of wreaths hung from the iron fretwork of the pair of front doors.  The white glass ornaments in the wreaths echoes the white light covers on the tuteurs in the boxes.  A trio of coach lights makes this front door, and all that goes with it, seem all of a piece.

This big and rangy contemporary house features a very geometric and formally clipped landscape.  A pair of galvanized pots stuffed with Rob’s signature branches and weeds is a surprising effective foil for all this architecture.  The big idea here?  Study what you have.  Make no plans to cope.  Plan to shine.

The Eagles

 

Some years ago I ran across an extraordinary pair of hand wrought and cast iron armatures resembling birds. I must have come back and looked at them 4 times, before I approached the dealer. He told me he believed they had been eagles, gracing a building in Paris. He went so far as to tell me they had been on the Palais Royale, but had no proof of that provenance. They were obviously very old; the iron was deeply pitted from exposure to the weather and environment. The heads were long gone, as were most of the wought iron feathers.  One patch of feathers, one piece of feathers long detached, and the hand wrought iron legs and talons gave a small indication of what they might been in their prime.  

But the most striking of all that remained were their massive iron armatures.  An armature is the underpinning over which a sculpture is created.  The armature provides strength and support-a framework upon which to build the final piece.  These old armatures-visually arresting.  Emotionally arresting.  I kept coming back. Buck encouraged me to speak for them.      

 

I visited them many times over the course of 3 days.  Buying them could not be undertaken lightly.  It would require a considerable investment.  No doubt they were like nothing I had ever seen.  In the end, I gave in and bought them, as they were like nothing I had ever felt.  It is entirely possible that I would not have responded as strongly to the sculptures in their prime as strongly as I did to the aged and deteriorated version.  They had a very powerful presence, though I could see through them.  With almost every shred of ornament stripped or worn away, they were still incredibly beautiful.  There was ample evidence of the hand of the artist.  They were of imposing scale.  I never tired of looking at them.   

I did at one point have a client with a serious interest.  Buck made a pair of painted plywood pedestals, so we could display them in the air.  She decided against them.  I had not a worry in the world about this.  I had fallen for them hard.  I liked having them around, every day.  They might be the most beautiful garden ornament it has ever been my pleasure to own.  This is my personal opinion.  People respond to art in very different, and very individual ways.  I could never buy art for a client, nor would I ask someone to buy art for me.  I cannot really explain why this ghostly pair of birds wrapped their talons around my heart-but they did. 

Why this story now?  A designer from New York, who looked at them at the same show where I bought them years ago, called last week to inquire if I still owned them.  He had a client with a garden whom he thought would appreciate them.  I was surprised that he had taken note of where they had gone.  He responded much like I would have.  There are those garden ornaments that make an indelible impression.  He had not forgotten them.   

His client decided to purchase them from me.  Several days ago Steve and his crew loaded them into our box truck for a trip to Branch.  Buck will crate them for shipping to a garden in St. Louis.  I was surprised at how very reluctant I was to let them go.  More than once I thought about bringing them home, but my garden is not right for a pair of sculptures such as these.   Yet I could have lived with them all of my life, and been challenged, intrigued, engaged, and awed every time I looked at them.  This is what art does for people.   

 

I have had other perfect moments with art.  Some of those pieces I own, and look at every day.  I could say these remains of a pair of eagles are everything I ever wanted in a garden sculpture.  But in fact they are a creation of the hand of an unknown artist from better than 200 years ago that I will have a hard time living without.

I am a dealer in  garden antiques.  This means I am committed to offering my clients the best there is, given my best judgment and experience.  But I will admit there are those days when I wish I were just a private collector.  Lacking that, I would wish that I had a certain client, and a certain project that would have asked for this pair.  Lacking that, it has been my pleasure to own them for a while.  This is enough, albeit barely enough.   I feel quite sure they are going to an extraordinary garden.  Godspeed, beloved birds.

At A Glance: December 16, 7am

Steve and I both get here before daylight, so we can talk about the work for the day. This morning was no exception. That red coat of his looked great.  I was out photographing our holiday decor, now that everything is finished.  Rob is a little tired of me telling him how much I am enjoying this, but you may not be able to drop by before 7am, or after 6pm.   These pictures provide a taste of how it looks.  

The lights at night provide wholly different visual experience than the daytime view.  It will be a good while before I tire of coming to work to this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Howard and Milo are barely visible in the doorway-I feel quite sure they like this time of year too.

 

The Hats

The last of the holiday celebration in front of the shop had to do with what Rob calls the hats over the windows.  They actually seem more like eyebrows to me.  Last year we hung burlap drapes over them.  Given our dead meadow weeds holiday theme, I thought a weedy hat might add a certain finish to the project.  They took just about forever to make.  Glueing one weed at a time takes time. After finishing the first, I spent two weeks vacillating about whether to abandon this part altogether.  It sat on a table in the back since before Thanksgiving, enduring many rainy and some snowy days.  The matted mess miraculously regained its volumetric shape, once it dried out, but really it was Jenny that persuaded me to keep going.  After they were wired onto the metal hats, I was glad I persisted.  

I added the metal rectangles and shutters to the windows many years ago.  Factory windows do not come with much in the way of architectural interest.  They warm up this old machine shop considerably.  I wired most of the dry elegant feather grass from the roof to three large bamboo poles.  I glued everything into that dried grass I could get my hands on-kitchen sink style. 

Dry anemones and hydrangeas from my yard, dry chicory, boltonia, Queen Anne’s Lace, thistle seed heads-and a whole lot more dry plant stems I cannot identify became part of these three eyebrows.  I have no idea how long all of this will last-I have never done anything like it before.  Sticks, and dry perennial plant stems-that is all there is to this.

I am happy to have something warm and reminiscent of the garden to look at, in December.