It was 28 degrees when I drove to work this morning-chilly.  The frost was unmistakable.  Chilly and frosty can apply to other things besides the weather.  Modern architecture can be a testament to everything nature is not-spare to the point of bare, intellectual, rigorously geometric-sometimes chilly.  One client with a modern house observed that it takes a certain kind of person to be able cheerfully set up camp in a sculpture. Thw landscape attending this modern house had gotten a little out of control; the repeating weeping birch were depressingly uneventful.  The untrimmed ivy diluted the impact of the multiple walls and changes of level that intended to make the landscape a compelling extension of the house.

Trimming the ivy made a huge improvement.  This property has little flat ground; Irving Tobocman designed a house for this site that occupies most of the existing level ground.  Those of you who live in my area know the work of Irving Tobocman.  His passion and gift for architecture is a legend well deserved.  My first contact with him was almost 25 years ago-I witnessed him mopping the floor with a fellow landscape designer who dared to insert his own landscape ideas between Irv and his final realization of a project. Suffice it to say it still remember the encounter. But this day that this ivy got pruned up-a happy day for me.  Those massive retaining walls were visually representing what he intended-an interesting conversation about natural and man made spaces .

My clients own a home designed by Irv in the 70’s-it is breathtaking.  Forgive my lame description, but the structure is low, very large and imposing, spot on simple, and modern.  The exterior hard surfaces fan out from the house; they are visually influential in size and scope.  The interior spaces soar and speak-they inspire awe.  I am sure he had a hand in every material and move from the brick cladding to the kitchen layout to the light switch covers. My observation?  Those clients who take on and choose to live in a house drenched in this kind of passionate creativity-they are game, and confident people.

My clients engaged Mr. Tobocman to consult and update when they bought the house-knowing they were asking for a cyclone, a firestorm, and a substantial outpouring of opinion.  They obviously weathered all of this with him-to good end.  But almost every outdoor surface is paved over; the massive front doors are inset, and part of a porch which is really a terrace.  Nothing green intrudes on this view.

I thought this space would benefit from a warm-up; we are trying out a pair of contemporary Belgian teak boxes.  The wood is a good look with the doors, and warmly contrasts with all of the brick.  Planters low enough not to obstruct those astonishingly large windows, but large enough to permit a personal expression-a great mix. The skylight in the roof washed the front door area with light; there will be no problem getting something to grow here.

The three large brick boxes topped in baltic ivy are very stark.  What could be done here that would better enhance the impact of the architecture?

The vertical faces of the walls had aged in a not so attractive way, but the top surfaces of all of these walls are perfect. Facing two of the brick boxes down with boxwood changes the relationship of the mass of the house to the property in a good way. The house seems a little more gracefully integrated into the landscape.

The front door terrace can be accessed by staircases from both the east and west side of the brick box that abuts the driveway.  A collection of contemporary stoneware planters can be arranged in a number of different ways.  My circular arrangement strongly contrasts with the dominant rectilinear shapes.

These pots could be planted, or not.  They could be planted such that the top soil surface would be well below the rim of the pots.  The planting would only be visible at close range. They could be planted all the same, or all different.  The pots could be rearranged to suit a season or occasion.

We scraped off all of the weedy grass in this small space, in preparation for quietly sculpting the lawn plane.  The soil was low; the ground usually soggy. A carefully graded green plane would set off this beautiful view of the house.

I think once the boxwood grows enough to be pruned level,  the landscape will have a deliberately tailored, but warmer look.


  1. What a perfect spot for those hugging pots!

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