|Garden Loggia. Design by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach. Construction by Eric Condon & Co.|
Last year I was asked to do what was, for me, a most unusual project: A Garden. Unusual because today's building professions have become increasingly specialized, to the point that an architect, a landscape architect, urban planner, and an interior designer would never dream of crossing into "foreign territory".
This was not always the case. Many of the buildings and places we admire were created by people who, in the best Vitruvian manner, had a thorough understanding of not just their profession but all the other arts. This is how we find Robert Adam building not only the great English country houses, but even designing the furniture that would fill their halls. The great Gian Lorenzo Bernini planning new piazze and streets in Rome, and then filling them with his own buildings. And also in Italy we find Pirro Ligorio at the Villa D'Este, laying out the buildings and the gardens, with its host of singing fountains and statues.
It was with these (lofty) thoughts in mind, and the unbridled excitement of finally fulfilling my wish to follow in the footsteps of (ehemm) Ligorio, and Giulio Romano (lofty thoughts indeed!) that I took my humble degree in Architecture and set out to design a garden, with a pool, a pergola, paths, gates, fences, and some (shall we call them?) terraces.
When I was in school my professors would always ask two questions: "How does the building meet the ground? How does the building meet the sky?". That kind of thinking prepared me, for this little project. The family wanted privacy first, but they didn't want to feel trapped in a fortress; so I devised a series of fences with trellis on the top - for transparency -, which were built on site by Eric Condon & Co. (along with everything else). The garden is now truly secret and private, and can only be accessed from inside the house or from two paths (above) that are sealed with gates:
Once inside, the focus becomes the centenary Oak tree in the center of the property. I connected one extreme of the garden with the other with curved paths, paved with slate, to emphasize the symmetry of the pool, and also mimicking the curve of the canopy of the oak.
As you can see, next to the curved path there is a structure. The family initially wanted a simple wood pergola, for the dual purpose of dining and adorning what originally was just a blank wall covered in vines; but the amount of sun and heat the garden receives during a Houston spring and summer soon made them change their mind. We instead decided to build a Loggia with a copper roof, and introduce some formality to the space. The portion that "meets the ground" is very classical; the columns, pilasters, and architrave were even painted white to relate to the house; but for the portion that "meets the sky" I took a more vernacular approach, and instead of a frieze and cornice, I designed a rustic system of rafters and purlins, and stained them dark to communicate with the branches of the Oak.
We painted the ceiling of the Loggia in a very pale blue, which not only matches the existing porches in the house, but is also a very traditional color used in porches all throughout Houston. And old-wives tale says that mosquitoes don't like the color. The ceiling was also outfitted with antique french lanterns, and the ever present fan to ward off the 90+ heat.
Anchoring the garden, and opposite the oak, is the pool. The pool has a simple, formal, rectangular shape, which compliments the style of the house. We paved it also in slate, framed it with fossil-encrusted limestone, and used glass mosaics for the water line. The back of the pool is perhaps the most formal element in the whole garden, with the mouldings and panels carved in limestone and the decorative jets that sprout water into the pool. I wanted this wall to be a juxtaposition to the bucolic nature of the Oak tree right across it, and the romance of the nature behind it, while at the same time a direct "conversation" with the formality of the interior of the house.
There is a path behind the pool wall (framed by hedges) that connects directly to one of the gates; this was a special request from the parents, so that children of the family and their guests could come in directly from the outside, climb the wall, and jump in the pool.
When I think about this garden, I think of it as one large outdoor room. The family entertains not only under the Loggia but also on the Pool Terrace and under the Oak. The fences, the pool and its wall, the hedges...everything contributes to the feeling of enclosure, intimacy, and space; the garden and its elements embracing us and embracing the ground; the roofs and the branches meeting the sky.
All work is the intellectual property of Nadia Palacios Lauterbach.
All images by Userofreality Photography.