The Secret Garden

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. 
Garden Gate

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:
Garden Wall and Gate

 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. 
Loggia Ceiling Detail  
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.
Garden View

 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.
Pool and Loggia
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.
Garden Loggia Detail

All work is the intellectual property of Nadia Palacios Lauterbach. 



Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

As garden designers ourselves over 25 years we have found this post of particular interest. For ourselves, we have always favoured, and ultimately designed, formal gardens where a circle, a square, after all, with the corners taken off, was as far as we were prepared to go down the road of informality.

However, what you have achieved here is the most splendid of outdoor rooms and where the narrative of the garden relates to, and is linked with, the central tree which, if we understand correctly, became your starting point. Your use of quality materials enhances the space, as does your treatment of the roof of the loggia which is most attractive and which, of course, relates to the dominant theme.

If we were the owners of this garden, then we should be absolutely delighted with the finished result - a lesson in imaginative design, flair and originality meeting practicality. Thank you so much for showing it to us.

Dear Polia said...

Jane and Lance:
Thank you very much for your kind words! I really appreciate your comments, especially coming from a practioner of your experience and knowledge.

Jackie Ostrowski said...

Beautiful photos, Nadia! Your choice of materials really complements the natural beauty of the outdoor space. I especially like the pale blue ceiling -- and the inviting swing.

Thanks to your decisions, the entire area is serene and composed. It looks like an ideal place to while away an afternoon.

Guillermo J. Alfaro said...

I would not expect anything less from you. This is indeed a fabulous outdoor room. Your attention to detail and your understanding of relating parts to the whole is incredibly poetic and inspiring.

Jamie said...

beautiful! i find myself wanting to venture from interiors into other areas of design, if not for just 1 project.

the blue ceilings also keep wasps from nesting as they think it's sky. clever.

Anonymous said...

It's MAGICAL, Nadia! It's fun to see the finished project - I remember you telling me about it when the project was in the beginning stages.

Anonymous said...

wow. i am stunned. this is gorgeous! so gorgeous! you are sooo talented - what a gift you have.


Giorgio e Rita said...

Very very nice Nadia! I admired your work and said to Giorgio would like to do something similar at our home! Love from Italy!


Yacintha said...

Fabulous work, Nadia! I love the space you created and how it connects to the surroundings. It is indeed a curious secret garden where nature and fun ideas blend in together, in a poetic and serene way. I can imagine the entire family spending quality time together, dining and chatting away while the kids jump into the cool splashy pool. How lovely! Love the photography too, with its dreamy look, very stunning. A job well done! Thank you for showing it to us! :)

Anonymous said...

hay mucha calidad en el diseño,el conjunto esta bien desarrollado
Nadia buscame en facebook ,soy un arquitecto paisajista de risd (Rhode island school of design) que vivo en Nicaragua y ademas estoy haciendo algo en tu Chinandega,... tienes calidad.alonso rincon rubio

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