Play

I recently had the opportunity to hear my friend and nationally-renowned interior designer, Thomas Jayne, speak here in Seattle for the Northwest Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art (ICAA). Thomas is noted for incorporating modern elements into traditional interiors in provocative and dynamic ways. He is also a master of color. What struck me during his lecture was his deep appreciation of history, an encyclopedic knowledge of period furniture, and the playfulness with which he approached his projects. Thomas is not afraid to mix period and styles, infusing projects with a joyful perspective that makes each project fresh and person for his clients.

Thomas' stimulating lecture made me reflect upon our work at Land Morphology as well as catalysts for my own inspirations. His lecture offered me a language to verbalize my own philosophical underpinnings. I, too, am a student of both the history of garden design and landscape architecture. Each projects begins with style and context, but I find it also incredibly important to intimately understand each client's tastes, eccentricities, and values. It is only after we have assessed all of these sources of data that design work can begin.

In our best projects, we, like Thomas, combine elements of period and style around a central approach or historical period, but stringently following rules do not necessarily make for a great project. Breaking rules in original ways is a form of play. This kind of play is not characterized by haphazard design, but is informed, researched, and intentional. With play, each project becomes creatively unique. We warmly invite clients to participate in, to comment on, and add their own ideas to the design. Our clients quickly realize that they are being offered a tantalizing participatory experience -- and the resulting garden will truly be theirs, not ours.

We strive to create a garden that is joyful and imbued with meaning and emotion. The ability to design these types of gardens is only possible because we are willing to explore twists and turns, incorporate discordant elements within a coherent context, and stretch ourselves to explore new approaches to design.

We also believe that maintaining relationships beyond the primary construction period is essential. Gardens are a living system, and maintenance continues to form the place through subtle changes that contribute to an evolving meaning that shifts over time. Through this process, clients continue to ad new garden areas, tweak spaces to reinforce unforeseen uses and needs, and simply accommodate changing tastes. No person and no garden is static over time.

In my own house and garden, I am constantly changing things, especially plants, which I rotate regularly to test and try new plant varieties and uses. Most recently, however, the biggest change in my home is the new exterior paint color of my house. What was once a gray with white trim craftsman bungalow is now a striking vermillion! I wanted a color that would stand out. Additionally, I painted the front door a very dark navy and the porch a dark gray that is almost black. Painting the entire house one color (the trim is also vermillion) has flattened the appearance, but the effect is very attractive.

Since the new coat of paint, neighbors and passers-by have offered their enthusiastic comments along with the additional note, "I would never have the courage to do that!" In fact, there is no courage involved, just careful study, paint swatches, trust in my own instincts, and play. I am very pleased with the result, and I am now taking up the task of changing some of the plants in the front garden to further play well with the new house color. I am currently planting creamy hydrangeas, California fuchsias in cadmium orange, hot pink trumpet lilies (for early summer), deep blue agapanthus, and grasses in the softest greens.

I will share more pictures over the next year as the garden develops into my ultimate vision. I really do enjoy coming home to my playful, vermillion home.

Richard Hartlage

Richard Hartlage is the founding principal and CEO of Land Morphology. His award-winning, innovative designs are renowned as emotive, immersive spaces that incorporate sophisticated horticulture, artful detailing, and historical knowledge that heighten the human experience of the natural world. His passion for horticulture, cultivated over fifteen years working public gardens and estates, is applied to each design from the conceptual phase through development of maintenance protocol and beyond.