Although it's often taken for granted that a garden gets better with age, it isn't always true in reality. However, according to Bruce Eckerson, principal designer for Wesley Stout Associates, this "Shaker Modern" garden in Westport, Connecticut, has most definitely improved over time, thanks to its "inherent structure and simplicity." He explains that "great clients" (both of whom are themselves designers) and "a location with a strong traditional identity" were the serendipitous combination that produced a successful alchemy of classic and contemporary.
The owners' collection of mid-century modern furniture initially intrigued Eckerson; he was impressed at how naturally they settled it into the pared-down interior of their traditional New England house. This sparked the realization that his essential task as designer of the garden was to "take the traditional skin of the house and put a contemporary twist on it," and he adhered to this principle consistently throughout the design process. The stern, simple public face of the house offers barely a hint of a whole other world of intimate entertaining spaces and garden rooms beyond. In this property of just under an acre, the key to creating harmony was a precisely defined and detailed concept. And that was how Eckerson and his clients arrived at the mantra "simple, subtle, sublime and silent." Having distilled their vision, they followed through rigorously.
Starting with the entrance through the garden gate, the design works to both conceal and reveal the site. The outdoor "foyer" contains a long, narrow koi pond that soundlessly reflects the pure geometry of the house and garage.
This room unfolds onto the dining court, which is the central outdoor space with a dining table under the canopy of four linden trees flanked by a 20-foot-long water wall. A cantilevered granite staircase anchors the corner of the court, ascending the nine-foot grade change up to the pool, play lawn and outdoor living room. The outdoor living room is nestled in the corner of the house framed by the master bedroom suite and the exercise room. With direct access out from both rooms, the outdoor living room is an extension of these interior spaces. A large outdoor fireplace anchors the space.
The owners particularly admire designers Russell Page and Dan Kiley and Eckerson refers to them both. Page's special gift of combining French-inspired formality with relaxed touches of wildness and intimacy came to the fore in the arrangement of rooms around different social functions — dining, sitting and swimming. Kiley's modernism appears in the expression of boundaries and volumes — spaces overlapping, trees massed together, mowed edges to delineate spaces.
Eckerson deliberately limited the palette of landscape materials; strict editing was second nature to the clients and thus key to the garden they wanted. To visually reinforce the interconnection of outdoor spaces, granite was used for paving and walls. Stainless-steel railing, granite finishes, teak furniture and handrails, and a policy of mostly white flowers (plus a few blue) ensured the look remained in line with the original "Shaker Modern" idea. Clipped hollies and boxwood with white hydrangeas and rhododendrons predominate; busy perennial borders were considered at odds with the guiding aesthetic. The result is a harmonious and highly personalized place. Like a beautiful piece of Shaker furniture, the outdoor spaces are joined and finished in a simple, functional way that reveals a unified vision. For further information, call 203-966-3100 or see wesleystout.com.