Roof terraces are like stage sets, says landscape designer David Kelly, in that they're typically viewed from a single direction. "You can move around in a large garden," says Kelly, a principal at the Manhattan-based firm Rees Roberts + Partners, but these spaces are primarily experienced through a window." As a result, Kelly considers the view in tiers: what you see from inside constitutes the foreground, what's happening on the deck is the middle, and the view out to the horizon marks the distance. If set up well, Kelly says, "your eye has places to look at, rest, and then continue."
This New York terrace (left) provides the code-specified 42-inch-high safety handrail around its perimeter, but landscape designer David Kelly minimized its visual impact by using 3/4-inch-thick glass that cantilevers into the deck base, eliminating the need for visible vertical supports. To anchor a middle-ground view, Kelly designed a large ipe planter, filling it with a Serbian pine (Pinus leucodermis) and mondo grass.