Decorators Gone Wild
What happens when interior decorators let loose their considerable talents on the natural world? Check out the photographs from "Landscape Pleasures," an event held at the Parish Art Museum, in Southhampton, New York, this year, which showcased the gardens of celebrated interior designers.
This summer, a two-day horticulture event and fund-raiser at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York, put a spotlight on one of the most compelling aspects of modern-day garden design: the relationship between indoors and out. A group of celebrated interior designers was invited to speak and open their gardens for a tour at a symposium titled Landscape Pleasures. The museum, founded in 1898, celebrates the artistic legacy of Long Island’s East End and has become an important repository of the works of artists who lived and worked in the area—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Dan Flavin—as well as important pieces from the contemporary art world.
The three gardens featured in this slide show represent the broad range of styles on display at the Parrish event. And the stories behind each of their construction demonstrate how the owners bring fascinating, inspiringly counterintuitive strategies to exterior design.
Left: The work of William Sofield.
William Sofield began his career at Ralph Lauren and then took time off to apprentice with an Italian woodworker. Eventually, he and a fellow Ralph Lauren alum opened Aero Studios, a design company based in New York. He followed that by lauching his own firm, designing everything from Gucci boutiques worldwide to interiors of the Soho Grand Hotel in New York. Sofield likes to say that if he does his job well, “no one will know that I was there. I really do believe in the anonymity of design. It should feel inevitable.”
A climbing rose and clematis spill over Sofield’s wrought iron gate, leading visitors to the garden adjacent the pool.
His approach for his own garden was to use gates to create a series of outdoor rooms. “It’s a very small lot in relationship to the size of the building,” Sofield says (said building being a Gothic castle, complete with a tower, in Southampton). “So I created a sense of adventure ... by forming paths and circulation through the site.” The exterior mimics the style of the house in spirit with heavy benches and dark passageways, the gates and fences echoing the metalwork on the house and gazebo. “It does have a little Grey Gardens feel—a bit lush and decrepit and jagged around the edges, a little too overgrown at times. When I’m really feeling crazy, I go out and prune and prune. Gardens are like sculpture to me, but executed a bit differently.”
A view from inside William Sofield’s pool house, designed by Edward Elliston, circa 1911. Sofield describes the mix of antiques as “pan exotic.”
Steven Gambrel, originally trained as an architect, creates timeless but comfortable spaces with a mix of classic and contemporary furnishings—the latter he often designs himself. His own house in Sag Harbor, a shuttered and white-picket-fenced 19th-century cottage, acts as a kind of gate to the property’s large garden out back. “As you walk up to the front door, you have a perfectly framed view of the water. It’s unexpected in that, as you get closer to the cove, the trees and boxwoods are situated in such a way that they frame the view and kind of confine you until you get released out into the edge.”
The structure contains numerous references to the area’s sailing history—a coffered hallway to the living room, a plank pattern woven into the living room rug—and nautical notes continue outdoors. Large, flat kota stones, which Gambrel had made in India, reference ballast stones and are used to link the house (as steps) to the flat lawn leading to the water. “The big waves of boxwood are meant to look very sculptural—like furniture on the landscape,” he says. “It keeps its form year-round so it’s not just something you see in the summertime.” Sea winds preclude most flowering plants, but there are herbs and Solomon’s seal in the shade. “The large porch faces the western sunset view,” Gambrel says. “It’s furnished like a room—obviously not with interior furniture, but it’s outfitted as though it’s an interior room—that’s why it has the lamps, tables, and chairs and big, deep, comfortable sofas.”
Steven Gambrel designed his outdoor sitting area to feel like a living room, complete with custom sofas and tables. The staghorn ferns lining the walls connect the “room” to the garden. Blinds can be adjusted if the sun setting over Sag Harbor Cove becomes too intense.
Sometimes good design is about keeping it simple and using an interior palette outdoors and vice versa. That’s the idea behind the furnishings in John Barman’s garden, attached to a rambling, shingled cottage in Sagaponack, where one looks across vast fields before the eye reaches the water. Barman is known for sophisticated luxury, with crisp lines and resonant colors. “I wanted the property to be one with the environment,” he says. “There is a distinct sense of place here, rather than the garden being a thing unto itself.”
John Barman’s white-and-black exterior patio decor echoes the inside with the addition of white Montauk daisies with hits of red and yellow annual plantings.
The pool area has black and white tiles and chair cushions, echoing the indoors. “That gives it a south of France, Moroccan feeling, so it relates to the house,” he says. Indigenous Montauk daisies (which can withstand the ocean winds) and red and white annuals provide a limited amount of color—fabrics inside were sourced to match them, rather than the other way around. “Gardens should relate to where they are,” he says. “A great big flower garden wouldn’t have been appropriate. It would have blocked the view of the field.”