Spaces That Flow

Cheri Stringer of TLC Gardens gives her advice on designing and outdoor space.

The Grand Patio: The covered grand patio supports seamless transitions from the kitchen indoors to the environment outdoors. Photo by David Winger.

To really enjoy the long summer days in your garden, you might want to plan for more than a few shrubs and a set of lounge furniture. Owner and lead Designer Cheri Stringer of TLC Gardens describes the firm’s Western Exposure Project, which won the 2016 Bronze Award in Residential Design from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. She also answers a couple of questions we posed that just might give you a few tips for success.

What was the challenge and solution in the Western Exposure Project?

“The challenge was to create seamless transitions indoors and out with a house designed by an architect on the foundation of an existing house, with an inside pool and existing barn and grade changes. We had to develop these indoor-outdoor spaces to achieve seamless transition, and create a modern atmosphere that matched the house and the flow patterns with the site constraints existing there. The solution to the challenge was that we reused the original pool. We protected it during construction while we demolished the walls around it and created a pool terrace that connected to a dining terrace. And those two terraces flowed into the house seamlessly on the kitchen side. Then we dropped down to a lower terrace that allowed the homeowners to view their kids playing on the lacrosse field, and this lower terrace then dropped down into the field. These terraces were a solution to the grade changes where the existing walls, barn, and indoor pool were located, but also created these four seamless interlocking spaces that were now modern, worked with the house, and had a seamless transition in and out.”

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Flow area to area: A modern courtyard with multi-leveled terraces extends the flow pattern to the field behind the home. Lighting enhances flow throughout the site. The upper terrace features dining and seating areas in a triangle of activity with the pool. Pool terrace drops down to fire terrace and leads to the ground level. Photo by David Winger.

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone contemplating a new outdoor space?

“First, consider the whole site. Don’t just look at one spot. The biggest error people make when first thinking about a new outdoor space is to focus on one piece, maybe the patio or a walkway or a pool. If, however, you think about the whole site, then you can contemplate how you’re going to get in and out of those spaces, how you’re going to move or flow through the spaces, how you’re going to use the space, and how you are going to control the water. If you’re putting money into an outdoor space, you want to be able to control the water, so that you can protect your investment and your home. When you’re thinking holistically, you can consider sizes relative to each other and the scale for the space you’re creating. And sizing is dependent on how you’re flowing in, how you’re flowing out, what furniture you’re using, and where the outdoor space connects to the other spaces in the home. Always consider the whole site. And then when you go to implement each piece, it won’t feel like an afterthought. Instead, each element will fit into the overall plan, and the whole site will feel right when it’s done.

“Second, hire professionals. Professionals have a lot of experience in everything you’re facing. It’s not just site dynamics, but also water and materials dynamics, how the outdoor spaces are utilized, the scale and size of the spaces, color and textures, the overall longevity of the outdoor space—considering all of it with the help of a professional will give you the greatest return on your investment.”

Corner flow: The renovated entrance incorporates flow from the private courtyard to the main entrance of the home. Seasonal plantings and custom fencing add to the modern aesthetic and match the architecture of the home. Photo by David Winger.

What is the biggest mistake homeowners make in the planning or installation of outdoor spaces?

“Many homeowners set a budget before they know what they want. When you do that, you’re limiting the possibilities for your outdoor space. One of the biggest mistakes is to say, ‘It’s going to cost this much, and that’s it.’ It eliminates the options that you would otherwise have. If you instead approach your project with the question, ‘What are we willing to invest?’ and give yourself a range, it allows for flexibility in developing the perfect solution for the site.

“Also, spaces that are not scaled properly and not connected do not promote interaction. Spaces are separate when they should connect, or spaces are too close together when they’re meant to be separate. I call this the triangle of activity: If I’m creating an outdoor entertainment space for a family, I want the design to emphasize connection between the dining area, the areas where the kids are playing, and maybe another entertaining element such as a putting green or hot tub. Creating this triangle of activity allows everyone within the space to socialize with the other people. The spaces should be scaled properly so that the triangle of activity functions appropriately and feels right when you’re in the space.”