Interior designer Lella Vignelli once said, "I listen to what the space says-the walls the windows. You can't change what space wants to be." In the Winchester garden he designed, Stuart Charles Towner applied the same principle and was guided by his clients' love of minimalism, by the houses architecture, and by its environs. Once he discovered what the garden aspired to be, he lifted materials and a colour palette from the existing brickwork, exterior cladding, flooring, and doors, which he echoed in the textures of the planting. As a result, the garden looks and feels in tandem with the house.
The dramatic focal point of the garden Stuart Charles Towner designed in Winchester, England, is a visual verse; a steel rendering of an imaginary wind scattering a life-size woman into leaves. Inside the house, another lyrical gesture, an eighty-year old olive tree, commands a sky-lit glass-enclosed courtyard adjacent to the living room designed by architects as AR design Studio. The apparent role reversals-a sculpture of a person who is at one with nature and a domesticated tree planted inside a vitrine-are appropriate given the house's inverted space planting.
Similar to properties taking advantage of beach or ocean views, the home's bedrooms are on the ground floor, while its entrance hall, living room, dining room and kitchen are upstairs. Like traditional French parterres, Towner's landscape is meant to be primarily appreciated from above. Thanks to an expanse of windows and glass rails around a large balcony, the top floor the house takes in an unobstructed vista of sky, garden, sculpture, historic church spires, and a distant national park. Charles Towner knew the garden couldn't compete with the houses strong geometry. His intuition was to keep things simple. When he began to draw up a plan, he decided to make a few brushstrokes-all of them deliberate, and one or two of them grand.
At the garden level, where the cantilevered roof already shaded a dining terrace, Towner extended the floor and installed limestone pavers that morph into a wide staircase and lead to a stepped seating area around a sunken fire pit.
Beyond the hardscape, an expanse of lawn, his largest gesture, stops short of a proscenium-like wall where the regal sculpture stands. For Charles Towner, the sea of green mirrored the house's mass and gave the statement architecture space to breathe. As the grass is mown diagonally, it resembles a living room's wall-to-wall, broad-stripped carpet. Long pathways and low yew hedges border the lawn on both sides, and in certain light, their axial alignment renders the garden as a drop-shadow of the house. The feature wall's rectangular window functions like a camera's viewfinder, aimed to capture the property's central axis. From the front side, it frames a canopy of two multi stemmed juneberry trees. From behind, it focuses on the horizontality and transparency of the light-filled house.
As he does in every garden he designs, Charles Towner took into account the house's proportions, and here he also keyed off the architecture's materials and colours. The extensive interior brickwork found its way onto the stair risers, low retaining walls, and planters filled with rough horsetails, whose tiny dark brown bands mimic the cedar siding. The brick's grey colour echoes the internal doors and porcelain flooring and, in a heavily pigmented iteration, it repeats on the gardens feature wall.
The perimeter's mix of silver-berry and yew hedges shoes seasonal changes. The blooms on echinacea, foxgloves, and bearded irises come and go, but their decaying stems and seed heads survive until midwinter, as seams in the dried grasses turn a shade of golden brown and integrate the house and garden into the greater landscape.
© Linda O-Keefe