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Category Archives: Outdoor Living

A completed landscaping project in Allentown, PA

This video is a landscape design and landscape construction project completed by Garden Design in Allentown, PA. The landscaping included a brick patio, stone steps and landscape plantings. This is an existing landscape that was renovated. The project also included a custom cedar wood fence.

This landscaping design was based on a client wanting a diverse range of plantings to create a lush landscape garden. There were some existing plants in the projects area that we re-used. The Japanese maple stayed in place by the side patio. We transplanted the perennials including hosta, ghost fern, and daylily to name a few.

The new plantings included deciduous azalea by the large back windows. We in stalled a range of colors of the exbury variety of azalea. Vanderwolf pines are installed along the back fence to create a privacy screen. These are a lovely pine with a thick, blue hued needle. Serbian spruce are placed along the side fence to screen views of the neighbors house. Flowering shrubs include hydrangea, viburnum, and beauty berry. Aucuba was used as an evergreen shrub in the dense shade.

The outdoor patio space is set at the side sun room. The patio is natural clay brick with a bluestone border. The custom cedar fence provides privacy for the patio. An irregular flagstone patio leads from the patio to the back landscape gardens. Bluestone heavy tread steps transition the walkway from the patio to the back yard gardens. These large, natural cut stones add a warm organic character to the project.

natural brick patio landscaping
a brick patio in Allentown pa

Garden Design Inc. is a landscaping company located in Allentown PA. We specialize in outdoor living projects that include patios, landscaping, landscape lighting and much more. The quality of landscape design stems from the experience and skills of our landscape designers. We gratefully compete with a few other good landscaping companies in our Allentown market. They keep us designing the best landscapes we can creatively dream up.

Deck Design

A deck should compliment the housing structure but it is should also be able to stand on its own. It should look appealing but also provide some functionality for an outdoor living space.
A deck should compliment the housing structure but it is should also be able to stand on its own. It should look appealing but also provide some functionality for an outdoor living space.

Are you interested in Deck Design for your backyard landscape? The implementation of decking has a mixed connotation. While they clearly have the potential to create an interesting outdoor living space for the home owner, often times their designs are constructed in an uninteresting, boring, and bland fashion. They are usually the last addition to be constructed on a typical suburban home. What tends to be a common re-occurrence is that the deck design appears to be an awkward rectangular addition to the back of a house, left to rot.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to dress up a deck, and typically that can be done by experimenting with decking materials, preservation techniques, and surrounding vegetation. Decks have opened the doors to landscape architects to explore how this type of structure can reach top efficiency while also retaining a visual aesthetic.

Primarily, material and surrounding vegetation can make or break a decking design. Materials play a significant role in the sense that it affects color scheme and other forms of visual aesthetics, but it also influences the maintenance and upkeep of the structure as well. For example, wood is not an uncommon material used in construction, but certain types of wood need a type of sealant to prevent water seepage and rotting.  Insects are often a culprit of decking deterioration as well. With proper repellant these detrimental elements can be prevented.

Installing a deck with suitable materials should require little maintenance post construction. Using materials such as composites typically have the least amount of maintenance due to their rot resistant abilities. When using woody materials, it is best to use tropical hardwoods for they are more rot resistant and they do not attract wood-boring insects. Some suitable hardwoods may consist of teak and ipe. One of the newer materials being integrated into decking design is aluminum. A unique feature to the type of aluminum that is used in deck design is that it is a strong material, and it does not give off a ping sound while walking on it.

Keep in mind that this is an outdoor room, so consider the elements when selected the placement of your deck. Sun and wind patterns will play a significant role. While a deck becomes an entity of its own, it is important to integrate the form in its natural surroundings. Perennials, shrubs, and small trees are all suitable vegetation to surround your deck.

As a finished project, decks provide an open space for people to congregate, similar to the roles of a patio. With its elevated properties, a deck gives the illusion of being in the house without actually standing inside the structure, but by acknowledging the similar elevations. Note that there is a range of possibilities of what can be placed on the deck, but nothing beats a nice set of seating and dining area. Adding a few planters would not be a bad idea. Consider what you want to use the space for, and build onto your deck landscape design from there. Perhaps the space will become a dinner seating area, which can be used during the day, and with the implementation of landscape lighting, it can be used after dark as well. Regardless of the design, find one the fits best with you and your landscape

Landscape Plantings & Patios – How to Create Balance

The stone walkway and patio break up the dense plantings.
The stone walkway and patio break up the dense plantings.

How do we develop landscape designs that balance landscape plantings and patios? Balance is one of the key design principles in landscape architecture, and without it, design lacks a primary component. A strong sense of balance between hardscape and plant life can truly bring a design together and transform a formerly plain and uninteresting landscape into a beautiful oasis. Designing with vegetation is always a primary focus, but how does hardscape play a factor in balancing design? In short, hardscape breaks up the potential monotony of vegetated plantings. It provides some structure to an organic flow of vegetated spaces. Hardscape can be defined as man-made structures or elements in a design, and in residential landscape design, materials such as brick, concrete, pavers, etc are common forms of hardscape. Hardscape colors, shapes, and patterns leave a designer with a number of design opportunities making it such a popular design element.

Concrete is the most commonly used hardscape, mainly for its versatility. It often comes poured, but it can come in a variety of colors. Brick more often than not, is manufactured as a bright red, and with a majority of planting emitting a contrasting color of green, the red will easily stand out in comparison to most other hardscape materials. While it can be used solely on its own, one interesting look that some residences are trying is using the brick red as an accent color. Designing a concrete walkway with neutral tones mixed with an outer brick edge, can soften the brick but also brighten the neutral concrete.

Other materials, such as flagstone or bluestone and natural stone tend to work well when designing patios. Hardscape can promote the design of patios, creating great outdoor living spaces without the woody appearance of a deck, for example. Stone walls can create enclosures, creating separate spaces within the landscape. Whether the hardscape becomes the home of an eating area for families or a fire pit gathering for a group of friends, the size, shape, and style are completely up to the user.

Taking a look at Techo Bloc, a landscaping supplier, they offer many products that can personalize a landscape. Pavers, walls, and many other forms of masonry are available for purchase. Some of my personal favorite hardscape designs consist of block pavers that are broken up using grass or fine gravel. This breaks up the monotony of a solid, flat hardscape, and it allows the user to notice a change in ground type.

Aside from the hardscape, the plant selection and other softscape materials  play just as important of a role in design. Selecting vegetation and hardscape of a corresponding color scheme is typically a good place to start. Think of vegetation possibly some mulching that can be used to soften hardscape edges. Or perhaps, you want the hardscape to stand on its own, and the use of seating and landscape planters can create an interesting design. Balancing hardscape and softscape with take some experimentation, but a successful design is always possible.

Garden Cottage – A New Wave of Personalized Design

Garden cottages can be personalized to each individual client.
Garden cottages can be personalized to each individual client.

Garden Cottage is hot! These landscape elements are being called “she sheds”; however, as a landscape architect, I most commonly call them Garden Cottage. I have completed a project that had two garden cottages at a pool. One was for the men to smoke cigars and play cards (with the bar), while the other was for the woman to gather and visit (and the outdoor kitchen). I felt like a complete cliché designing it and seeing it built. But that was the client’s specification.

I would prefer to stay away from the he/she dichotomy because but who is to say that a ‘he’ wouldn’t like a ‘she shed’ just as much. But, I suspect everyone needs some alone time. . All sorts of research says that our mental, physical and spiritual health requires retreating from our daily routines and making time to relax. Doing that in a space outside of the daily household grind helps free the mind from the cooking, cleaning, bills and whatever surrounds us in our homes.

A far more descriptive discussion that informs the design approach to these small auxiliary ‘buildings’ which is far more fun and interesting as a designer, addresses the big question ‘what happens in the building?’. This is called the program. Other questions that can aid in the design process include: What purpose does it the building serve? Is it about an outdoor entertaining space, an outdoor room? Or is it for some specific hobby like painting, sewing, and woodcrafts? Or is it an office, a private space to write, to think, to read? All of these possibilities can be gender neutral. And the program will direct the design.

What I hear is a structure with more design detail and aesthetic, a Garden Cottage, something that is guided by the concepts of a ‘cottage’, ‘bungalow’, ‘lodge’, ‘Shanty’ or even a ‘shack’ but let’s avoid the word ‘shed’. So the roof, windows and doors need to have some character, be more dynamic, more unique than the ‘shed’. It may not be constructed from the standard cookie cutter materials available. Or if it is, the materials will be used and combined in unique and uncommon ways. So maybe it is the ‘Garden Shanty’ concept with the doors and windows being recycled and reclaimed materials. Or a ‘Garden Cottage’ with additional trim woods added throughout and a multi-layer paint scheme. The key is deciding on a concept then carrying that idea throughout the project material choices.

With all these elements, there are two directing principles to respect. The function and the style define the design approach. The function of the architecture and its elements are directed by the program, the styles are directed by the concept. Program and concept are the two main design principles. The concept is driven by personal taste in this situation, the taste of the owner. The concept help direct the decorating choices. Is it Shabby Sheik, Tuscan, Country Garden Cottage, Eclectic Artist, Modern Contemporary, Mid Century Modern, Rustic Country………… The program is what happens in the space, how it works, flows, is organized. The concept includes the program in a bridge to the ‘style’.

While program and concept are two driving forces in design, budget will overrule in the end. It always comes down to what can be afforded. Start modest. It is always easier to add then subtract. It is also feels much better to discover you can have more than realize you cannot have everything you had hoped.

 

Outdoor Kitchen – Allentown PA

outdoor kitchen
outdoor kitchen, pavilion, paver patio

The term ‘outdoor living’ is thrown around by people to describe all sorts of exterior projects. An outdoor kitchen in Allentown Landscape company projects can be a key ingredient. I visited a project that may be the ultimate in outdoor living and entertaining. I walked out the back door into a roof covered deck space with an extensive outdoor kitchen on one side and a full bar on another side. From the deck I walked down to a patio with a fireplace and seating walls. This was a truly on of a kind outdoor living space that seemed to have all the possible bells and whistles.

I was first stuck by the quality of the construction materials and the design details. The decking is an exotic Brazilian hardwood called Ipe. Ipe is used to wrap all the framing for the roof and any trim pieces. The bar sheathing is Ipe installed horizontally on the walls. The stainless steel cable railings are sharp details that make a complimentary contrast to the dark woods. The ceiling is vaulted with a tongue and groove pine. The deck appears to be built on a natural stone foundation. Stone is carried up to four feet above the deck floor making a privacy wall on one side. The bar roof area has a standing seem copper roof, and all of the gutters and downspouts are copper. This mix of quality materials made a classic, contemporary design feel and look.

The outdoor kitchen is extensive including a natural gas  grill, a single side burner, storage cabinets, a refrigerator and a warming drawer. The countertop is a polished bluestone that blends beautifully with the natural stone facings on the side and back wall. On the opposite side of the deck, a bar includes a full sink, icemaker, food refrigerator, beverage refrigerator, utility drawers and cabinets. The bar countertop is a buffed stainless steel surface that ties into the stainless steel footrest. The flat screen outdoor television is in full viewing from the bar.

This space is designed for all season use day and night. Being covered, it is protected from the elements. Commercial grade heaters in the ceilings made the space very comfortable even at 40 degrees or less. Ceiling fans help keep the summer air moving to cool the space. Extensive lighting design brightens the entire space. The ceiling holds recessed lighting and pendant lights hang over the bar. Perhaps the most innovative lighting is the LED strip lights under all of the counter edges. These lights illuminate the faces of the kitchen and the bar, and cast soft light into the surrounding areas. Some LED lighting can be rather cold and white, but these were the warm yellow variety and cast a soft mood into the surrounding materials.

A custom natural stone fireplace is oriented adjacent to the deck, oriented to be experienced throughout the outdoor spaces. Natural stone seatwalls on either side help to ground the fireplace while providing some casual seating. A water feature has cooper channels built into the exterior deck walls that pour into a gravel basin with a soothing background sound.

Even though this project was recently completed, the large trees that were installed make it feel like it has been there for a while. Up lighting on the tress make for a dramatic effect and reflect light into the surrounding landscape so it can be appreciated in the evening. Path lights and wall lights complete the landscape lighting and extend uses into the evenings.

I’ve visited a number of great outdoor living projects, but this one takes the term ‘outdoor living’ to the extreme. It seems to have every bell and whistle a family could want. The material choices are exquisite quality, the design details are unique, and the craftsmanship is top notch.