Humble Beginnings: An Empty Lot is Transformed into a Timeless Landscape

February 28, 2019

Home By Design

humble beginnings



For Sara Furlan, design director of Mariani Landscape, it’s all about creating and implementing a design that looks as though it’s been there for years. “That’s something I’m almost always trying to achieve with my work,” says the landscape designer. So when a potential client reached out to her about drawing up a plan for the adjacent lot to their home in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, where a house—now razed—had once stood, she was eager to get started. “They wanted the property to feel like the parcels of land had always been one large property as opposed to two separate homes and yards,” explains Furlan. “They also wanted the landscape design to fit into the neighborhood fabric and complement the architecture of the home rather than fight it.”

Brought onto the project at the beginning of the home’s design, Furlan was able to work closely with Jeffry Harting of Gensburg Toniolo Harting Architects to create a classic and traditional design that was also a touch more fluid and relaxed as well as more modern in places to help the yard seamlessly fit into the neighborhood aesthetic. “In the beginning of the design process, we spend a fair amount of time asking questions about the homeowners’ personal tastes,” explains Furlan. “You can have a very contemporary home with strict, clean, crisp lines but also really soft grasses and a very flowing design. The same question applies to a more traditional, New England-style home such as this,” which begs the structure of traditional elements but also thrives on a more relaxed look in certain areas of the yard.


Humble Beginnings

Landscape designer Sara Furlan created a mainly symmetrical design scheme for the yard to mimic the traditional lines of the home’s architecture.


To complement the New England–style architecture of the home, Furlan added plantings such as hydrangea. The designer also used New York fieldstone for the patios and entryway porch to complement the home’s cedar-shingle facade.

It was during that initial meeting with her clients that they showed Furlan dozens of images of landscape details and yards they were drawn to. From there, the Furlan was able to get a true feel for how they wanted the space to look, feel, and function. “We got some precedent images in front of them to see what resonated the most,” she says. “Oftentimes, unless someone has seen something they love specifically, they’re somewhat vague about what they like. People are so visual. When we show them specific images, they often know right away whether they love it or hate it and that was the case here.” From there, Furlan and her team come to the table with a design that they feel is appropriate based on the images the homeowners are drawn to as well as something that is the “perfect marriage for the architecture and the clients’ lifestyle.”

That perfect marriage was an ultra-traditional and very structured entry to the home with classic boxwood hedges, which define the space. “It was important that the entrance was more organized with crisp lawns defined by bluestone,” says Furlan of the symmetrical design and look. “But as for everything else in the yard, the homeowners were open to a little more relaxed feel.” While the lawn spaces are crisp and defined, other elements have a more organic softness to it. “Often when you have a large property, the hope is that you have stricter organization to complement the architecture but then move away from that in other spaces and things can soften up a bit.” To keep things traditional and a nod to the New England–style architecture, Furlan incorporated hydrangeas, lots of flowering perennials, shrub roses and climbing roses, sedum, and redbuds, all of which are timeless and traditional northeastern plantings.

Furlan took a more fluid approach to the landscape design on the adjacent lot where the outdoor living space (including the kitchen and fireplace) are located. The goal in this space was to create a seamless flow from inside out but also to provide a stunning vista from the home office and indoor kitchen. “We spent a lot of time on the inside looking out to understand the cadence of how each room of the home functions,” explains Furlan. “We thought about every scenario: if you’re entertaining, how would the evening progress? Where would you have cocktails, where would dinner be served, how small does the space need to be for everyday use? And more importantly, how to create a space that’s flexible and expandable for small dinner gatherings with their immediate family but is gracious enough to expand for larger parties.”

Through the use of materials such as the New York fieldstone on the patio area and kitchen as well as the addition of more mature plantings and a classic, timeless landscape design, Furlan was able to take a parcel of blank space and make it feel as though it’s been there for decades. “You’d never know it was recently an empty lot with nothing on it,” says Furlan. “I love that it really fits in with this neighborhood fabric.”

Diana Taylor Realty

Diana Taylor Realty


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