In designing landscapes, you have the ability to affect and manipulate the way in which people interact with their surroundings. The reward comes when we see people thoroughly enjoying their existence in a space we've created. By attention to detail, and drawing on everything we've ever read, seen, learnt or experienced, we strive to produce gardens containing functional spaces that obviously, or often subconsciously, enlighten the experience of the inhabitant.' Ryan Healy & Matt Huxtable.
Newforms Landscape Architecture, established in 2001, is the result of the joined forces of Perth friends formerly operating independent practices, Ryan Healy and Matt Huxtable, who met when studying for landscape architectural degrees. As the name suggests, their business is founded on the principle of bringing 'new forms' to the realm of landscape design, be it through their adventurous ideas and construction techniques or their innovative use of plants and materials. With a passion for residential design and the opportunities it provides to shape both the look of the land and the outlook of people, Ryan and Matt have established a reputation for contemporary and inspirational gardens.
Ryan and Matt share design responsibilities in their practice, yet Ryan's original studies in commerce underpin his role as managing director. Now grateful he transferred to landscape architecture, he attributes his flair for art and economics, and his part-time student work as a landscape contractor, with enabling him to successfully run the business as well as design distinctive gardens that showcase the firm's skill in construction. Matt, too, has practical experience in technical aspects of garden-making, building his own designs prior to their partnership. This layering of skills brings a higher level of expertise and a holistic approach to the design process.
Matt developed his interest in gardening and the outdoors by osmosis, having grown up in a large garden enthusiastically cultivated by his artist mother. He believes her creative influences played an important pan in fuelling his enthusiasm for design. Both directors now believe their design ideas challenge and complement each other, giving strength and resolve to their creations.
Matt and Ryan place great importance on site architecture in shaping landscape design, with Ryan citing the architectural icons of Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Santiago Calatrava as motivational influences. Believing architecture and landscape design should exist as one, Ryan states, 'They are the same thing as far as I'm concerned. The only difference is one strives to keep 'Water out and the other to keep it in’. This philosophy governs much of Newforms' work and results in gardens that show a strong relationship between building and landscape.
Both Matt and Ryan have a firm commitment to environmental issues, believing successful Australian design results from a creative response to the limitations imposed by our challenging climate and scarcity of water. Recognising that solely using native plants to overcome these constraints is restrictive, they believe that by combining more architectural and structural elements in a garden, as well as using a palette of carefully selected, proven, dry climate species, both a sustainable and visually striking garden will result.
With an ambition to develop their practice on the international stage, they are enthusiastically looking to a future in the residential, commercial and show garden fields. Already achieving both design and construction awards, their highly respected and much sought after gardens indicate their goals are firmly within reach.
An existing garden can sell a house, but it may then be inappropriate for new owners. That was the case in this Peppermint Grove garden when Ryan and Matt were invited to redesign it. Their initial brief was to remove the large pool extending across the entire rear garden and relocate it to the front garden, enabling a subsequent redesign of the rear as a space to accommodate entertaining on a large scale. Overlooking was a concern on the north western boundary and a guesthouse at the rear of the property, currently isolated by the pool, needed to be linked to the main dwelling by improved access.
The front garden was untidy and needed an overhaul. A glass wall separating inside and out meant the area was a major focus from indoors, as well as the arrival point for visitors. The clients sought a modern upgrade, though nothing too abstract or hard-edged, that offered a sense of arrival with WOW factor, capable of providing a multitude of features, including a fish pond, kids play area, a viewing terrace for the tennis court below and a strong visual focus from inside. The area also had to retain a car turning circle directly associated with the entrance to the house.
Continuity through the site was vital too, though difficult to establish with two very discrete areas. With the swimming pool to the rear of the site and the tennis court to the front, there was a sense that the site simply didn't flow. Narrow boundary spaces prevented a more obvious link, but Matt and Ryan were asked to provide a stronger sense of a visual continuity through the site.
This was a steeply sloping and very long block, entered via a 60m driveway from the lowest level at the street and rising over a height of 3m to the level of the contemporary two-storey house. The house and rear garden rise a further 3m to the rear boundary.
There is a strong sense of place on the site derived largely from a limestone retaining wall to the north end of the grass tennis court immediately to the east of the driveway. The house itself is built of concrete blocks painted cream to marry with the limestone that characterises this part of Perth. Grey-framed windows provide a strong contrast to this cream stone, but they also give extensive views not only over the garden but across the house's broader landscape setting.
To the eastern boundary, a second limestone retaining wall extends along the length of the upper part of the site, until at the site's northeast corner a small guesthouse occupies the width of the block. This gives privacy from the north and, being only single storey, permits excellent light entry to the large courtyard almost entirely occupied by the swimming pool. There was inadequate space remaining for outdoor entertainment.
In the front garden, mixed vegetation clothed much of the south-facing slope to the tennis court. Worthwhile trees were identified for retention but, given they were located on a sloping site, the level of their roots and the base of their trunks placed some constraints on the works implemented around them. The site is extremely exposed. The northern aspect makes much of it unacceptably hot, except where the guesthouse and existing trees give shade. Being on a site that is, for Perth, quite elevated, the garden is also exposed to strong winds. Climate modification was important if the garden was going to provide an appropriate family setting.
On a site where a garden has already been created, a designer has the role of retaining the best of the original while introducing new themes and directions that reveal their own skills and meet the
needs of their clients. Here, there were functional components that did work, the tennis court and driveway, for example; others, as explained in the brief, required attention.
The swimming pool clearly needed resolution. After consideration of the northern orientation of the existing pool and access issues which would severely complicate and increase costs of filling it in, the designers presented their clients with an alternative to relocating the pool to the front, south-facing garden. They suggested the pool be reduced in size to accommodate both swimming and entertaining areas, simultaneously providing transition and linkage to the guest wing. This option was accepted.
The next task was to establish a unity for the site to give a sense of continuity and cohesion. Spaces to both the east and west of the house were constricted so passage between the two areas would always be difficult, yet a sense of continuity and flow could be established by design elements. Working with the character of the area, the designers recognised the appropriateness of local limestone, choosing to make it one of their consistent site elements, albeit not always as a natural material. In the rear garden, a limestone-coloured manufactured paver was recycled.
Neither Matt nor Ryan was comfortable with the slope to the front of the house. It failed to provide an appropriate outdoor sitting area, lacked a sense of place and was difficult to maintain. To pave the area would have required a filled base, potentially damaging existing trees by compacting and burying their root zones. In addition, it would increase the height of the tennis court wall and place further load on what was already a significant weight-bearing wall. Their decision to build a deck bridged the tree roots, allowing permeability for air and water to maintain tree health.
Matt and Ryan's response to the requirement for a fish pond was exciting and innovative. Recognising that the front garden was visible from a mezzanine office within the house, they saw an opportunity for a design 'to be an art piece in plan'. In a major technical undertaking, a long rectangular pond, covering approximately 32sqm, was built along the eastern boundary using the existing limestone retaining wall as its foundation. Constructed landscape elements were designed to double as housing for the working parts of the water feature.
Rectangular limestone-coloured pavers form a central spine to the design with all other landscape elements converging upon it. The steppers, protruding at various lengths into the pond, appear to float over the water in an attempt to blur the segregation of water and stone. Charcoal-coloured pavers interspersed between the floating steppers link to the capping on the three raised planters within the design. The paving spine extends into an area of Ord River pebbles. Their soft brown colour links with the oiled Batu timber deck, providing a sense of visual cohesion. Repetition of charcoal-coloured pavers in a strip border provides separation from the driveway.
The existing driveway curved around a magnolia tree (Magnolia x soulangeana) towards the entrance to the house. The curve was continued to completely wrap around the tree before making its way to steps leading up to the deck from the driveway. It's not only the repetition of limestone elements that now links the front and rear garden. By painting the boundary walls a claret shade, specifically created to react the claret in the feature clinker bricks of the home, Matt and Ryan provided a link that extended through the length of the garden, but also selected a colour that was a dramatic foil to their planting. Throwing foliage and branches into silhouette, this colour brings warmth through the winter and a sumptuous character and feel to the garden at all times.
The claret paint finish was also used to the pool's western end where there was a need for increased privacy. Creation of a water wall using limestone-coloured schist stone cladding achieves this and with the repetition of the cladding and the claret tones in both the front and rear gardens, this whole courtyard space is reinforced as an element of the larger site.
Establishment of the greater part of the site for recreation is completed by careful placement of all the site's service elements air conditioning, clothes drying and bins-in a narrow space to the west of the house, ensuring that the original aim of the brief, to maximise the sense that the garden was a single space, is achieved via the passageway to the east.
Being an existing garden, integrating established trees was a priority within the planting design. Enveloping them with new beds of complementary planting, as well as incorporating one of the existing two mature honey locusts within the deck structure, achieves a successful blend of the old and the new.
The background claret wall colour featured throughout the garden was a major influence on plant selection. Three crepe myrtles were added in raised planters, specifically chosen so that their summer flowers provide a perfect match to the painted walls. Under planting of existing trees with spiky, architectural foliage, and then using a similar plant palette along the eastern boundary, maximised the drama of the background colour as a foil for planting and, at night, it positively glows under the glare of lights. Other plants with complementary burgundy shades are used throughout, including double flowering plums (Prunus blireana), burgundy cultivars of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), Moses-in-the-cradle (Rhoeo discolor) with its purple leaf undersides, and the purple foliaged Altemanthera rubra.
Silver shades provide contrast, most notably through an olive (Olea europaea), bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), spineless yucca (Yucca elephantipes), and cushion bush (Leucophyta brownii). The addition of other architectural foliage plants such as turf lily (Liriope gigantea), Draceana maiginata and Dietes iridoides reinforces the modern character of the garden, and these are also drought tolerant.
In the rear garden, filtered light created by a shade sail erected over the entertaining area provides a suitable environment for espaliered sasanqua camellias along the south-facing wall of the guesthouse. A Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), planted to provide a canopy over the built-in barbecue, brings claret shades via stunning autumn foliage to further complement painted boundaries. Espaliered olives decorate the western pool boundary wall, tough enough to tolerate pool splash and children's play.
Evergreen climbers, creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) provide coolness and cover throughout the year. The deciduous climber Wisteria sinensis adorns the guesthouse and injects spring colour and fragrance with its mauve Rowers, as well as yellow autumn foliage tones to the rear garden.
Designer: Ryan Healy
Project Lead: Ryan Healy
Builder: PHASE3 Landscape Construction Pty Ltd.