1958 Contemporary Home & Garden

entry garden by Danilo Maffei

Let's be honest, when you build a house inspired by the ideology of Frank Lloyd Wright in a neighborhood full of traditional brick abodes and European-style manses you are bound to ruffle a few feathers. That is exactly what happened back in 1958 when this home appeared on a wooded corner lot in the Wilmington, Delaware suburb of Greenville, Delaware. A rare residential example of the Prairie Style in the region, the home has also received some local recognition as the boyhood home of Dr. Mehmet Oz who graduated from nearby Tower Hill School. So with all of that attention and notoriety, how does the owner of such a home bring peace to the neighborhood? One way to do it is marry the architecture to the land with gardens that are supportive of the style.

The primary tenet of the Prairie School is to emulate the broad, horizontal characteristics of the mid-western American landscape with indigenous materials, giving the impression that the building emerged from the ground itself. This garden embraces that notion with long vistas within geometric frameworks, punctuated with focal points of stone and water.

driveway entrance by Danilo Maffei
The driveway entrance, flanked by stone piers.
The entrance to the property is marked by a pair of stone piers capped with a copper roof that reflects the low angle of that on the house. Nested within the wide eaves are light fixtures to cast downward pools of light onto the stone and lawn below. A threshold of Belgian block separates the public realm from that private and makes a nod to the traditional building practices prevalent in the region. The driveway itself is exposed aggregate concrete intended to suggest the quaint gravel drives of the countryside without the constant maintenance hassles of corralling stray pebbles.

driveway by Danilo Maffei
The driveway is exposed aggregate concrete, suggesting a quaint country drive

entry garden by Danilo Maffei
The entry garden and its long, axial view
Alongside the driveway and connecting the street to the front door is a long, axial walkway that encourages visitors to use a human-scaled entry experience rather than its vehicular counterpart. The plan view of this space shows a deviation of several degrees from parallel to the lines of the house, driven in part by the approach angle of the driveway and to suggest an outward rotation from the interior corner of the house. This creates a sensation of motion in what could feel very static if kept on the rigid rectangular grid set up by the home's floorplan.
square pool by Danilo Maffei
The square pool

A raised square pool set at the mid point of the arrival sequence offers a point of interest with aquatic plants and koi, along with audible notes from a bubbling fountain. Surrounded by the Pennsylvania bluestone walkway and flanked by two rows of Paperbark maple (Acer griseum), this node causes the visitor to navigate around the pool, opening up views to the left and right.

The street-facing wall of the house was the unfortunate recipient of modern duct-work run up the center of its Avondale brownstone facade, extending two stories from the heat pump into the attic space. This duct proved very distracting to the owners, so in order to hide it rectangular trelliage was created and wrapped with golf course grade synthetic lawn material. This gives the impression of a living espalier without the maintenance requirements.

espalier by Danilo Maffei
Espalier hiding duct-work

The entire design is underpinned with the understanding that the owners are not gardeners and they have a busy life that draws their attention elsewhere. The plants must be easy to care for, requiring only seasonal inputs that are mostly limited to cutting back dormant foliage. Additionally, the incredibly flat site made evacuation of all storm runoff to the curb drains impractical, causing frequently irritating and occasionally damaging ponding or flooding on the property. The new work collects all runoff from the roof and certain areas of the landscape and directs them to a subsurface recharge bed that puts all runoff below ground, eliminating puddles on site and relieving the area of some of the stormwater that contributes to regionalized flooding.

This garden was recently featured on Wilmington Garden Day where is was described as "Unexpected in design, perfect in execution, this house is not simply an homage to a uniquely American style: it is an inviting and invigorating home that links the outside to the inside, benefiting everyone who lives there or visits."

To see "before" and in-progress construction images of this garden please see our Facebook page.

Highland Mede: A Chester County Retreat

copyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLC

copyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLC
The sunroom gardens with stone "fences"
The gardens of this private residence (built in 2006) were designed with 18th century American agricultural practices in mind while acknowledging modern needs and sensibilities. Spaces are defined by stone “fences” and contain uses that are supportive of the activities located inside the dwelling.

Materials such as natural fieldstone and gravel reflect indigenous sources that would have been typical of the time period, while brick and bluestone suggest more refined tastes and ample resources.

copyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLC
The "Library Patio"

Plant selections draw from long-time European favorites, such as hollies and boxwood, and local natives such as Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) which combine characteristics of easy care, deer resistance and multiple seasons of interest.

copyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLC
The Kitchen Garden

The dwelling, designed by Wayne Simpson Architect of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is an adaptation of the owner's ancestral home known as Primitive Hall, the residence of Judge Joseph Pennock built in 1738. 

This modern abode interprets the traditional design for contemporary living, with numerous opportunities for connecting physically and visually with the outdoors, blurring the line between architecture and nature.

copyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLC
The front entrance with parking forecourt
As active members of the Chester County equestrian community, the owners embrace Highland Mede as their home, stable and sanctuary where the owners are just a likely to be found exercising and training their horses as they are casually strolling the gardens at dusk or entertaining family, friends and clients.

copyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLCcopyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLC

copyright Danilo Maffei/Maffei Landscape Design LLC
The "Sun Room Patio"
The home and gardens have been become a local favorite and are to be featured on the Bayard Taylor Library Home & Garden Tour on June 1, 2013.

Longwood Gardens Student Exhibition 2013 Opens

"Somewhere In Time"
Matt and Sandra drew their inspiration from Victorian era glass houses that were used to display tender aquatic plants and tropical trees. Their garden offers a vision of what that glass house might look like if it the garden gates were locked up and all was abandoned, allowing nature to take its course.

This year's theme, "Behind The Garden Gates", challenged Longwood Garden's Professional Gardener Program senior class to consider the garden in an abstract way. Artistically inspired interpretations of a gate and a keyhole, the convergence of man and nature, the legacy of an industrialist and his first endeavor and the dream-like vision of opulence forgotten are the four concepts explored by these eight students.

"The Gate and the Keyhole"
Meg and Tim devised a series of vertical pales with holes bored through at various heights, offering the garden visitor a chance to view their lush displays of bromeliads and ornamental grasses with unique perspectives.

Since 2010 Danilo Maffei has teamed with Longwood Gardens' Professional Gardener Program, educating the next generation of world-class horticulturists. The two year curriculum includes three courses on landscape design, which Mr. Maffei teaches over a period of 13 months. Students are challenged to create gardens that fit Longwood's thematic programming and adhere to their exacting standards for display, horticulture and education. Graduates of the program go on to careers in public and private concerns across the country and around the world.

"Behind the First Garden Gate"
Alana and Ila delved into the archives to snatch an image of what Longwood's founder, Pierre S. du Pont, might have first created at this world-renowned garden.

Mr. Maffei educates and advises the students as they learn the principles and practices of landscape design, including making a formal presentation to Longwood's Board of Trustees Advisory Committee. The students work within a set budget and must use plants as the dominant feature, using available resources and their own ingenuity to create and maintain individual expressions that endure for six months. The gardens are on display through October 15 and are part of regular admission to Longwood Gardens.

"Human vs. Nature"
Greg and Mike created a comparative portrait of nature's influence on modern gardens and man's presence in the wilds.