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.

In The Field: 1958 Contemporary Garden Nears Completion

A view from the street of the nearly complete front entrance.

This project in Greenville, Delaware left the drawing board in the summer of 2012 and as 2013 rings in, the owners are seeing their vision of maximizing the usefulness of their property become a reality. The contractors broke ground shortly after Labor Day and Maffei Landscape Design has been working closely with the owner and the site supervisor to assure every detail is properly tended to.

Detail view of the front door with its refurbished, original railing.

 Because of careful planning and lots of experience on the part of the contractor, the work has flowed very smoothly from one trade to another, and there is just about every trade working on this site. Masons, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters as well as excavators, metal fabricators and, yes, horticulturists have shared the small space with great efficiency. Once spring arrives with its warmer temperatures and availability of the remainder of the plant list, the final touches will be placed on the garden and the owners will have their home to themselves again.

We have prepared a detailed record of the entire project with step by step photographs and descriptions on our Facebook page. Click here to go directly to the album, or visit http://www.facebook.com/MaffeiLandscapeDesign .