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.

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