What's good design? A landscape architect's perspective

Creating a beautiful home takes a broad set of skills that not all of us possess. In the worst case of being left to our own devices, we could end up like Cary Grant’s 1948 movie character in Mr. Blandings’s derelict dream house.   

But no one needs to go it alone. A good design professional knows how to listen to a client’s vision in order to bring it to life. To find out what’s involved, we chatted with three New Hampshire designers who are outstanding in their respective fields—architect Chris Williams, interior designer Ann Henderson and landscape architect Terrence Parker. We asked what they consider good design and how it affects our everyday lives.

East meets west in landscape architect Terrence Parker’s love of design. As someone who began by working with plants, Parker, of Terra Firma Landscape Architecture in Portsmouth, went on to earn a master’s degree in landscape architecture, studied temple gardens in Japan and was an artist in residence in Cortona, Italy.

Leaning forward at a café table, Parker begins: “With each project, I look for the genius loci. I try to get a feel for the spirit of the site and bring that energy forward in appropriate site forms and patterns.

“I craft spaces that harmonize with plant materials and forms that catch the light. I structure the landscape for use,” he says. “I’m the guy who blends the interior with the exterior.”

Parker likes to be in on projects from the beginning. “That way I can help site the building and outbuildings to create a more seamless connectivity to the earth.”

When a client engaged Parker early in the process to create a garden to connect his new house to the sea, Parker was in his element. This meant he could locate the outbuildings so they would ground the main building and further extend its interior spaces. He could create more human-sized exterior spaces for intimate gatherings. And, he could borrow views, from one space to another. Now, the client’s large extended family can move from private garden spaces, to a sunny bluestone patio, to a perennial border, to a rocky path down to the sea.

At another home, Parker created a stone bookcase and carved stone slabs into storybooks for the clients’ daughter, all worked into a traditional stone wall. He even made a stone sofa out of billowy rock. For another client, he designed a swimming pool with gentle, framed views of surrounding fields. Then he connected the pool space to a sheltered fire pit. At a local elementary school, among other projects, Parker transformed a flat asphalt playground into an earthen mound system. Now on school mornings, children run and jump and gather on the mounds. Educator Leigh Robinson observed, “These kids come to school in a happier, better place because of these mounds.”

Though it’s still a proposal, Parker has designed a new streetscape for The Music Hall in Portsmouth, extending the theater experience into a small courtyard with sculpted sitting walls that are perfect for conversation. Critical to his plan is a beautiful archway on Congress Street that will make the theater’s side street entrance clear to all.

“The common element from all the different landscapes I’ve designed, from the playful earth mounds for kids to the structured exterior room of a neo-classical estate,” Parker says, “is that I try to get people out in the landscape to feel its healing powers and beauty.”     

Terrence Parker of Terra Firma Landscape Architecture in Portsmouth designed gardens to complement the style of Janet Prince and Peter Bergh’s shingled home in New Castle, which appeared in New Hampshire Home in January/February 2011 [A Perennially Adaptable Home]. The garden has been featured on several local tours and on a national tour sponsored by The Garden Conservancy.
Photography by John W. Hession


Categories: Architecture and Interiors