The gardens seem to go on forever, with undulating lawns, sculpted flower beds and towering shade trees mingling under an azure sky. Around a corner, the custom pool and spa are as much a treat for the eyes as they are for the body and the spirit, providing cool comfort and regenerative properties alike. Beyond, multiple patios invite repose and conversation, and custom fireplaces warm up crisp evenings.
It’s the epitome of a resort experience — one that could only be improved upon if it didn’t come with a check-out date.
That’s the downside of vacation; no matter how glorious, it still has to end at some point. It’s also the impetus behind a growing trend that has luxury homeowners sparing no expense in creating a resort at home, mimicking exotic jaunts, lushly landscaped garden spaces and elaborate outdoor entertainment zones to create their own version of the ultimate getaway experience — without ever having to leave.
“Over the years, I have seen the role of the exterior spaces in people’s lives increase. Most people want to be in their private spaces and surrounded by beauty, good sounds, things to do and great ways to entertain, and to add enrichment to their lives,” says John Merten, principal of Northern California-based landscape architecture firm Studio Green. “Most of our clients want to have swimming pools, fire pits, outdoor cooking areas, seating areas, play areas, hot tubs and more. Many people have traveled to various places and experienced amazing things; there is no reason these experiences have to be limited to a vacation or business trip.”
One might think that a large property would be easier to design; however, every property comes with its own unique set of challenges. The famed Villa Maria estate in The Hamptons compelled landscape architecture firm Hollander Design to take this historic property, dating back to 1919 when it was purchased by shipping tycoon Edward P. Morse and most recently the waterfront estate of late shoe designer Vince Camuto, and honor its history while “returning this magnificent home and property to its rightful glory” and creating a modern resort, says the firm’s founder, Edmund Hollander.
“When we first saw Villa Maria, it was as if we were reviewing a grande dame who had been unloved and uncared for over many years. We were thrilled when Vince and Louise Camuto approached us and asked if we would like to be part of the team involved with returning this magnificent home and property to its rightful glory,” he adds. “Working collaboratively with Andre Tchelistcheff, we developed the site plan with pool, tennis, and all the other amenities a modern family would want. The landscape had to create an appropriate setting for this baronial piece of architecture. It also had to create a connection between the home and the magnificent views over Mecox Bay.”
Of course, not every yard has the acreage to accommodate every amenity, at least on one level. But, for ingenious landscape designers, a smaller or distinctively proportioned property is simply an invitation to be creative with the space planning. Studio Green’s Tiburon Hills project is located in the hills above the Marin County city of Tiburon, and the site required an extra level of innovation in creating the kind of indoor-outdoor living and entertainment space the homeowners desired. On the main level, NanaWall windows open completely onto a deck, eliminating the barrier between inside and out and creating stunning vistas spanning the San Francisco Bay. Downstairs, an infinity pool and expansive lawn area gave the homeowners the outdoor living area they were seeking.
“Living and working in Northern California, it is only natural to be outside. Our climate is temperate, and many properties afford very pleasant outdoor opportunities,” says Merten. “I think this, combined with the exposure people have to new ideas, architectural styles and a desire for fabulous things and quality, really encourages the resort concept. There is also the fact that the economy in this region is so diverse and has created so much wealth, there are fewer limitations to developing your resort-like property experience.”
Entertaining New Ideas
For many homeowners, creating that ideal resort-style space on their property means being able to entertain in high style. That can include multiple seating areas, places where guests can lounge or relax by an outdoor fireplace or, in the case of this Water Mill, New York, home, a massive outdoor bar and entertainment area designed by New York-New Jersey residential and commercial landscaping design and construction firm Sponzilli Landscape Group.
A large pergola was constructed for shelter, with cedar cabinets, a Lynx grill with side burner, a Summit refrigerator with glass doors, and a massive, single slab of marble for an unexpected touch of elegance along the back wall. A TV mounted on the slab and a half-dozen barstools provide the ultimate in outdoor entertainment appeal and complement the mirrored-edge pool, formal rose garden, imported sculptures and thermal bluestone patios and walkways in other areas on the property.
“More and more, we find clients who have traveled abroad or to vacation destinations that offer full outdoor amenities, and they want them now at their full-time residence,” says Daniel Sponzilli, chief executive officer of Sponzilli Landscape Group. “Homeowners stay home more than ever and customize their entertainment and living spaces; now, they are moving this same concept outside.”
Many homeowners have an idea of what they want when they first meet with a landscape designer or architect, based on their vacation experiences and their personal needs for their home environment. “For gardens, there are two simultaneous trends I’m seeing,” says Hollander, author of “The Good Garden.” “The first is for simpler gardens, more attuned to nature. At the same time, clients want elements in the landscape that appeal to all generations, from grandparents to kids. Many of our clients are coming to us with Pinterest pages or other digital files of images that are meaningful to them.”
Yet, no matter the source of the inspiration, crafting the ideal resort space is rarely a copycat experience.
“Clients often bring ideas to me or discuss great experiences they have had and can articulate them,” says Merten. “Most people do not want exactly what they have seen or experienced; rather, it is a kernel of an idea or inspiration, and we then have to make it unique. I think it is very important to create spaces and elements in the garden that are original in ways and never a copy. I find that the incorporation of the design elements and garden feature with the concepts that drive the design is the most exciting and challenging aspect of the creation of a unique place.”