The design brief:

To create an intimate corner of the garden for interaction with the stunning surroundings, one in which to feel comfortable and secure.

Design principles in action

Biophilic design:

  • Improving the direct connection to nature. Plants, trees, water, natural light and fresh air.
  • Supporting human spatial response. How we connect with direct or indirect references to nature. This centres on how we create spaces that are energising, stimulating and aspirational.
  • Providing a safe space in which humans can corporeally interact with nature and the elements, and engendering a greater fascination with nature.

Prospect and refuge

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve all placed more importance on outdoor space. This has particularly been the case within the luxury property market. Lockdowns have forced people to stay at home, something that we have not experienced before, and this has inevitably led to an evaluation of homes and gardens. Outdoor spaces have become our sanctuaries, a space to retreat to and seek solitude.

We work at the luxury end of the market, with buyers looking for gardens as an extension of their homes. Designing spaces that encompass outdoor entertainment and dining experiences, whilst also providing plenty of space for children to run around and explore within the safe confines of a garden’s boundaries.

In his 1975 book, The Experience of Landscape, Jay Appleton proposed that as a result of the vast amount of our evolutionary time being spent in intimate association with the landscape, the most satisfactory and pleasing landscapes from the human point of view are those in which we can ‘see without being seen’ – offering us prospect and refuge.

We love this concept 40 years on. We recognise that we like to immerse ourselves in easy to read landscapes, choosing to experience them from a place of safety, secure from danger. It’s part of our evolutionary psychology and it sparked the idea for this project: a previously unused sloping site just waiting to be transformed into an elevated sanctuary. A space in which our clients would feel at ease while enjoying the stunning vista (along with a bottle of wine or two!).

The project in focus:

A garden should be a year-round extension of clients’ homes. Another room, or – depending on its size – series of rooms to be enjoyed. That was our thought process when sympathetically landscaping the immediate area around the bank barn conversion, creating an extension of the indoor space.

The building on this particularly project stands within a field, and originally had a public footpath running directly alongside the barn, so it was necessary to provide a sense of enclosure for the occupants – and safety for their young children and dogs. 

Using our experience of the planning system, we not only received permission to incorporate five new windows and a separate garage block with ancillary accommodation above (no mean feat on a barn conversion in the Lake District National Park!) but also for a footpath move away from the side of the barn. Considerable dialogue with the National Park Authority, Cumbria County Council and the Ramblers Association paid off.

This meant the overgrown bank could be securely incorporated within the boundary of the garden, also allowing for the construction of a driveway to access the barn, and an automated gated entrance.

As the area was naturally sloped, this informed the design. Retaining walls were erected and faced in stone found within the barn’s fields. A wide stone staircase was constructed from the same, leading up to an enclosed patio area, with a low wall to the front and a higher wall to the rear.

Planting an evergreen hedge afforded privacy from the neighbour, lane and footpath whilst retaining space for an informal table and chairs. During the site’s excavation, a huge rock was found. We immediately spotted an opportunity to highlight this natural element and make it a defining feature within the design, setting it within the small flat lawn where the children can play and be seen from the building. The small lawn now also provides a space for the clients to practice yoga.

We also worked with the clients to commission bespoke oak gates for the driveway. These are automated and include an integrated intercom system and CCTV. The clients have milk delivered daily from the local farm and so a milk stoop sits at chest height in the wall next to the gate, allowing them to collect their milk without venturing beyond the gates – or having to bend down. Similarly,  the letter box integrated into the wall affords access from within the garden boundary.

Biophilic garden and landscape design:

We are passionate that design should begin and end in nature. As the natural world underpins the health of both people and our planet, it influences each and every design decision we make within our projects. That results in a slow approach to design, but one that is imaginative and ambitious, local, circular and – above all else – one that’s biodiverse, sustainable and ecological.

Nature has restorative, health-promoting and therapeutic powers. It is holistic and promotes active lifestyles, which are linked to a whole range of positive health outcomes, both mental and physical. In this way, designing outdoor spaces in which to immerse ourselves has never been more important. This project was about providing the opportunity to do just that…allowing our clients to spend more time relaxing in nature, drinking in the verdant views, and connecting with the seasons and surroundings.

Continuity is always something we ensure, reflecting elements of the whole interior architecture scheme. In this way, there’s cohesiveness to the overall project, particularly from an infrastructure and functionality point of view. This can particularly be seen where services are extended into the outdoor space – for example, lighting and gate control along with water that’s used in the bespoke outdoor kitchen and bbq facilities.

An ecologically-inspired planting scheme

A naturalistic ecologically inspired planting scheme was undertaken and the barn was surrounded with a nature-friendly design.

An olive tree was chosen as a centre piece for the lawn, reflecting the clients love of the Mediterranean. Selecting this optimal position for the tree formed an intrinsic aspect of the garden design. Lighting was incorporated, illuminating the steps and highlighting both the rock and the olive tree. This affords a serene ambience on balmy summer evenings when the clients sit out and survey their property, garden and the stunning landscape beyond.

The barn sits within the stunning Winster Valley, laying south east of Bowness-on-Windermere, famed for its damson trees and landscape of unspoilt pastoral delights. These trees can be seen clustered in small orchards alongside white washed farmhouses, undulating pastures and rocky outcrops of limestone. 

Two David Austin rambling roses were planted. The Lady of the Lake was chosen for its wonderful fragrance, repeat flowers and attractiveness to bees. It also provides a nod to nearby Lake Windermere. Iceberg is also a repeat flowerer. As it is particularly floriferous, it was planted to cover some of the stone walls with its stunning white blooms.

Factors considered when selecting materials

We always consider the durability and longevity of materials specified for each project.  We look at the overall impact a particular material will have as it relates to its surroundings and the building, as well as its ecological footprint.

Safety is another important consideration: non-slip materials, heights of walls and falls. Maintenance of the scheme is also factored in. And, from a practical point of view, we consider how external surfaces relate to interior surfaces and flooring applications. She would not specify a loose gravel driveway that leads directly into an entrance hall with a beautiful wood floor.

Landscape design as an investment in your property

Front gardens are often the first welcome you receive as you arrive home and they deserve special attention. It is recognised that buyers make up their minds when viewing a potential house to buy within the first few minutes, often before they have even stepped inside.

Of course, we are not all looking at landscaping the front of our properties simply to sell a house, but the value of investing in a well-designed front garden far outweighs the financial outlay.

Designing front gardens, be they large or small, is not always easy. In this case, an overgrown slope required a clear design brief. A garden designer can be invaluable as they have the knowledge and experience to make even small spaces work hard and achieve stunning results.

Interacting with plants is also known to be good for human health and wellbeing. Creating a beautifully welcoming and inviting entrance to your home is important, as we enter and leave our homes often from the front. This then becomes the first and last interaction we have with plants within our day.

“One of the successes of this project was the feedback from the client, who commented that having young children had meant that they felt unable to sit out and enjoy the garden in the summer evenings. The barn was laid out over three floors and the children slept on the first floor, so they were not previously able to hear or see if the children needed assistance. The new area provided a direct sight line into the barn and was close enough to hear any cries for comfort. It’s a joy to hear that a project has changed family life.”
Charlotte Findlater