Our studio approaches each project with a goal to bring nature into a person's daily life. We want to draw people out into the land through minimalist interventions. The story of this home’s landscape began with the Leake family who owned an old timber property in Oxford, Mississippi, created a master plan and their own home with Lake Flato Architects and then teamed up with Drew Lang, principal of Lang Studio to design a “concept home” for a development Splinter Creek.
Splinter Creek is unusual in the South. It is a low density collection of 26 homesites, set amidst 650 acres of established pine forests with three large lakes and contributing streams. Strict design covenants will ensure that all of the architecture will be contemporary.
The family sought a landscape architect who could create a natural, contemporary design that was light on the land and connected seamlessly with the existing architecture. A client and friend of mine, Martin Ditto, a modern developer based in Washington D.C., who knew Ellen Leake, told her that she and I had to meet. After a coffee and long conversation in Georgetown, D.C., we planned my first site-visit the following week.
The house needed to float atop a sea of perennials and grasses, in a teaming meadow flowing down to the lake.
Early in my career, in Santiago, Chile, I worked for landscape architect, Teresa Moller. She taught me that I must let the land speak to me before approaching any design intervention. Looking through this lens, I allowed myself four days to experience the specific ten-acre site for the model home and the 650 acres that the lot sits within. After many walks, conversations, paddle-board excursions -- to take in the site from the lake and from the views of other future homes -- I gained a vision for how the home should sit and connect with the landscape. It needed to float atop a sea of perennials and grasses, in a teaming meadow flowing down to the lake. We coordinated closely with the Lang team to site the home in the correct location and elevation so that the home would stand above the land but not feel abstracted from it.
Each time I approach a landscape masterplan, I seek to first draw from that which exists naturally in the site and its surroundings and secondly to make the most minimal intrusions into the landscape itself—allowing the natural plant palette to show forth with clean-lined walls, paths, and spaces placed amidst lush plantings.
Construction had disturbed the ground so we aimed to reestablish the natural grade that previously swept across the site. We gently carved out spaces for gatherings near the home into the landscape, creating a waterfront gravel terrace with corten steel retaining walls. Stone gabion walls, already a design language throughout the greater Splinter Creek landscape, formed the entry courtyard, and narrow stone paths extend from the house into surrounding pine forests, connecting one further out into the shared 650 acre Splinter Creek footprint. The stone paths draw one out into the natural landscape visually and actively, while the front lawn terrace and waterfront gravel terrace provide opportunities for people to gather immersed in the tall grasses and perennials.
We wanted to create a linear design element that would pull one’s view into the forest but also provide the opportunity for a playful sculptural gesture closer to the home. So, we hand selected seven boulders from the nearest local quarry ranging in 4’ – 7’ above grade to be seen for their beauty, climbed upon by children, and extend from the lawn out into the meadow.
Taking it a step further to literally draw from the existing land, I spent many mornings paddling the edges of two of the 40-acre lakes to collect plant and seed samples that were growing naturally in Splinter Creek. I then worked with a botanist and the leading custom seed mix manufacturer, Ernst Seed, to establish the plants that were native to the North Mississippi landscape. We created a custom Splinter Creek Meadow seed mix for lowland (adjacent to the lake) and an upland seed mix for use throughout the entire home-site. We seeded the lakeside shore, and within one season it was fully established creating a sweeping meadow up to the more carefully planted garden surrounding the home.
Get-togethers occur frequently at the model house at Splinter Creek, and the landscape surrounding the model home continues to draw people out into nature, providing areas to gather while looking out across the lake. The garden is only in it’s second growing season, but will be bursting forth again this spring and worth a visit for anyone!