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contemporary garden design detail elements

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design & words Amir Schlezingeramir schlezinger

Detail is Everything

Detail design is everywhere in a garden; it's in the space among stones, dainty foliage silhouettes and the energy produced within contrasting textures. Sometimes, detail is clearly evident in a vividly expressed, sculptural man-made object, while at other times, it's yet to be discovered, undulating across the aeons of time it takes a new garden to fully mature, canopies to merge, materials to mellow, and weather to tattoo its mark upon an outdoor canvas. Yet, an incidental detail, formed by the balance between landscape design, nature and garden owner, is one of the most endearingly captivating of all!

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1. step 2. seat 3. light 4. slate 5. fitted 6. cedar 7. water 8. grass 9. bench 10. bespoke

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1 step

wandsworth garden

The linear step design detail in this town garden near Wandsworth Common emerged from two necessities: we sought to link the deck outside the living room and kitchen on the same height, and create a split-level, dual-purpose patio garden zone. An Iroko hardwood deck was aligned with the doorsteps, producing a further level change into the sandstone patio, while forming a dynamic sequence. We matched the step's tread with the buff sandstone, and integrated wood across its fascia, where light fittings enhance a symmetrical balanced grid, and highlight a series of well-expressed patio design ideas.

2 seat

Following the complete modernisation of this Parsons Green terraced house, its shaded courtyard garden had turned hopelessly irreparable. We rendered the back wall, producing a seamless canvas to construct built-in benches to sync the garden with its contemporary residence. By encompassing both left and back elevations, a spacious, ergonomic seating zone was created. A multi stem Himalayan birch tree provides an anchoring focal point, while generating diagonal movement and balance. By utilising the same buff sandstone as the seat platforms, we carved out a circular light well, increasing spatial depth in this very small space. With further tactility at sitting height, amid vivid lighting at dusk, the consistent honing of design ideas for a truly compact garden infuses an inspiring gamut of floating details.

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3 light

While countless EC1 penthouse gardens feature wrap-around terraces or L-shaped verandas, the continual garden design task of increasing sense of depth is a mission, and in the Ziggurat building, Saffron Hill, this spatial predicament is mitigated by glass panels which surround a curved Art Deco outline. Bespoke planters, aptly powder coated in a neutral, minimalist colour palette, elevate planting above the deck, where natural light fills their apertures. A textural matrix of grasses, perennials and aromatic herbs soaks up the sunbeams across this warm roof terrace microclimate to define contemporary planting, within a floating design sequence.

4 slate

grosvenor waterside terrace

The blue slates detailed in the planters of this Hepworth Court roof terrace in Chelsea resemble natural mountain ridges. By adapting a conventional mulch into an artistic expression, a functional aesthetic is refined. We planted Silver birch, Pine and Olive trees as sculptural focal points, which thrive in fierce wind. The beautiful trunks of such species are highlighted within this pattern, while the stoutness of slate retains the compost, as wind streams through – deterring Magpies from digging where they're not supposed to!

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5 fitted

rooftop landscaping

Subtle detail design requires a consistently perfect fit, and none more so than in this unique Clerkenwell roof terrace facing St Paul's Cathedral. The contemporary interior is enveloped by three terraces, which we designed over several projects. Brimming with modern art, the penthouse apartment gained further substance by syncing this private collection into the outdoors, counterbalanced by a specially commissioned modern sculpture. We devised an original sequence of indoor and roof terrace planters in corresponding forms and colours, featuring tender succulents inside and architectural trees outside. To frame the cathedral's view from the master bedroom, we planted a multi stem Ginkgo tree, where its branches emerge through a mosaic of tumbled quartz paddlestones. Forming a distinct, natural layout, this matrix of contrasting details diversifies a small rooftop project, amid the monotony of London's urban rooflines.

6 cedar

Adjoining the street, the boundary of this end-of-terrace North London garden required a security element. In order to add height without permanent heavy-duty construction, Cedar cladding forms the upper section of the left fence. Cedar softwood is a versatile material, milled into diverse sizes – enabling the freedom to create compelling patterns. We designed a contemporary screen detailed in three bands, where each 1-metre panel generates dynamic rhythm in its segments, producing subtle detail design continuity.

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7 water

belgravia garden

The stainless steel spout at the centre of this sizeable water feature was detailed to define contrasting scale within a layered composition. The small and obscured courtyard is situated at the back of a grand Georgian townhouse, where we sought to enhance reflections, sound and light in a shaded site. The fusion of silky Bamboo canes, natural stone and water produces Japanese woodland ambience, where detail permeates every aspect of an innovative design. As in many Eastern gardens, even the modest nuanced detail heightens a site's essence; when we infuse even a fraction of this spiritual philosophy within urban London gardens, a small outdoor space is truly extended beyond its mere layout into a meaningfully liveable oasis.

8 grass

penthouse terrace

The current planting scheme for this 2.2-metre curved white vase is our plan B in a King's Cross designer roof terrace. Affected by gusty wind, the original Juncus soft rushes required an alternative, where two symmetrical troughs framing the side elevations of this canalside penthouse were replanted with shorter Mexican feather grasses and Geranium ‘Rozanne’. The current composition is far daintier, and with the planters' milky-white backdrop, a new low-key detail was formed.

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9 bench

chelsea rooftop

The detailed precision of this built-in bench was tailor-made to accompany a contemporary outdoor furniture set in a Kings Chelsea penthouse rooftop. While solid Iroko hardwood forms the spacious seat, continued in the raised beds' coping detail, the stainless steel uprights were designed to match the profile of a bluestone dining table. Outdoor lighting defines the void below, while dainty grasses cascade softly, amid a composition abundant in luminescent detail – enhancing the ambience of this north-facing roof terrace.

10 bespoke

If we can design it, then we can build it, and if we can build it, it's invariably custom-made! Bespoke water features, seating, planters, decks and screens form immersive garden experiences, since every outdoor space epitomises its location, owner and the designer who crafted it with thoughtful details. We rarely utilise an off-the-shelf product, unless it's adding contrast by augmenting a scheme. After all, every mass-produced invention began life as an original humble blueprint. While this object is randomly displayed in a store, or an online boutique, a garden forms an intimate individual expression.

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– coda –

A Rudimental Expression

The most rudimental expressions of a contemporary garden design portfolio exist within the minutiae of refined design details in forging fresh associations, unexpected combinations and balanced linkages; at times inconspicuous, now and then subliminal, and sometimes yet to be discovered in the mellowing beauty of a landscape design. Amid our own back gardens and rooftops, these cardinal, integral elements form a complex myriad of telling ingredients, not only of the degree of craftsmanship and design of the garden, but also of the qualities of the space – the modern urban outdoor space.