Summer 2007
"Copper's Hot!"

Fall 2006
"Off the Wall"

Fall 2006
"Stately Spread"

Fall/Winter 2003
"The Shape of Things to Come"

Spring/Summer 2003
"Walk This Way"

Spring/Summer 2003
"Signs of Spring"

Spring/Summer 2003
"What's New on the Homefront" 

BOSTON magazine
March 2002
"A House Divided"

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Spring/Summer 2003

Walk This Way
Adding a Japanese-style path can give you a fresh perspective on your property—even if it's more
Northeast than Far East

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We New Englanders may have a long history of walking — think Henry David Thoreau and his musings (and meanderings) about Walden Pond — but when it comes to walkways around our homes, we’re decidedly less imaginative. “Most homes in this area use walkways in only the most utilitarian way,” says Peter White, principal of Zen Associates Inc., a Sudbury-based environmental design firm that recently opened a second office in Washington, D.C. According to White, the traditional New England approach is to have a narrow walk heading directly to the front door, plus smaller paths leading from side doors to other important destinations, like an outbuilding, a pool or garden. They get the job done — directing visitors from Point A to Point B in a safe, time-efficient manner, keeping them off the lawn or out of the flower beds — but they’re generally none too interesting on their own.

The Zen aesthetic embodies a balance that is organic, not contrived. Achieving it means artfully placing natural elements – stones, shrubs, a small fountain – that accent their surroundings instead of mirroring them.

In contrast, says White, a Japanese-style path has a somewhat higher purpose. “The walkway is designed to as sort of a narration,” he explains. “It’s designed to work as a sequence of unfolding spaces, bringing you into the home and preparing you at each step for what’s to come.” So while the visitor who’s arriving via a typical New England-style path will be focused on his final destination — the front door or the house, for instance — someone arriving via a Japanese-style walkway will be taking in the details of his trip. Just as the students in a yoga class are taught to concentrate on their breathing, travelers on a Zen walkway are likewise encouraged to focus on the here-and-now. The path is no longer just a conduit: It’s almost a destination in itself.

All of this might sounds appealing — but daunting to the owner of a classic Cape-style house who’d rather not dig up his entire property or fill his lawn with bonsai trees and carp-filled reflecting pools.

The good news is that almost any homeowner can create a gorgeous Japanese-style walkway, regardless of the size or style of his home. “Many people are amazed to find that these paths typically make use of the same elements—the plants and stones—that are common in New England,” says White. “It’s a familiar vocabulary,” he says. “Take a drive through Concord or around the Cape and you’ll see the same moss-covered stone walls, holly hedges and dogwood trees that you’ll seen in Kyoto.” And while the homes of Kyoto might look a lot more Japanese than the ones you’ll find on the Freedom Trail, their pathways can be adapted to suit even the most Puritanical architecture. The theory might be cultural, White explains, but the execution is universal.

The Essential Elements
When you’re thinking of a walkway, start with the basics, says White. “Any walkway, whether it’s 10 feet or 100 feet, has two arrival points.” At the front of your property, these will most likely be the front door of the house and the point of entry from the outside world, such as the sidewalk or driveway (the spot at which a car’s passengers would disembark).

Next, you should think about the elements of your property that you’d like to emphasize. For example, say you’ve got a gorgeous, sweeping view off to one side. You might make the path wider at that point, to encourage visitors to pause and take it all in. In contrast, your home might have most of its noteworthy elements in the back. In that case, you might want to use a series of polished river stones, which will encourage visitors to look at their feet as they walk (and thus appreciate the smaller-scale beauty at the front of your property).

You also can use lighting, plantings or walls to help visitors appreciate their journey, White suggests. For properties with a grand scale, you might lead guests in a slightly circuitous route (which would present them with several different, sequential views), edging your path with low-profile elements that encourage observers to take a wide view. On the other hand, you might use higher-profile elements to “pinch” your path at certain points, which will encourage guests to look at the items that are closer.

By arranging irregularly shaped stones in a more meandering pattern, you can create a path that is an end in itself, encouraging your guests to walk slowly and savor their surroundings.

“When you’re designing a Japanese-style path, you’ll treat it just as you would any other decorating project,” says White. Like the patterns, textures and colors that you’d get from interior elements like wallpaper, flooring, furniture and lighting, you’ll look to stones, plants and other elements to create the mood of your path.

Here are some other things to keep in mind:
Scale. Just as you’d never choose a single element—a tree, a wooden swing, a swimming pool or birdbath—so huge that it would dominate your entire property or so tiny that it would be lost in all that landscape—you should keep your walkway in keeping with the scale of your property, says White. Remember that all of the elements you use to create and frame your path will factor into the overall look, meaning you can make a walkway seem larger (or smaller) with the artful selection of plantings and other elements.

Definition. Japanese design calls for distinction among the various spaces in the property: the two arrival points, the walkway (which often contains several different zones), the vestibule and the subsequent rooms in the home. Each should be designed to reflect its purpose—leading guests around a pool or flowerbed, encouraging them to pause at certain points, welcoming them to the home—while fitting seamlessly into the whole property.

Balance. A key component of Zen-style design is what White calls “asymmetrical balance.” Unlike many American homes, which feature a perfectly square entryway or porch, approached by an equally straight driveway or path, that’s offset on either side by perfectly matched shrubs or stretches of perfectly plain lawn, a home in the Japanese style is decidedly asymmetrical. The view is almost never the same from one side or the other, and the observer’s eye is encouraged to wander over a series of varied shapes and textures. However, the effect is always balanced, White explains, because the designer has kept the number and type of elements consistent throughout each space.

Accessibility. If possible, your walkway should be wide enough to accommodate two people walking side by side (and hand in hand), says White. This will do more to convey a sense of serenity and contemplation than a narrow path, which only encourages visitors to hurry, single-file. And if you choose to employ river stones or other objects with an uneven surface, be sure that your property includes a secondary entryway that’s appropriate for less mobile guests (or anyone arriving on an icy or snowy day).


Spring/Summer 2003

Signs of Spring
Why wait for the official end of winter? Early-blooming botanicals let you get a jump on the season

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Here in Boston, most flowering plants won’t show their colors for at least a few more weeks. But a few varieties are already in bloom—and ready to be enjoyed. And if you’re like most New Englanders, come March, you’re more than ready to celebrate spring—even if there’s still a nip in the air. You can get your wish a little bit early this year, even if you didn’t plant a yard-full of bulbs last fall, thanks to an assortment of flowering shrubs that produce blooms as early as February.

Unfortunately, many homeowners are unfamiliar with these early-bloomers
and so miss out on the chance to enjoy their beauty, says R. Wayne Metzitt, president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association and chairman of Weston Nurseries in Hopkinton. “If you’re looking for spring-blooming plants, you’ll probably start planning your garden — and head to the garden center — well after these plants have passed their prime.” For example, he says, many types of April star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) are in full bloom before most other trees even begin to expand their buds (Metzitt recommends the white ‘Centennial’ or pink ‘Leonard Messel’ hybridized varieties). Another good choice is the Rhododendron ‘PJM,’ which produces for vibrant, lavender-pink flowers (its botanical name — Rhododendron ‘PJM,’ is the same as its common name). “This hybrid originated right here in Massachusetts and is one of the most reliable plants around,” he says.

“Most people in this area think ‘May’ when they think about springtime blooms,” says Jay O’Rourke, senior sales associate at New England Nurseries in Bedford. After all, she says, we’re not exactly living in the tropics, and no one likes the idea of submitting a beautiful flowering plant to a late-season Nor’easter.

Happily, there are flowers that can take it, and if you get a move on now, Metzitt says, you can see an assortment of early-bloomers at local nurseries and garden centers as well as a few public installations (see box below). Here are a few more recommendations:
Witch-hazel (Hamamelis) These shrubs are among the first plants to flower, often as early as February, producing blossoms that range from bright yellow to red. After their initial blooming, they’ll typically unfurl their petals every time the temperature rises above freezing — and often go on blooming until early April — says Metzitt.
Some species of forsythia (Forsythia) can be another good choice for gardeners who’d rather not wait for their flowers. Among them, the “Vermont Sun” variety is among the first to bloom, says Metzitt.
Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), a species of dogwood, will produce button-like yellow flowers along its branches in early April. It can be grown traditionally, as a multi-stemmed shrub, or trained into a tree-like form, with bark that exfoliates as the plant matures.
Heath (Erica), a type of heather, produces white or pink blossoms on needle-like, evergreen foliage and can begin flowering with a January thaw.
Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) is a broadleaf evergreen that produces bell-shaped white blossoms reminiscent of Lily of the Valley flowers, says O’Rourke. It can bloom in March.
Daphne mezereum, a.k.a. February daphne or paradise plant, produces fragrant lavender-pink or white bud clusters in April.
The bright lavender-pink rhododendron PJM (Rhododendron) is an early-flowering cousin of the azalea. Several cultivars, or hybrid varieties, of PJM are also good choices, says Metzitt. Look for ‘Milestone’, with compact, dark pink flowers; ‘April Snow’, which produces pure white, double-petal blooms; and ‘Blue Baron’, with distinctive blue blossoms.
Both the giant (Salix chaenomeloides) and the black species (Salix gracilistyla melanostachys) of the classic pussywillow display their fuzzy, bud-like catkins in March and April.

Check it out.
Flowering shrubs come in all shapes and sizes (and colors and textures), meaning they can add a big impact to your property. To get an idea of what your new plants will look like in your yard, try to find a garden center with an outdoor display or — better yet — find a place where you can see them in the ground. Several area parks feature early-blooming shrubs like the ones featured in this story:
• Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum (125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain; 617-524-1718;
• Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which is operated by The Worcester County Horticultural Society (11 French Drive, Boylston; 508.869.6111;
• Elm Bank, operated by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (900 Washington Street/Route 16, Wellesley;



Spring/Summer 2003

What's New
on the Homefront

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Prep’s Cool.
Right now, the sorbet-bright colors and classic patterns of a preppy New England closet — think madras plaids, school-colors stripes, and crisp poplins covered in small embroidered creatures — are all the rage in clothing and accessories. That same combination of high-quality fabrics and whimsical colors and motifs can be seen in the season’s new home design fabrics, says Glenn Polito, textiles sales manager at Zimman’s, the fabric- and design-lover’s Mecca in Lynn. Look for hundreds of fabrics, from plaid and striped silk taffetas in country club brights to crisp cottons and sheer linens, embroidered with everything from life-size insects to miniature martini glasses. Zimman’s, 80 Market Street, Lynn, Mass. 01901; 781-598-9432;

Antiques Overload.
Savvy New England antique-hunters know that the Brimfield Antiques and Collectibles Show (dates are May 13-18, July 8 – 13 and September 2 –7) can be a goldmine for everything from fine furniture to collectible glass and miniatures. Since its birth in the ‘50s, the Brimfield show has become the largest and most famous antiques bazaar in the U.S. But if you'd rather not spend hours – or even days – traipsing through more than 6000 dealer booths in search of your treasure, plan your attack before you leave home:
Use the show’s database— at
to find the dealers and promoters (the groups who operate the show’s 23 separate “fields”) who are your best prospects. For the high-end items, veterans start at the “premium” fields (J&J Promotions is the most famous) and work out from there. The website will also tell you which fields are open when (operating hours are staggered, and some fields are open only two or three days per show).
Visit on a weekday—and arrive as early as humanly possible—to see the best items and avoid the crowds of browsers. At the show, if you see an item that you like, leave a deposit with the dealer or at the very least, write down his name and location so that you can find his booth again). And if you don’t find that dream chair or rug, make note of the dealers who carried similar items and contact them later in the year.

If These Floors Could Talk.
Looking for genuine antique flooring to match your genuine antique home (or to offset your modern marvels)? Look to Longleaf Lumber, a Somerville lumberyard that sells an array of salvaged wood and reclaimed brick. Much of their stock was found in industrial and commercial buildings dating to the 19th century, and typically includes old-growth wood that was chosen for its strength and durability — and is next to impossible to find today.
Another bonus: The fact that your new floors come with an illustrious history, making them a conversation piece as well as a place to put your feet. For more information, contact Longleaf Lumber at 617-625-3659.

Bright Idea.
Setting up a lighting scheme that allows for zero-eyestrain can be tough, especially if you’re fond of working (reading, knitting, doing the crossword) in an otherwise non-work-related area. “Creating good task lighting can be a challenge,” says Drew Atherton, an interior designer in Duxbury who also offers specialized lighting design services. “You’ve got lots of factors to consider: The type of work you’re doing, the amount of ambient light in the area and the amount of glare you’ve got. Plus, you want to think about the overall feeling of the room.” To save your eyes without turning your living room or bedroom into fluorescent hell, Atherton suggests investing in a task light that can be adjusted both in its angle and positioning as well as its brightness, as well an overhead or ambient lights that also can be dimmed or brightened. For more advice, talk with a lighting consultant (your interior designer can make some recommendations).

Miniature—and Mobile.
A brand-new breed of plants lets your creativity bloom, no matter how small your space (or how changeable your needs)
All apartment-dwellers, big-city types and perennially mobile, rejoice! We no longer must yearn for the wide-open spaces once required for any respectable garden. What’s more, we don’t need any ground at all—at least not the permanent, terra firma kind. With the creation of miniature plants ranging from tiny trees and shrubs to flowering perennials, even those with serious space and commitment issues can have a diverse and sophisticated garden.
R. Wayne Metzitt, president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association and chairman of Weston Nurseries in Hopkinton, traces much of the initial interest in miniatures to mini-railway hobbyists, who were always on the lookout for interesting ways to create a realistic natural scene, Lilliputian-size. But the trend has recently caught on among apartment-dwellers who love the idea of a sophisticated garden but hate the idea of moving to a larger place in order to get it. “With these plants, you can have the color and texture of full-sized plantings, but you’ve got a garden that’s compact and movable.” Indeed, because they’re rooted in a shallow and portable tray, your plants can be moved—without being transplanted—meaning you can have a table-top garden that doubles as a ground-level flower bed, or a series of shrubs that can create a privacy screen or walkway border virtually anywhere you choose.
These aren’t simply full-size plants sheared down to create a smaller effect, says Metzitt, nor are they Japanese-style bonsai. “These are a new species, and we’ve specifically cultured them to be smaller and to grow more slowly than regular varieties,” he explains. Most are available in three-inch or six-inch pots, and many feature tiny leaves, flowers and fruit that match the plant’s overall scale. And while they won’t require any special care, like their full-scale cousins, many miniatures require routine pinching and pruning. Among your choices are several varieties of juniper, euonymus, azalea, rhododendron, chrysanthemum, moss and thyme.
One of the most popular applications for miniature plantings is a tabletop garden, which can be established in a portable planting table specifically designed to accommodate the plants’ roots and protect them from sub-zero temperatures. “These gardens are perfect for a deck or small patio, or even a window box,” Metzitt says. “They’ve also been used in conjunction with rooftop turf plantings—trays that have been planted with grass—to really give the effect of a big lawn.”
Another idea: Planting a miniature hedge
or a series of hedges in portable containers, then putting them to use as a privacy screen or border (or just as a way to add visual interest and a touch of green to a deck or terrace.


BOSTON magazine
March 2002

A House Divided

Big spaces can easily be wasted. Here’s how one designer faced the challenge

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Everyone longs for a home with plenty of space, whether it’s for living, entertaining, or just storing your stuff. But even the largest of houses can seem small if its space is ineffectively organized. Just ask Dennis Duffy, principal designer of Boston’s Duffy Design Group, who recently dealt with the problem when designing a newly expanded and renovated house on three wooded acres in Sherborn. Duffy’s challenge: turn the house’s enviable 4,500 square feet into a comfortable, functional home -- and to incorporate the space outside into the interior mix. “In a big house, everything has to work with everything else, or you’ll just create clutter on a larger scale,” he says.

For this property, that meant partitioning the main living area into several different sections and bringing the yard inside via a series of grand windows. Duffy designed an open corridor that runs along the back of the house and provides what he calls “the spine” of the area. With its nine-foot windows, it showcases a swimming pool and terraced yard surrounded by woods. A warm gray paint on the window frames mimics the colors and echoes the stark vertical lines of the birch trees outside, as do the slightly mismatched frosted-glass lighting fixtures that hang straight down from the ceiling. These clean lines create the effect of a path in the forest, open on all sides but never completely unobstructed.

The kitchen, living and dining rooms are set off from the corridor by a heavy curtain, a two-layer construction featuring a sage-colored fabric on the outside and a copper-wire chain mail on the inside. The curtain allows any or all of the rooms to be cordoned off, creating instant walls that feel soft but not confining, temporary rather than permanent.

“In a big house, everything has to work with everything else," says designer Dennis Duffy. "Otherwise, you’ll just create clutter on a larger scale."

“People don’t want to live in perfect little compartments,” says Duffy, who has put his unique soft-contemporary stamp on residential properties including lofts in the Back Bay and South End, as well as on the new Charlesmark Hotel. “But the idea of a comfortable living area and a formal dining room are still appealing, so we made sure that those rooms could be created whenever they were needed.”

Duffy’s make-it-comfortable philosophy carries over into the kitchen, as well. “We all know that people always congregate in the kitchen,” he says. So instead of fighting that, he made the kitchen a comfortable place to hang out, with high stools around the center island and a small table that also serves as an informal breakfast spot.

In the living room, Duffy chose furniture rich in color and built on a scale that fits the room’s expansive proportions: roomy chairs and an oversized ottoman covered in a claret mohair beside a glossy baby grand piano paired with jacquard-upholstered stools. “The pieces are big, but there aren’t too many of them,” Duffy says. “Their size makes them feel anchored, even in this big space.” Everything in the seating area is grouped casually, neither jammed against the walls nor piled into the center of the room, adding an unfettered air to what otherwise might have felt like formal furnishings.

One of Duffy’s biggest challenges came in coordinating the living and dining areas. In contrast to the living room, with its 16-foot ceilings, the dining room has much less headroom; it’s also enclosed on two sides by windowless walls. To meld the room into the rest of the home, however, Duffy chose to play up its proportions instead of trying to camouflage them.

First, he raised the floor a few inches and covered it in a deep walnut that’s actually a shade or two darker than the Brazilian cherry he used in the floors throughout the rest of the house. This created a subtle line of demarcation between the living and dining rooms and made the dining area seem more warm and inviting. Next, Duffy treated the walls and ceiling with a textured paint and copper leaf, creating an effect that’s darker than your average eggshell but much more interesting, with a subtly textured and reflective surface. This play of light keeps the room from feeling claustrophobic, as do the wide-open expanses of the living room to one side and the views of the wooded yard on the other.

Achieving this sense of constancy across several rooms (and hundreds of square feet) is always a primary goal, says Duffy. “Having a lot of space gives you great flexibility, but the rules of good design still apply,” he explains. Every object has a function; everything occupies space and interacts with the things around it. And when it all works together, you’ve got a space worth coming home to.”

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