HOME & GARDEN
Walk This Way
Adding a Japanese-style path
can give you a fresh perspective on your property—even if it's more
than Far East
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
HOME & GARDEN
Signs of Spring
Why wait for the official
end of winter? Early-blooming botanicals let you get a jump on the season
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
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.
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
with compact, dark pink flowers; ‘April Snow’, which produces pure
white, double-petal blooms; and ‘Blue Baron’, with distinctive
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.
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;
• Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which is operated by The Worcester County
Horticultural Society (11 French Drive, Boylston; 508.869.6111; www.towerhillbg.org)
• Elm Bank, operated by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (900
Washington Street/Route 16, Wellesley; www.masshort.org)
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; www.zimmans.com
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 www.brimfieldshow.com—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
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.
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.
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).
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
A House Divided
Big spaces can easily be wasted. Here’s
how one designer faced the challenge
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
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."
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
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.”