To complement their thoroughly modern home, this Northwest couple cooked up an ultracool yet practical outdoor living space that makes use of stone, concrete and just a few well-placed plantings.
LINDA WEISS and Ron Gawith’s garden is all about structure, cool materials and living outdoors. Plants play second fiddle to design. The palette is gray, black and silver, with hits of color. The couple’s interior and exterior aesthetic is so seamless that even if garden and house were separated by the length of Vashon Island, you’d recognize in an instant that they go together.
Sleek and modern, indoors and out, is just what you’d expect from the longtime owners of Current, the now defunct furniture and lighting store that raised the bar for design in Seattle. It’s probably not hyperbole to suggest that Gawith and Weiss’ store introduced chic Italian design to our corner of the country. So it’s a bit surprising to find Weiss and Gawith’s haute modernity down a long, winding driveway on this most rural of islands. But the wildness of pastures and woods only emphasizes the garden’s elegant minimalism.
You won’t find frilly peonies or old-fashioned rhododendrons in this functional series of outdoor rooms designed for cooking and entertaining. Plants are used as architecture, to divide space, emphasize, disguise or adorn.
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The couple were living in a condo in Pioneer Square when Weiss felt a compulsion to get back to gardening. They rented a place on Whidbey Island for a while, then bought property on Vashon. They intended to build a home, but grew tired of waiting for permits from the county. “Finally, on Christmas I said to Ron, let’s buy that modern house,” says Weiss. The house was perfect, but they’ve been working on the garden ever since.
“We were inspired by Jamie Oliver on the Food Channel,” explains Weiss of their outdoor kitchen, complete with concrete countertops and a wood-burning pizza oven from Italy. The kitchen door is just steps away from outdoor dining. “We’ve kept everything in close proximity,” says Weiss. As you might expect from these enthusiastic cooks, the vegetable garden is nearby with raised beds for blueberries, strawberries and lettuces.
A sturdy pergola roofs the dining terrace. Outdoor spaces are delineated by hedges and tall gabion walls. These hunky, boulder-filled cages cut the wind, making it comfortable to cook and eat outside. Interior floors are gray concrete; as are the outside terraces, except where they’re gray gravel. All the pots, paving and gravel are not only coolly modern but also practical solutions to the property’s nasty, rocky soil.
Plants do play a role, if not in the expected beds and borders. Grasses and calla lilies flourish in a rectangular pond that runs between the al fresco dining and sitting rooms. “It’s more of a mud feature than a water feature,” says Weiss with a laugh. No matter how boggy, the vertical stand of lush plants works as a gauzy room divider. A neat row of sumptuously planted black pots softens the hard stone and wire walls.
The garden’s entry is flanked with a blend of silvery eucalyptus, olive trees and senecio. Metal pots overflowing with bright red geraniums mark the front door. The living layers of the garden are massed, raised up in pots and repeated for best effect.
Hedges and walls extend the home’s architecture into the garden. Layers upon layers of unusual hedging include smoke bushes, fig trees and potted herbs.
“I think we’ve corralled the right amount of space this time,” says Weiss, explaining the fraction of their five-acre property that is cultivated. “I like to contain plants with geometry and symmetry inside the fence,” she says. “Outside the fence in deer country, it’s a different story.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.