David Smith, importer and Seattle retailer, traveled to China and Japan a couple of years ago with landscape architect David Pfeiffer. The friends and collaborators visited contemplative and scholars' gardens, looking for inspiration for Smith's Vashon Island garden.
HOW A traditional teak Javanese house came to be nestled into a contemporary garden on a Northwest island is a story spanning decades and continents.
David Smith, importer and local retailer, traveled to China and Japan a couple of years ago with landscape architect David Pfeiffer. The friends and collaborators visited contemplative and scholars’ gardens, looking for inspiration for Smith’s Vashon Island garden. To explain their quest, Smith borrows a thought from the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho: “I don’t seek to follow in the footsteps of men of old . . . rather I seek the things they sought.”
At the time of the trip, they’d been working together on a master plan for Smith’s property that focused on the house, designed by Vashon architect Patrick Gordon. Over the years, Smith had added to his original 12 acres of raw, cleared land to create an 18-acre enclave, working with designer Terry Welch to plant groves of shimmering birches and dozens of Japanese maples.
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“We’re an island here,” Smith says, and not just because the place he shares with his wife, Suzanne Anderson, is on Vashon. Surrounded by woodlands conserved by the Land Trust, Smith had created a world apart, firmly rooted in its deep green Northwest landscape yet rich in Asian artifacts and sensibilities.
Two decades ago, Smith imported a 2,500-square-foot joglo, a teak house from Kudus in Central Java. With its swooping rooflines and filigreed carving, the distinctively Indonesian house hadn’t settled into the landscape as he had hoped.
Smith wanted the Kudus house to be a place for meditation, and to host benefits, parties and music concerts. He had literally tons of ancient stone he’d imported over the years from China. “This is what David does . . . He finds really cool stuff and brings it back, then figures out how to incorporate it into the garden,” explains Pfeiffer. Then there was the modernist 17th-century Kyoto garden that had so impressed both men for its seamless integration of architecture and nature. From these hopes, memories and materials, a plan was born to make the Kudus house the centerpiece of the property.
Pfeiffer set about the task of figuring out how to harmoniously integrate the highly decorative, 150-year-old Javanese building into a quintessentially Northwest landscape. “I wanted to create something unexpected, to set the Kudus house like a jewel into its own courtyard,” says Pfeiffer. The new garden is both simple and complex, compelling yet restful. Pfeiffer anchored the expansive courtyard with low walls and standing stones. He profoundly patterned the ground with stretches of calm pools, orbs of Chinese millstones, granite planks and cutouts holding cherry trees and masses of ornamental grasses. The plant palette is minimal, the stones and watery reflections spectacular.
Around the paved courtyard, it looks as though Pfeiffer pinched up long furrows of ground, stretching them to ripple like waves out into the landscape. The landforms frame and soften the Kudus house, while hiding the driveway. “This is the place to be in the morning when the sun comes up and the mist rises off the landforms,” says Smith.
Soon enough the Japanese cherry trees will grow up to form a canopy that turns brilliant pink in springtime and golden in autumn. And while the sheltering stones and reflective surfaces lend a quiet, intimate feel to the garden, it’s also a place for people to come together to enjoy a party or a concert. As soon as the garden was finished, Smith and Anderson held their wedding in their new Kudus house garden.
“My focus changed as David and I worked together,” says Smith, “and this place became the heart and soul of the property.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.