Art meets Architecture meets Horticulture – is an equation underlined by landscape designer Steve Ritchey in his compelling creations that respond fully to the site, region and the specific needs of the client.
Steve founded Seed Studio four years ago and has since then been exploring the beautiful connection between nature and design on all ‘grounds’. Steve’s designs are aimed at adapting the house to the environment. The landscape elements that he plants into his works make the entire space germinate as a whole.
Steve says, “When I begin a new project I primarily want to create a space for the user and provide him with a great user experience. I work with the existing elements and spaces and try to instill feelings of comfort, intimacy and transition. I ask myself, where does the space feel best? Where is the vibe lacking? How can I help? I then add elements as needed, shuffle the pieces around until they fall into a kind of order. I call this working with the psychology of the space.”
He goes on further to explain, “This process requires an element of artistic vision, though I would never call myself an artist. There is a certain magic when the project comes together with a beautiful elegance. Once a concept is basically functional, I seek out this aesthetic purity in my work. You can feel it when a space has integrity. That has always been my goal.”
When a designer’s initial approach considers how the client wants to experience their outdoor space, the result is always something unique and personal. His spaces stand as testimony to some of the most original and inventive examples of landscape design. His projects Potrero Hill Lookout and Portola Writer’s Retreat are worth shifting the spotlight on.
This is about a landscape designed for entertaining, gardening and sunsets. The clients requested a garden that could handle a large gathering, yet feel intimate for two. The centerpiece is a Corten steel wood burning fire pit, surrounded by a seat height deck with many nooks for gathering, relaxing and conversation.
An outdoor living room allows comfortable viewing of the nearby Bernal Hill. Planting includes succulents compatible with the rocky soil, bamboo for screening and a vegetable garden for homemade meals. Steve explains, “The planting for this project was driven by the thin rocky soil. In some areas solid rock was only a foot or so below grade.”
While designing a space, one stumbles upon certain indispensable elements that eventually form part of the design story. Steve shares, “There was an existing bamboo hedge that provided excellent screening along one side. I used it as an anchor for the deck and wall areas.”
Wooden backdrops meet wooden planks set alive by softly, gleaming tea lights and a string of glowing bulbs. Fresh vegetation was woven into the space creating intimate spaces on a unique material palette. Steve states, “I love using gravel as it ‘flows’ , I think of it as water in a different state and use it to fill spaces in a quiet way. Here it was used to unify the design and provide a casual patio.”
Located in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood, the retreat’s design reflects the client’s desire for a landscape with a modern, clean, aesthetic and varied, edible plantscape. Steve shares, “The planting for this project was designed to provide a variety of food and herbs, many native to California. Examples include California Huckleberry, Western Hazelnut and Yerba Buena”.
Anchoring the design, an existing apple tree becomes the symbolic heart of the garden. “We had to keep the Apple tree in the centre of the yard, despite it not being in great shape and awkwardly located,” says Steve. Flowing around this element, the layout wields a dynamic tension between the strong geometry of the patio areas and the mixed thematic planting zones.
“As the pieces started to fall into place around the tree it took on more meaning for me as an appropriate centre-piece that reflected the client’s adventurous spirit and their extensive travels throughout India,” explains Steve. A writing/guest cabana, a spa, vegetable beds, dining and lounge areas, an unusual Floss Silk tree and hidden clotheslines in a dining patio screen, all co-exist harmoniously. Steve loves working with wood.
He shares, “For me as a living plant that has been transformed into a building material it represents something unique in the material palette. In this project we built a small deck around a round wood spa tub. I particularly enjoy creating intimate, hidden spaces in a design.”
Steve’s spaces focus on the integrated master landscape planning of a property and the specific landscape design within it. The result is a landscape designed to marvel at!
Text By Kanupriya Pachisia
Photographs Seed Studio