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Landscape Design

Modern Backyard in Newport Beach Goes High-Tech

A mid-century home gets outdoor living features that can be controlled with an iPad

  • This steel overhead shade arbor features louver-like slats that can change position with the sun to provide the exact amount of shade desired both outdoors and in the adjacent rooms.
  • The outdoor grill center features a custom precast concrete countertop over rustic stone veneer.
  • The combination of warm ipe wood wall and cool poured in place concrete seating provides visual contrast while maintaining a consistent color palette.
  • This sleek overhead structure is low maintenance powder coated steel for perfectly integrated earth tones.
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"Here at Studio H, the client is our first priority," says principal, Warwick Hunt. "They tell us what they want with ideas and pictures so we can get into their heads and truly understand their vision. Every one of our projects looks to accomplish what the client wants in lieu of imposing our ideas on them." This open design philosophy explains why the Studio H portfolio is so rich in landscapes for a wide range of architectural styles.

There's no question Hunt knows his stuff because this is a full service firm that caters to a high end clientele in Orange County which includes the opulent golden coast. "Every project is so different that we don't have a single style of design although in this region Mediterranean is the most popular right now." Studio H projects range from rustic Tuscan stone with all the bells and whistles to tropical backyard getaways with fabulous water and fire features, sensual material choices and vivid plants that thrive in southern California's mild climate.

"Of all the design styles we do, I love modern the most," Hunt explains, "It's how I think, with clean lines, understated ideas, and I strive to let the materials do the talking." In a community where modern is just making its presence known, Hunt let the materials sing with a recent redesign of a lovely midcentury home in the Port Streets community of Harbor View, a rare gem amidst an exclusive neighborhood of more traditional architecture. Because it's in a planned community, regulations are strict and design must comply without sacrificing quality.

This newly completed exterior landscape design considers the visual impact from interior as well as exterior views. "We created something that pulled the same style and warmth of the interior design into the landscape for a more seamless connection. That's why we used a lot of ipe wood on the project because it lends a greater feel of intimacy to this home. We also chose specialty colored concrete for the countertops at the grilling area and poured in place the entire seating area at the back of the garden. But what makes this design truly unique is that the client is an avid iPad user. He had many of the home's interior functions keyed into the device for ease of operation, and asked that the landscape be similarly automated."

The main patio is unique in the way it is shaded throughout the year. "The clients wanted shade without sacrificing light, which is a vital tool in modern design." This can be challenging, particularly when there is a desire for light to enter the adjacent rooms through large windows. "We designed an innovative shade structure that features automated louvers overhead. These are mechanized so their angles can be adjusted for the position of the sun to provide just the right amount of shade. The louvers are operated by the iPad as well, making the adjustment as simple as pushing a button." This technology also operates the water feature and fire pit which may also be turned off and on long distance.

Projects like this are on the cutting edge of future design trends that are gradually making inroads elsewhere in the States. Innovators like Hunt who embrace such technology will create the most innovative landscapes and outdoor living spaces to come. Those willing to grow and change with our rapidly changing world rather than struggling to maintain the status quo are the best professionals for landscapes that respond to challenges of the current economy, materials availability and of course, rapidly changing technology.

There's another good reason that Studio H is so successful. Hunt was formerly a landscape contractor and did his time in the trenches. "I think my experience in construction helps us maximize our clients' budget to get the most out of every dollar they spend. You see, a lot has changed in recent years and we aren't building half million dollar projects any more. The majority of new projects now fall below 100K, and customers want as much landscape as possible within these monetary constraints. That requires us to be very creative in our design solutions."

This field experience is rare among landscape architecture graduates who won't be as tuned in to real world costs. The ability to know where hidden costs lie is vital to making the decisions necessary to reach a workable end result. You don't want surprises during construction that can lead to serious cost overruns and extra services.

"Budget is our key concern from the very first day of the project. I try to work within these limits by achieving the same look with less costly materials. For example, people want that authentic look using lots of stone. Personally, I think there are a lot of products other than stone that may make a project better. We get very creative in finding alternatives so they get the look they want within budget."

Sustainability is part of the modern design consciousness, but Hunt feels it should be applied to all landscape styles. "We want to develop our designs with more sustainable products and applications. That's why education is very important to us. We help our clients learn how sustainable design can save money by using drip systems, limiting grass in lieu of synthetic turf and emphasizing water conservative plants. This isn't just a choice. New regulations in Southern California require low water use plant material with watering only a few times a week. City approval of planting plans is required here, so our local government is taking it much more seriously now."

And this is why it's so important to use a professional skilled at creating the drawings that move quickly through the process. Hunt's deep understanding can be seen in the extent of his web site information showing actual plans and detailing the design process. Also shown is a beautiful palette of water conservative plants that demonstrate how drought resistant landscapes need not sacrifice color, texture or form.

Studio H Landscape Architecture
Newport Beach, CA

See more modern backyards

Contributing Author:

Maureen Gilmer, contributing writer for Landscaping Network, author and syndicated columnist

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