ISSUE 50  |  Holidays Abroad

Before & After: A Modern Townhouse Garden in Brooklyn

December 16, 2015 10:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Does this sound familiar? A couple buy and remodel a Brooklyn townhouse, then look out through their new floor-to-ceiling windows and, noticing the wreck of a garden, request a budget-friendly overhaul. This is the part of the story where garden designer (and Gardenista contributor) Lindsey Taylor comes in.

She arrived on the scene to find faux stone pavers, a useless grass patch, and a perimeter planting bed that had a bad curve with fake Belgium block. The clients wanted “a simple palette for non-gardeners who like to entertain,” Lindsey says.

Taking design cues from the rear facade created by Brooklyn-based Bangia Agostinho Architecture and the calm interior spaces by designer Suzanne Shaker, Taylor modernized the hardscaping and created inviting spaces for dining and lounging.  “We worked as a team so everything would feel coherent, indoors and out,” Lindsey says.

Photography by Pia Ulin via Bangia Agostinho Architecture except where noted.


Above: The new garden is a tranquil space, made to feel bigger with oversized bluestone pavers and generous planting beds edged by retaining walls capped with bluestone (for extra seating). “I worked with the lines of the existing raised garden in the back but straightened its corners to update it and make it feel more elegant and modern,” says Lindsey.

Visible at right is a Balinese chaise the clients had purchased on a trip to Bali and which still was en route, being shipped in a container, when Lindsey first saw the garden. “They were a little concerned when they told me it was coming, wondering if its style and size would work with the garden,” says Lindsey. “But when I saw it, I thought it was totally fantastic, and that it was a great organic sculptural element to break the cleaner lines. It softens the space, provides a surprising element, and is also very comfortable.”



Above: Conscious of the clients’ budget, Taylor analyzed the existing garden to see “what was there that could remain, what we could work with,” she says. “Often we’re too quick to eliminate everything.”

Some things had to go: the faux stone pavers, the grass patch, and the fake Belgian block. But Taylor decided to keep the bamboo fence at the rear of the garden “because it’s somewhat attractive and it helps keep the garden from looking like a boxed-in space and the lower height, allows the owners to take advantage of the borrowed view of another garden just beyond the fence line.”


Above: Remodel in progress; on the garden level of the house is a separate apartment rented to tenants.



Above: Lightweight fiberglass boxes planted with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ for soft screening provide privacy for both tenants and landlords.


Above: Lindsey and designer Suzanne Shaker decided to paint a red exterior brick wall the same shade of white as the interior walls in the kitchen to visually connect the two adjacent spaces.


Above: Photograph by Lindsey Taylor.

The architects designed the balcony and railing; a Fermob wire chair was sourced from GRDN in Brooklyn.


Above: The dining table and benches are faux concrete, from Chicago-based Zachary A. Design.


Above: Lindsey cut a pocket in the bluestone patio to create space for a Japanese stewartia tree, underplanted with lavender and boxwood. “Stewartias tend to be quite variable in their shape,” she says. “I spotted this one at Gowanus Nursery and fell in love with it for its very tight upright form, a perfect form for the garden, providing a divide between dining and outdoor grilling area.”


Above: Cornus kousa ‘Milky Way’, a dogwood tree with snowy white flowers, anchors a back corner of the garden. On the fence in the background is a New Dawn climbing rose.


Above: Photograph by Lindsey Taylor.

The cedar fence is unstained; it will weather to a soft gray and then be sealed. “The back of the house was dark, and the garden is a hot space, very sunny. So we left the fence alone instead of staining it to keep the garden from feeling too hot and dark,” says Lindsey.

Space between the horizontal slats is good for circulation. “There is a problem with mosquitos in Brooklyn, so we wanted a lot of good air flow and its better for the health fo the plants,” says Lindsey.

For more of our favorite Brooklyn townhouse gardens, see: