ISSUE 33  |  Untamed Gardens

Best Hardscape: Elliott + Elliott Architecture

August 21, 2015 4:00 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

The winner of this year’s Gardenista Considered Design Awards Best Hardscape Project is Elliott + Elliott Architecture of Blue Hill, Maine.

The firm’s project was chosen as a finalist by guest judge Carolyn Mullet, who said of the project: “A subtle and beautiful use of materials. Expert craftsmanship. A hardscape that fits the site like a glove.”

N.B.: This is the fifth of seven posts spotlighting the winners of the 2015 Gardenista Considered Design Awards. Go to this year’s Considered Design Awards page to see all the entries, finalists, and winners, and have a look at Remodelista’s Considered Design Awards, too.

Elliott + Elliott Architecture’s Design Statement: “The owners wanted a hot tub and terrace that would intrude minimally upon their natural setting. The solution is a whirlpool recessed into the ground and set flush with the stone pavers. It was carved out of two blocks of stone and assembled on site, merging seamlessly with its surroundings.” 

Q: What does your firm specialize in?
A: Residential and institutional architecture.

Q: Who worked on the winning project? 
A: Elliott + Elliott Architecture, Burdick & Associates Landscape Design, and Freshwater Stone and Brickwork.

Q: What were your practical goals for the project?
A: To provide a spa tub within a retired quarry. The existing garden included native plantings such as blueberries and sweet fern set among the lichen and moss-covered granite tailings from prior industrial activity. The main goal was to create the spa and adjacent seating area in such a way that it felt at home in this beautiful and rustic–yet meticulously maintained–environment, and to do it in a way that impacted the existing site as little as possible.

Q: What solutions did you find to your design problems?
A: In order to blend into the surroundings, we created a spa tub from a single block of granite. We wanted it to feel as if it had been hewn from the existing ledge. The existing home is entered from atop an ocean-facing granite bluff, and steps down the slope toward the water. The spa garden emerges from between the kitchen and living spaces of the house, several levels below the entry. As such, delivering materials and equipment to the project required great effort and planning. Nonetheless, the tub itself was crafted in just two sections, creating the impression that it was carved in place. Fabrication was not so simple, of course, requiring even the creation of a custom core drilling machine. In order to move these pieces in by crane, a gravel pad was created above on a nearby ledge. Heavy equipment, landscaping materials, and the tub itself were then lowered into place. In the end, when all was complete and the plantings had taken hold, visitors remarked that it seemed as if the garden and spa must have been there for a long time. This, we think, is the highest of compliments.

Q: What are your favorite features of the project?
A: The use of native materials–planting and stone. 

Q: What were the hardest lessons you learned along the way?
A: Granite is really, really heavy.

Q: What advice do you have for someone undertaking a similar project? 
A: This project presented us with many “firsts.” We were new to the ergonomics of designing a spa, and hadn’t used granite in a submerged and water-holding way before. Nor had we dealt with the particular site logistics mentioned above. For us, then, the key to success in this project was spending the time to investigate these challenges, and to assemble a team with the experience and, more importantly, the passion needed to see the project through.

Q: What was your biggest splurge?
A: The decision to custom-make a spa from a single block of granite instead of using a prefabricated unit was the biggest splurge on this project.

Q: Where did you cut corners?
A: We are very fortunate to have clients that recognized the unique character of their site and were willing to do what it took to respect it.

Q: What is your favorite local shop or garden nursery?
A: Freshwater Stone and Brickwork was an essential resource for us on this project. We couldn’t have done it without their expertise and creative thinking.

Q: Where do you get your design inspiration?
A: Much of our work is on the Maine coast and islands, and it is this extraordinary environment–natural, cultural, and architectural–that provides our starting point and inspiration. We believe that each project is formed by a unique set of circumstances, which combine client, site, and budget to produce a unique design. Our aim is to produce buildings that express something essential and authentic about their owner, their place, and their time.