What exactly is a Feng Shui garden? What does a typical Feng Shui garden look like? The same elements that are essential to good design are the same used in designing a Feng Shui garden.  Feng Shui principles are as subtle as basic design principles. They don’t jump out at you with overly thematic elements. Let’s look at a case study of a remodel of the front entrance of a contemporary southwest custom built home that was in need of some curb appeal. Or, contemporary southwest meets Feng Shui in the garden.

The subject property was built about 15 years ago and as such, the front entry evolved to fit with the needs of the owners. Recently, a large native pine tree that graced the entrance died and was removed leaving a large empty spot near the front entry. Not only did it soften the architecture of the home it gave the entry a woodsy feeling – the type of energy recognized in Feng Shui as that coming from living creatures including trees and shrubs. A form of good Chi, or beneficial energy.

Without that tree, the entrance felt bare and lost its vitality. Focus was also shifted to what remained – a 6 foot high iron fence that was installed to keep deer out of the owner’s small collection of roses. But now the fence seemed more like an afterthought, certainly not intended when the home was initially designed. The area inside the fence was rather small, filled up with a mixture of shrubs that became overgrown, further affecting the flow of Chi.

The owners knew their front entrance needed some help. They agreed the fence took away from the potential of a newly remodeled entry and were willing to see it go away. They also wanted to be able to sit out and enjoy perhaps a small fountain. I was then called in to prepare a design. With that background and basic criteria, I began to further study the front yard area. My criteria however, is a stealth one, that is, to blend in Feng Shui principles into all of my designs whether or not the owners request it. Of course, I knew in the end, the new entrance would not “look” like a Feng Shui garden, but would have that certain attractiveness that is hard to put into words.

In addition to creating a more Feng Shui friendly entrance, the secondary focus was to create a remodeled entrance that did not appear as an addition, but rather, that it resembled the original architectural design and features. The result is a more inviting entrance, with excitement and drama, a small patio space to sit and enjoy and a mix of native and low water use plants that are not as attractive to deer and wildlife.

With the fence out of the picture, I could literally open up the entrance and let the Chi pour into the front door and circulate around the entry, the sitting area and the new plantings. Here was my approach:

1) Remove the psychological barrier of the uninviting fence.
2) Use deer resistant and native plants that obviate the need for a barrier to wildlife.
3) Add a fountain to improve the flow of Chi and prosperity and abundance to the entrance and the occupants. Also serves as a focal point and a reason to pause and admire the space before entering the home.
4) Remove a portion of the existing concrete and replace with paver stones to delineate the entrance area from the driveway and to allow for more useable space.

5) Create a small patio space to enjoy the view from the north side of the house, previously where there was simply a walkway.

6) Use the Chinese 5-Elements Theory to create a balance among the elements.

The vision was a low key, low profile contemporary style fountain that was based on the strong strip-stone style flagstone used on the veneer of the house. I created a two tiered set of pedestals that were elongated and set perpendicular to each other, each with a wok bowl style fountain that created a double series of pouring scuppers. The lower wok bowl poured into a submerged basin covered with red polished river stones.

 Here are the solutions that incorporate the 5 Elements Theory:

Earth: Use of low profile horizonal lines, natural flagstone stripstone

Water: A flowing fountain

Fire: Red Sedona flagstone colors, spiky grasses, Agave

Wood: The proportional use of plants to balance the hardscape.

Metal: Steel agave sculpture and the circular shape of the wok bowls

 

This contemporary style front entry landscape remodel shows that you don’t have to create an Asian style garden when using Feng Shui principles. So we now have an example where  contemporary southwest meets Feng Shui in the garden.

Photograph contributed by client (name withheld for privacy)

Note: I want to give credit to the client/owner for many contributions and inputs that went into the details of this project including the idea and selection of the steel agave and planter and its night lighting, the off setting of the pedestal walls to reflect the angle of the home, the color of the basin pebbles, the choice of pavers and the styles of the planters in the background.

 

If you are selling your home, from a real estate marketing perspective, a home’s first impression is based on its curb appeal as seen in the eyes of a prospective buyer.  Adding curb appeal boosts a home’s first impression and gives a prospective buyer a positive feeling.

In a buyer’s market, curb appeal is even more crucial since there are many other homes on the market competing for attention. It makes sense to invest in making certain improvements so these prospective buyers don’t decide to pass on getting out of the car when they pull up in front and are disappointed.

Just as the inside of the home is “staged”, the landscape can also be staged. The underlying premise is to not only appeal to buyer’s emotions, but deal with practical aspects as well. The most fundamental thing to do is to clean up the place and clear away all unnecessary clutter. Put all personal items such as kids’ toys, rusty bbqs and tools behind closed doors. Remove all yard art that the buyer may not find as amusing as you do.

Stand out on the curb and imagine you are looking at the home for the first time just as a prospective buyer would. This is the home’s first impression. What do you feel? Would you enter the landscape into a “best on the block” contest? Does the landscape enhance the appearance of the home? Does the landscape have an overall ‘neglected’ feel as if the owners don’t value having nice landscaping?

From a psychological standpoint, the visibility of the front door is perhaps the most important aspect of curb appeal. The front door and entry area is where the eye and brain focuses. When we arrive in front of a home, we navigate the property and seek out the entrance. We need to know how to get inside and where the owner will be to greet us.

A front door that is hidden or obscured will subconsciously convey that the owners and the house itself is not welcoming, secretive and nonconforming. Therefore, it is my opinion that the front door is the number one criteria around which all curb appeal enhancements should be focused. All the other elements support the focal point of the front door and are in harmony with each other.

Curb appeal is an emotional response that is difficult to measure. One thing is for sure though; properties that we have boosted curb appeal or otherwise enhanced, have sold more quickly than others according to feedback I have received from the listing agents.

Below is a list of things and ideas to consider that will enhance curb appeal, not just to improve the marketability of a property for sale, but for anyone’s home.

Landscape Features

  1. Remove overgrown vegetation that blocks a clear view of the home, the front door or otherwise takes away from an open, welcoming feel as seen from the street
  2. Clean up, prune trees and shrubs and remove any dead growth and remove any shrubs or trees that do nothing to enhance the property or were planted in inappropriate locations
  3. Add or refresh planting beds that create balance and enhance the front door
  4. Fix or repair any obvious flaws that take away from the appearance of being well maintained such as crumbling driveway.
  5. If there is a lawn, make sure it’s as nice as you can get it by dealing with brown spots and fertilizing it to make it lush and green weeks before you put the home on the market
  6. Add color in the form of annual flowers, colorful pots and flowering perennials

Architectural Features

  1. Replace old hardware
  2. Paint the door a contrasting color
  3. Replace and/or enhance the mailbox and relocate if necessary
  4. Add window boxes
  5. Enhance the front door with sidelights and moulding
  6. Add shutters or trim to windows and paint a contrasting color
  7. Add an arbor or pergola

General Design and Appearance

  1. Create symmetry at the front door using pots, lights or moulding
  2. Add a walkway leading from the street to the front door and not just from the driveway
  3. Add a fountain
  4. Add a low wall enclosure to create a courtyard with a gate
  5. Add lighting along walkways and light trees

photo licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Dru Bloomfield Flickr.com

 

A landscape professional who sees the problem areas from a designer’s perspective and who has knowledge of plant materials, curb appeal principles and real estate awareness is the key to providing the best solutions to making your home a property with great curb appeal.

Lack of curb appeal or simply a problem of not being able to find the front door was the subject of a landscape project I featured on another blog post.

 

Lack of curb appeal is a problem for many homes. But the attractiveness of how a property appears from the street is not enough. The functionality of the home in terms of the flow of circulation both pedestrian and vehicular is important as well.  Here we have a case study I will call Sedona curb appeal problem solved, of course located in Sedona Arizona where the clients approached me to consult with them about how to fix an issue they realized they had after purchasing the home some six months earlier.

The house was designed on a sloping lot where the garage is situated towards the rear of the lot and accessed by a long driveway off to one side of the property. The front door is on the upper main floor and does not face the street although there is a sidewalk that leads to the entry.

The “before” picture below shows how the house looks from street view.  As you can see, there is not much curb appeal. But the aesthetics are just part of the problem.

Here we see an aerial photo showing the issues with this property in terms of front entry, curb appeal and circulation.  The problem is when new visitors come to the property, they pull into the driveway and are taken down to the lower level garage where the front door is not visible. People are lost not knowing where the front door is and end up knocking on the garage door.

 

Although the sidewalk at the upper street level leads to the front door, it cannot be seen and there is no shoulder to park on along the street. It can be confused for the side of the house given the driveway is the alternate entry point. People would believe that driving into the driveway, the entry will be revealed, but unfortunately, they just get confused.

The problem with the front entry curb appeal is that the concrete sidewalk alone is not enough to tell people that it leads to the front door. The plantings are so boring that the eye keeps looking for signs of “welcome, you are at the right place” or other signals.

One idea the homeowners thought of was a very straightforward solution to build stairs from the lower level accessing the second floor and front door. A small sign would be added to further guide people up the stairs to the entry.

I agreed that was indeed a solution, but when I approached the property for the first time as a visitor knowing their issue, I immediately noticed that they had no curb appeal and that the entry must be embellished to call attention to it so that it was obvious where to go whether you were walking along the street or approaching in a car.  The front yard was virtually unlandscaped with a large gravel expanse which was conducive for a semicircular driveway.

With the inclusion of the mailbox in the middle of the driveway island, the property address clearly visible on the corner of the house near the front door and additional plantings to draw the eye towards the entry, the front yard now successfully invites people to drive up and enter through the front door and not get lost in the lower garage level.

We did include a paver sidewalk from the new circular drive that leads to a set of steps connecting the lower and upper areas. Plantings were used on both levels to unify both spaces. The stairs were added not only to unify the separate levels, but to act as a back up in case some people try entering through the old driveway and not the new paver driveway.

Below is the front yard at the completion of the new paver driveway. The plantings will take some time to mature, and will only add to the overall curb appeal.

The homeowners are most pleased with the solution. Another Sedona curb appeal problem solved.

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