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Russell Residence

Design Objectives
Nancy Russell came to our company looking for some one who understood stones. Being of Japanese decent, stone was more important than any plant could hope to be. Nancy needed someone who could help her transform a space. A previous project of ours had us moving boulders the size of cars and integrating them into the landscape of a friend of Mrs. Russell. A partnership formed. It was to be one fun and challenging summer.
The site, located in downtown Princeton, NJ, consisted of some old concrete slabs between the garage and the house and enclosed by a fence. Her dream was to have a Japanese inspired garden with color and texture and be a connection between her updated kitchen and expanded garage. She needed a space that her family would walk through daily, view from the kitchen, and use as a seasonal dining room. A vegetable garden was also a "must have"! The house is unique in its architecture but has many overhangs leading to dry spots and the new window spacing left areas of the house and garage with blank wall areas that needed help. The fence around the area was in need of replacement. All of the work needed to be completed in conjunction with the ongoing new garage and kitchen renovations.

The designer, Dave Reitz, spent half a day selecting irregular slab bluestone for the three steps needed. The six foot wide French door into the kitchen now has a single piece of natural stone seemingly floating beneath it. Each of the side doors also has a smaller 8" thick piece of slab bluestone, one of which needed to be cut to fit into the corner of the foundation. The limestone moss rock were each individually selected, placed, turned, removed, changed, and replaced numerous times. The fence designs echo the vertical lines and simplicity of the house and garage siding. The new fence was installed to enclose the existing Black chokeberry. An alternate fence was designed for the back of the garage to enclose the garden from ravenous deer yet allowing light to pass through. Borrowing from this fence, a trellis was designed, constructed in our shop during the winter. It turns the open expanse of garage siding into a backdrop for ever changing annual vines and interesting shadows during the winter. Nancy, who is always thinking about the details of the project, remembers she has old copper gutters removed as part of the house renovation. Knowing her husband loves copper, she prepared paper templates, then cut and folded the new caps for each post. In addition to making the fence posts last longer, they give the fence an appropriate detail relating to the house and garage. Bluestone was the most appropriate material for paving. The subtle colors inherent in the different natural stones is exactly what Nancy was looking for and became a major factor in choosing the gray trim color for the house and garage. The edges of the bluestone were left uncut around most of the edges, except where they met the slab steps and selected boulders which made for some intricate cuts. The edge adjoining the lawn was cut on a radius pulling the lawn into the patio nook.

The planting, by no means a Japanese garden in the classical sense, sought only to draw inspiration from Japan. Plants were chosen for line and texture with a slash of color. A Japanese maple with a crooked trunk was selected for its form and being seedling grown, it exhibits the typical change in leaf color throughout the season climaxing in a brilliant autumn display of orange. A dwarf Japanese white pine greets each visitor upon arrival with it’s Dr. Seuss Chair appearance. The Creeping thyme adds low texture and is a good companion for the Liriope. A Climbing hydrangea climbs the outside of the fence near the gate, softening the stark (by design) fence.
Prior to commencement of work, the designer, Dave Reitz, had a major back injury leaving him flat on his back at home for the entire project. Through polaroid pictures and 2-way radio communication, he oversaw installation. He worried the whole time about boulder and plant placement, keeping Nancy happy, coordinating the fence contractor, and all the little details that go into any residential project. The foreman, Ray Styer, did an incredible job!

All the while, Nancy, an avid photographer, took pictures of seemingly everything. At times fun, at times a pain, we couldn’t figure out why???? The last days of the project became akin to the last day of "This Old House", the TV show. With only a day to go before her party, there were several contractors and their vehicles on site before we arrived. Typical of the last day on any project, we arrive with three trucks, no where to park on a 1 _ lane one-way street, blocked access, and all the plant materials, mulch, sod, etc. to finish the project. After a long, long day, it all came together.

Oh, and remember the pictures? Nancy and a friend produced all the photos taken during construction into a video slide show. Set to music, It was given to all the contractors involved with the project.

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