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Sympathetic Connections

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

One of the themes that weaves its way through a great many of the articles and columns we’ve run in WaterShapes through the years turns on the thought that watershape design draws inspiration and direction not just from the absolutes of the setting and the budget, but also from the desires, personalities and characters of the clients.

What’s tricky about the concept is that looking to clients for inspiration usually involves setting aside your own preferences, inclinations, experience and tastes when it comes to organizing and decorating spaces. In fact, the design process is quite different when you subordinate your own vision and engage yourself in an exercise of empathizing with clients while using your bag of tricks to amplify their ideas and harmonize with their wish lists.

Sometimes, this give and take happens naturally and easily, while in other situations it is hard-won ground requiring constant give and take and even the stirring of strong emotions. I’ve talked with some of you who have walked away from projects because the separation between the points of view of client and watershaper is so broad that a meeting of the minds is impossible. More often, you’ve shared accounts of projects in which the foreseeable result is so far from your vision of what is right for the job that it’s all you can do to wrap up the process as painlessly as possible, then move on.

Much more desirable, of course, are those situations where the tastes of the clients and the designer dovetail neatly and the result is a collaboration driven by harmony and inspiration. In this issue, for example, you’ll find one of the most explicit cases I’ve ever seen in which a vision has been shared by clients and designer (see “A Taproot Manuscript,” by northern California landscape architect Cynthia Hayes).

In the project profiled in Hayes’ descriptive account (click here), she worked with a couple who had an interest in celebrating their family’s Native American roots while showcasing an extensive collection of Indian and Mexican artwork. A person of Native American extraction herself, Hayes was inspired on both professional and personal levels to do her utmost in vesting the space with everything her clients wanted of her.

From the color palette and materials to the hardscape and plants, her work on this project shows just how thoughtful and client-sensitive a process watershape and landscape design can be. The result is a space that blends a range of textures, colors and cultural icons that exist for one purpose only: to make the clients comfortable and happy.

As we were preparing this story for print, I was inspired by Hayes’ passion for Native American culture and somewhat envious of her clients’ sense of connection to their ethnic heritage and desire to project it onto their surroundings in every way possible. It reminded me that each of us has a history that is worth exploring and celebrating on some level.

One of the most fantastic things about the art of watershaping is that it occasionally affords its practitioners the opportunity, as it has for Cynthia Hayes, to act as stewards and caretakers for the riches that reside in the hearts and minds of those who seek to surround themselves with the beauty of plant life, stone, artwork and water.

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