Landscape architect Andrea Buckingham sets the stage for the Shapiro Residence in Basking Ridge, NJ with this statement, “The homeowners were looking for a true outdoor oasis where they could dine, entertain, lounge, take advantage of distant mountain views and yet maintain enough open space for a large sweeping lawn.”
This was no small feat, given the site’s unusual challenges. The first challenge of the site was the fact that, despite having a large open tract in the rear yard, a variance was required for the construction of the pool due to a technicality. The second challenge was the 9′ drop in elevation from the first floor patio level to the basement walk out—where the homeowner wanted to create a series of outdoor rooms along the rear of the house.
In order to make sure the property was not only properly leveled, but also irrigated, drained and healthy, Statile & Todd had to bring in specifically engineered soil to deliver the proper nutrients, vitamins and organic properties to support the over 1000 bushes, trees, 20 ft. magnolias, pines, evergreens and much in between. At first Mike Shapiro, homeowner, was very apprehensive about the amount of “dirt” that was needed. However, John Todd alleviated his fears when he explained how the soil was engineered for his landscape in order to support continued growth. It was after the 27 truckloads equating to 675 yards of this engineered soil that Mike Shapiro affectionately coined John Todd “the King of Soil.” And, the result was that the site was taken from rocky, low organic matter to a verdant landscape that supports beautiful plantings and a gorgeous, lush lawn.
Using the sloped existing grade to best advantage, the outdoor living room, with custom stone fireplace, dining terrace, and outdoor kitchen and bar were located 3 steps down from, and adjacent to, the home’s epicenter (kitchen/family room). The spa sits 3 steps below the entertaining zone, perched between 2 sets of curved stairways that lead down to the pool below. The spa takes advantage of the mountain views beyond and features a negative edge. Water trickles down a 4′ drop to a channel below over an undulating rock face creating both a soothing rainfall sound at low pump speed, or a more distinct waterfall effect at a higher pump speed.
The pool, which is located below, is midway between the upper terrace and basement walk out. This location makes it easily accessible from both the entertaining zone and the basement level, which contains a game room, home theatre and bathroom / shower. A roofed pavilion allows for shelter from the sun and creates a second cozy “living room” at pool level. A curved walkway and steps lead down to the basement level walk out which features an elliptical cobble edged lawn with surrounding colorful plantings. A wisteria covered arbor outside the basement doors provides a perfect spot to take in the view of this garden room.
A circular more natural bluestone patio set in the upper woodland edge provides for a perfect spot to sit around the fire pit and take in a view of the entire rear property and distant mountain views. From each level of the garden, “fingers of lawn” connect the individual spaces to the “great lawn” in the rear. Much attention was taken in creating a large flat lawn area for playing sports and, in the case of large parties, an area for a large tent.
The homeowner, who is an avid plant lover, enjoys the plantings throughout the garden which contain beautiful specimen trees as well as a continuing display of color from perennials, flowering shrubs and trees. “I wanted to create a little bit of Eden in my backyard and Statile & Todd really delivered on that. There are only a few people in all of New Jersey that could have pulled off the vision we had for this property and their crew of over eighty people got it done. They really came through for us.”
Landscape architect Andrea Buckingham says it best, “I know that in order to implement a beautiful design on paper, you need skilled artisans and workers to transform that vision into a reality. Statile & Todd truly provides that. I was impressed with the hands on approach of John Todd and his attention to detail, especially with regard to soil prep and attaining the grading of the rear lawn (which, considering the adjoining slopes was no easy task). The entire crew was hard working, skilled and a pleasure to work with.”