"My goal is to show respect for existing nature and its intrinsic beauty." Interview with garden designer Erik van Gelder
Searching for the profound order of nature and converting it into design elements that integrate perfectly with the practicality of everyday life, to create an outdoor space distinguished by style and comfort: this is the mission of the garden designer, a professional who knows how to master elements that, when combined with skill and insight, can make our green environment simply unforgettable.
But, how can we fully celebrate the combination of practical needs and aesthetic inspiration when we want to create or renovate a residential garden?
To answer this and other questions, we interviewed Dutch landscape architect and garden designer Erik van Gelder, who works by being inspired by natural elements, transforming them into shapes and materials.
Author of the book XTRRDNR GARDENS where he conveys his vision of architecture through words and images, Van Gelder does not like to put a label on his style, always remaining aware that "the needs and desires of the customer must be respected".
Now with his help, we can discover how to create outdoor spaces capable of combining beauty and functionality.
Taking inspiration from nature to create living spaces
When you start designing your outdoor space, thinking about the garden's context – whether natural or urban – is critical.
As van Gelder also reveals, "My goal is to show respect for existing nature and its intrinsic beauty", creating an ecosystem linking the garden to its surrounding environment, and this can be a very important strength.
In fact van Gelder tells us that "the surroundings always play a crucial role in the design of the garden: if there are attractive details I like to integrate them into the design of the outdoor space. For example, if the garden is in a hilly setting I could add some slopes, if it's near the water I could propose some water features".
And what if the area is uninspiring? "In this case I'll design a niche and block out anything that might be disturbing, offering a sense of privacy".
Outdoors versus indoors: how to create harmony
One of the challenges most often faced when designing the architecture of an open space in a home is finding the right connection between the indoors and outdoors. We asked Erik van Gelder if interior design can influence exterior design and vice versa, and if there is a possibility of dialogue between these two fields: "My belief is that people show their aesthetic preferences indoors", he says, "in the privacy of their own home, and I take that into account when I create their gardens, creating an interaction between the indoors and outdoors. This doesn't necessarily mean reproducing the same looks: sometimes, it's just as interesting – maybe even more interesting! - to design contrasting styles".
Also, with regard to the materials, you can work by analogy or contrast: there are cases where you choose to use different components inside and outside, others where you can offer a certain continuity, but in original ways. "For example", says van Gelder, "why not use waterproof and traditionally outdoor materials inside the house? You just need to look at them in a different and more inclusive manner, which might surprise you".
The quintessence of beauty is practicality
Every customer has specific needs and demands: van Gelder chooses to listen to them one by one and to satisfy them with specially tailored furnishings, with a personalised approach that also distinguishes Corradi's work in creating outdoor living spaces.
"It's important to consider that we can make practicality beautiful: for example, if you need a technical shed for a pool, you can create a designer pool house to cover it. And if the customer wants a covered parking space then it can be integrated into the surrounding greenery so that it looks nice".
It is precisely by considering practical needs as a starting point that our outdoor spaces can acquire that extra touch, that brushstroke of truly unique style, that indispensable functionality that will make it liveable every day with extreme comfort.
When interpreting structural needs and customer demands, van Gelder suggests always keeping the focus on "bringing organisation to nature, showing deep respect for its intrinsic beauty".
Imagining the evolution of nature and matter: a possible challenge
The search for practicality is not the only element a garden designer has to deal with. One of the challenges that can be met when designing a green outdoor area is that of dealing with spaces with many constraints: structural rigours, infrastructure to be protected, widths that cannot be modified.
The designer knows that he or she will have to "invent something" anyway, as Erik van Gelder did when he was confronted with having to design a roof garden in Dordrecht, Holland.
The episode is particularly significant, because it shows what happens when you have to "adapt" nature to the human architectural vision without depriving it of its potential.
"My goal was to create a three-level garden", says van Gelder, "thus giving the rooftop a very modern look. At the same time, however, I wanted to see the old buildings in the area from the terrace, which gave the space a truly incredible view. Designing this concept taking into account the characteristics of the panoramic terrace wasn't easy, but I kept at it and the result was truly satisfying".
This imaginative effort that mixes ancient and modern, strong design lines and visions of calm on the horizon goes perfectly with the peacefulness of the greenery.
This shows us that nature, which must always remain free, can always and in any case interact with spaces on a human scale and with structures and materials such as pergolas, steel and aluminium just like in Corradi's vision, always in search of the perfect balance.
A fusion between natural expression and matter is achieved when all four elements – water, air, earth and fire – are present, as according to van Gelder they "have an extremely attractive power and are very expressive. This always helps us as human beings to remember the deep connection we have with nature".