Julie Messervey et al, ‘Outside the Not-So-Big House’

Outside-cover-Landscape-of-Home-508x486Although this is not Julie Moir Messervey’s newest book, I still think it is her best. Written in collaboration with architect Sarah Susanka, this book is both conceptual enough to help you re-think a particular design problem, yet concrete enough to be relevant to the world of home landscapes, with photos and sketches to illustrate each concept clearly.

Perhaps the most powerful way to improve a home landscape is to increase the amount of transitional space. These are the spaces that are neither completely indoors nor completely exposed to the elements. They are the sheltered decks, pergola’d patios, and screen porches that we so love to spend time in.


In order to work, they have to provide the natural breezy feeling of being outside and close to nature, but also protection from hot sun, unpleasant wind, or hungry mosquitoes.


The ideas in this book helped inspire my clients and me to replace a hot, sunny deck with a beautiful timber frame screen porch at one location. We made it longer in one direction so that it was possible to peek around the corner for a particularly choice view.


For another client, we designed a gorgeous pergola to bring shady relief to an otherwise mercilessly hot patio. It will be planted with the beautiful American wisteria–much easier to control than the Asian wisterias, yet every bit as luxurious.


Of course this book is about more than transitional spaces. A few years ago, inspired by a nearby stream, a recurring storm water surge problem, and the “borrowed landscape” concept from this book, another client and I together created a dry stream bed planted with ferns and pockets of small woodland plants.


With concepts such as “shelter and embrace,” “playing up the corners,” and “rooms inside and out,” this book helps get the reader past the oft-cited problem that homeowners have, of not being able to think of new ways of envisioning their all-too-familiar landscapes.


I browse this book often, sometimes side-by-side with a client, and have enjoyed the sometimes surprising design solutions that have presented themselves as a result.