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Grand Scale

Ray Minella’s expansive English Manor lacked one thing: Landscaping. That’s where Mark Hicks of Elise Nursery came in

(page 3 of 4)

Sources of Inspiration

Whatever the original owner’s shortcomings, he was adventurous in expressing his vision of what the house was about. Spread across the front exterior, four niches display modern ironworks of art that depict activities associated with rooms on the other side of the walls. Outside the dining room, for example, a cornucopia is adorned with fruit, vegetables and kitchen implements. Outside the game and entertainment room, another niche contains bas relief sculptures of a chessboard, a rack of billiard balls and figures of a court jester and cartoon characters.

But this is also a serious house in which serious books are read and serious business is conducted. Exterior niches and sculptures indicate these activities, too. In a similar but more functional way, the shade gardens directly outside the office and library extend these rooms. It isn’t as if Minella needs more physical space now: His children visit intermittently and he lives the better part of the week during the school year in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches law at Cornell University. It’s that the office and library gardens provide both a lovely respite from work and a source of deep relaxation and inspiration.

“For a man with a lot on his mind and in his life, we wanted to create a contemplative, meditative garden to enjoy after doing business,” says Hicks of the first shade garden off the path. “You walk out of the office onto wide Goshen stones and into a very quiet space with boulders, a bench and a perennial, three-season woodland garden.”

The limestone path continues around the western edge of the property, but not before passing through a slate-roofed gateway of granite and mahogany. Hicks designed the structure, in part for drama. “To be interesting,” he says, “there has to be a sense of separation, a threshold you have to cross over and a portal you have to go through.” His larger purpose, however, was scale. “We were again trying to find a sympathetic balance between the indoor and outdoor spaces. The house becomes less imposing because the outdoor spaces have been identified unto themselves, rather than having a big lawn wrapping around the huge edifice.”

What’s more, in replicating the style of the manor, the formal gateway knocks down the mass of the big house a few notches and ties both structures to the land. The gateway leads to a private courtyard garden for the two-story library that’s accessed through sets of double French doors. Like the office garden, it is meditative, private—a granite wall wraps around the back of the space—yet vibrant. There are two benches for company, a fireplace and a second fountain for visual and aural effect. “Without water,” says Hicks, “the property would seem more static.” Off this courtyard is a classic parterre garden that’s defined by boxwood quatrefoils enclosing David Austin roses with a central bronze armillary.

Room by room, these exterior spaces set the table, in turn, for the great expanse of back patio and lawn that lie just around the rear corner of the house.