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Join Me on a Tour of the Magnolia Garden at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House: Discover Innovation & Fantasy

Did you know magnolias symbolize dignity and nobility? It’s true.

In ancient China, magnolias were thought to be the perfect symbols of womanly beauty and gentleness.
In the American South, white magnolias are commonly seen in bridal bouquets because the flowers are thought to reflect and emphasize the bride’s purity and nobility
Here in Gotham – the “big apple” took a back seat to the noble magnolia as the artful concept inspiration for the eclectic, innovative, sanctuary / site installation garden designed by the landscape design firm, Delaney + Chin.
(Not to be dismissive, apple blossoms are quite inspiring, as well.)

Designer team: Topher Delaney, Calvin Chin (& Enzo Topher’s dashing dachshund)

This garden design has a lot of good tricks we all can learn from. I especially am drawn to how this design team takes things made for one utility and re-purposes them for another. I like doing this when designing tablescapes – and gardens, too.
Delaney + Chin are masters of the artful engineering. Topher Delaney is a true design legend – very well known to those of us working in the genres of landscape architecture and environmental art.

Me (L) with Garden Artist she-ro, Topher Delaney

Topher’s been a kind of iconic style influencer of mine for quite some time so it was an honor to chat with her in her garden that she designed along with her partner Calvin Chin.

Walking from the house onto the porch leading to the garden, I was struck by how big the space was. I’ve seen quite a lot of city gardens, – both on the ground or gardens in the sky – and I work at some, too. But here I felt rather stunned or taken aback while trying to take it all in. The garden runs the full 40 feet of the double-width Georgian townhouse. And it must be 30 to 40 feet deep from the porch to the back wall, fronted by a raised bed. Lot’s of white – white drapery “walls” that Topher + Chin scrunched up to look like linen — and white marble stone blanketing the entire garden floor — perfect for playing a game or two of pėtanque!

And while the overall look is spare and clean — there are so many well-appointed details.
Once I took in the entirety of the garden vista, I switched gears and turned my attention to the sum of its parts.

On the porch railings, positioned like passementerie, were giant silvery grey air plants (Tillandsia xerographica: an epiphyte that is a species of the bromeliad).

I also noticed what looked a bit like fun-house mirrors but I learned are acrylic (Mylar is a brand name). It was just me that looked “funny!”

The painted Tyvak is a brilliant design element!

Topher + Chin worked with fellow Bay area artist, Jessica Abbott Williams to create the custom ceramic plates and the graphic designs — both inspired by the lovely magnolia.
The rope balls too are a Topher + Chin original design – perfectly fun seating and decor.

The striped Chilewich rugs and woven charger mats behind the wall-hanging plates are tough and pretty. I have Chilewich cocktail coasters gifted to me by a friend and designer, Felicia of FG Design Solutions. I love them (and her) but I confess I didn’t know Chilewich even made rugs. I learned later the rugs and mats are made in the USA, easy to clean, durable – and best of all – chemical free. This is a deal maker especially when furnishing exterior rooms where you’ll be eating and drinking.

Walking down the steps into the garden, you can’t but notice not only the rows of Southern Bay Magnolias, (Magnolia virginiana), punctuated by citrus trees and their orange fruit hanging like jewels; but also the pop of pink painted on either side of the rug on the steps. (It’s those details….)

And the pillars are done up with black chalkboard paint for a nice texture — and maybe for writing a love note or two…

Your eye is drawn to the Topher designed “fireplace” that is a gas-fueled bronze manzanita branch lying rather languidly on their custom-made table. “It’s the ‘Eternal Flame,’ declares Topher. It’s on the cover of her book, “Ten Landscapes.”

Builder Luis Sanchez (L) with Topher + Chin partner , Calvin Chin

It’s worth noting that almost everything they feature is custom made; the builder, Luis Sanchez, was on-site as part of the artisanal design team.
A key feature of their design ethos, it seems is that If they don’t make it they repurpose items; and mix the low with the high brow. To whit: a $50 Ikea chandelier on the porch and the white marble stones are from Lowe’s!

There are two lovely chairs perched near the Eternal Flame as part of this conversation composition. The new barrel shaped chair from Galanter & Jones (they also feature a Helios Love Chair that I, ahem, love). When I’m invited to sit in the chair (yes, it’s comfortable) I find to my delight and surprise that it’s also heated! Being in the “hot seat” was never so nice. Think of how wonderful this seating could be while enjoying coffee in the cool mornings or a martini after the sun goes down. Wow.

Another showstopper are the two fountains positioned in opposite corners of the garden room.

Of course there’s a story behind these Calvin Chin Tanker Baffle Fountain creations from Glenn Metalcraft.
Why, the fountains even have names: Ying and Yang – dark and light. “What is their provenance,” I ask. Astonishingly, I learn they are made from shiny aluminum truck tank heads!

I had to think about this.

When I look at the back of a milk truck – I see a big vehicle – in my way.
When these two talented designers see the truck – apparently they saw a fountain… Go figure.

Topher and Chin found local ironworker, welder, and artist, Julia Helen Murray. Yes, Murray works on the bridges that drape around the island of Manhattan like so many necklaces. How cool is that? So cool that Topher was proudly showing off her artful creations on her smart phone to Kips Bay guests.

Murray rendered the fountain design and also the front border garden’s Dr. Seuss-like art sculptures. I just love this artisanal craftsmanship. When I was designing an Alice in Wonderland garden for a favorite garden client, I searched for an ironworker to create the “white” rabbit frames. I found one in Kentucky – -and surprising to me – it was a woman, as well. I hope I get to do another design that requires welding so that I could maybe work with Julia. Her creations are terrific.

Photo courtesy of Julia Helen Murray website

There are raised beds that hug the perimeter of the garden room on three sides. Topher & Chin embellished the look, naturally, by creating custom seating – white on top of a black painted plywood front – and then Luiis built the containers right into or onto the seating top.

I couldn’t help but think of the “Cat in the Hat.” Can you see the resemblance? The bold, thick stripes towering impossibly high.

The containers are filled with magnolia trees and white stone mulch. This is nice at night – all the white seems to glow.

Leaving no stone unturned is an idiom aptly applied to the garden beds! Here the design team created graphic angles using white and grey stones. Planted in the beds are spikey plants – dracena and euphorbia and succulents – and magnolias. Love those textures and patterns.

Almost the pièce de rėsistence (I say “almost” simply because so many elements in the design are just so exciting and memorable) but the custom designed series of “love seats” are truly unique.

The Frank Gehry-ish series of seats have that off-balance tilt.

The handmade plywood seats incorporate the acrylic mirrors placed just so in order to capture and reflect garden elements and the black and apple green are an irresistible color combination for me. (Recently, we just completed our laundry room, AKA, “the homage to the domestic arts” in this palette. But that’s a story post for another day.)

If you haven’t seen the showhouse, I urge you to scoot there pronto. It’s open till June 2nd. The interior and exterior designs are incredibly exciting and inspiring.

According to Kips Bay, “The Show House doubles as the nation’s leading design event of the year and Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club’s top fundraiser. The gorgeous residence will be open to the public for one month beginning May 2, 2019.

The townhouse, which is currently on the market for $30,000,000, is located on 74th Street and is comprised of six sprawling levels with a stunning circular staircase along with an elevator connecting each floor, including the basement. At 12,425 square feet, the rare 40’ double-width Georgian townhouse boasts a garden, 10 wood-burning fireplaces, a light-filled living room with stunning bay windows and an art studio with 17’ ceilings. The townhouse was built in 1920 by D. & J. Jardine and was once owned by George Whitney and later Dorothy Hearst Paley, who was immortalized by Matisse.”

See my earlier blog post, “A Glamorous Peek Inside the Kips Bay Decorator Show House” from the show’s opening for interior design highlights. At that premiere, I ran into a friend Roanne, who introduced me to Linn Howard who grew up in the house!

About Delaney + Chin
Topher Delaney is the Lead Artist and Director of Delaney + Chin. Ms. Delaney studied cultural anthropology and philosophy at Barnard College going on to receive a B.L.A. in Landscape Architecture at the University of California Berkeley. Ms Delaney holds the honor of distinguished alumni of U.C. Berkeley California, reflecting her career as an artist conversant in multiple mediums of installations. Ms. Delaney’s commissions range in scale from the intimate to the expansive, public urban plazas, corporate rooftop gardens, and sanctuary/medicinal/botanical gardens for educational institutions and healthcare institutions. The art of Ms. Delaney’s studio has been widely published and exhibited internationally.

Enjoy the garden glamour…

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

Join me to celebrate a romantic, garden-infused, entertaining lifestyle filled with artful design, sparkling dinner parties, peerless martinis, and copious magnums of champagne!





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