Scout Spotlight : Mierop Design
(Lisa Mierop and Frank Contey.)
Summertime means spending as much time as possible outside in the yard, enjoying fresh air and sunshine, tending to our gardens, and dreaming up ways to make our outdoor spaces even more enticing. For inspiration, we recently sat down with premier local landscape designer Lisa Mierop for a Q & A to discuss her current inspirations, how she got her start in the business, and how she approaches her work. From beautiful gardens to stunning hardscapes to eye-catching garden appointments, Mierop’s portfolio is a visual feast of thoughtfully designed landscapes.
Mierop began her journey to becoming a landscape designer, when as a Manhattanite without a driver’s license, she suddenly found herself in Montclair looking for ways to fill her time. After planting her first garden and developing an appreciation for plant design, Mierop went on to earn a double certification from The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and later a professional certification from Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). In 1995 her career was launched after winning a Garden Design Magazinecompetition.
Mierop opened MIEROP DESIGN, a full service landscape design/build firm in Montclair in 1998 and by 2003, had added a design studio on trendy Walnut Street in Montclair along with construction partner Frank Contey, owner of TERRA GRAPHICS LANDSCAPE SERVICES. Together they built two additional businesses: PAVILLION OUTDOOR FURNISHINGS, an outdoor decorating service that guides clients through the layout, design and purchase of outdoor furnishings, and THE LANDSCAPE GUILD, a customized garden maintenance service staffed by Master Gardeners.
(Montclair Georgian Landmark historical renovation, created privacy with solid wood privacy panels and automated double driveway entry gate with gas lanterns to complement landmark wall.)
(Above top: Elegant formal front entry with brick piers and decorative limestone finials. Privacy plantings include hydrangea, crepe myrtle and evergreen hollies, cypress and boxwood.)
(Elegant formal front entry with custom iron gates, bluestone walkway, sawn bluestone slab steps.)
(Mierop also created functional outdoor living spaces, dog run and kitchen. Above right: a previously narrow, dark and overgrown corridor was re-purposed as a sitting area and dog run including artificial turf.)
Growing up in Manhattan we can imagine there may not have been too many opportunities to experiment in the dirt. When did you first become interested in your field? I had no intention of pursuing this field. Gardening was never a part of my life. In high school or college I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting landscape architecture as a career. I studied Art History at Wellesley and then worked in New York for 16 years in fashion and home textiles. I started dating a guy who owned an ad agency and lived in New Jersey, and I’d come out to stay with him on the weekends. I had never lived in the suburbs, did not know how to drive, and didn’t know what to do with myself out here.
I liked my corporate job, window office, a weekly manicure, and a great Manhattan apartment. One day we were driving by the Dakota and I said something about how great it would be to live there, and he said something about never wanting to live inManhattan. I realized that if our relationship were to grow that NY was not going to be part of the equation. So I tried Montclair on, and little by little, I began to like it.
There was an area behind a deck we had built that needed plantings and we bought tools and some annual vinca and I figured out how to put them in. To my surprise, I became fixated on these plants and spent all summer observing and nursing them. I realized that I very much liked the combination of art, craft and manual labor involved in gardening and I decided to learn more. I started taking night classes at the New York Botanical Gardens and within a few years my knowledge grew quickly as I obsessively filled all my free time experimenting in my suburban garden laboratory.
(The rear of this Victorian estate overlooks a hillside garden and guest house. Designed for continuous gorgeous color throughout the season and incredible texture and visual interest throughout the winter months.)
“I FINALLY GOT MY LICENSE WHEN I WAS 37 – I THINK IF I HAD BEEN ABLE TO DRIVE, MY BUSINESS NEVER WOULD HAVE COME ABOUT.”
Tell us about your Garden Design Magazine award and how that helped your business. When my daughter was born she had very severe colic. I could not spend any time in the garden and had to hire someone to help me. I was an avid reader of Garden Design Magazine, and at that time they published a call for entries to a competition to win their prestigious Golden Trowel Award. And I thought, here I am at home with a sick baby, I can’t leave the house let alone find time to garden, but I think I can manage an entry for this design competition. I entered and was notified shortly afterwards that I had not only won, but was awarded the Grand Prize.
Photos of my garden were published in the November 1995 issue and that’s how my business started. I started to get calls at that point and began tentatively to take small local projects whenever possible. As time went on I became more serious, building in project size and scope and learning in the field from the masons and builders that were my subcontractors. I had the good fortune to get recommended by a well-known builder in town for several key jobs, so I quickly went from small to large projects. I was one of very few women in the field at the time, and by general contracting my projects was stepping into the male dominated construction area.
One of my subcontractors Frank Contey, suggested opening a studio together, and when we did that in 2003 the business jumped to a new level. I also developed some unique aspects of the business to differentiate from other landscape design/build companies. I maintain my own plant nursery so I am able to specify and quickly put my hands on less common plant materials. Together Frank and I expanded into the maintenance business, meeting client demand for professional garden care, and then we turned our Walnut Street storefront into a retail space thats sell outdoor furniture and accessories.
What’s in your garden? This spring I had loads of catmint plus peachy David Austin and Drift series roses flowering massively along with giant allium ‘Gladiator’. American wisteria ‘Amethyst Falls’ and fragrant honeysuckle were twining all over my staircase to the patio. It was a great moment. Right now the hydrangea are putting on quite the show, roses are flushing a second time, and annuals are in full glory. My current garden is far smaller than the one that originally launched my business, so editing is critical. Before, I had a lot of room to experiment and used my property as a test lab. But now we enjoy a flat lot with relatively good sunlight – two benefits I did not have prior. My favorite specimen tree is a Coral Bark Maple (acer ‘Sango Kaku’) – beautiful in every season. Unique for its stunning coral bark in winter, it has a striking canopy of dainty yellow foliage in season.
“GARDENS HAVE BECOME AN INTEGRAL ELEMENT OF GRACIOUS LIVING, AS MUCH A PART OF COMING HOME AS A COMFORTABLE SOFA OR A BEAUTIFUL NEW KITCHEN.”
What’s on your nightstand? My phone, sadly, is always there. And a lovely old time piece with Roman numerals. I like clean surfaces and uncluttered space so I try to keep my nightstand relatively empty. It makes me feel calm to have ‘no-thing-ness’ in my bedroom. I’m a non-fiction reader, and right now, are you ready?… I have: The Secret History of the Gnostics and Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung. I also have Lab Girl which came highly recommended by a favorite client and is right up my alley. I still faithfully read Garden Design and Veranda so they are often bedside too.
(McKinnon and Harris furniture available at Pavillion Outdoor Furnishings)
What are the new trends in landscape design? As with interior design, the trend outside is toward more contemporary, pared down and edited looks with cleaner lines and often less or limited use of color. We are back to rectangular geometry in pools, and I am seeing a preference for larger and less busy paving materials. Hedges are stronger now, often seen in double and triple layering, i.e, privet, plus boxwood, plus a flowering shrub in descending order.
Color requests are often more monochromatic – a calmer color palette of white and green is popular. With so many advancements in all-weather materials, outdoor spaces can be outfitted much the same way you would any room inside. Patios, pergolas, loggias and pool cabanas are being designed with outdoor televisions, fireplaces, sectionals and kitchens. There are so many great options that we didn’t have even five years ago.
(Resort style pool with vanishing edge, hot tub and shallow bathing ledge. Motorized canopy from ShadeFX, gas fireplace and extra plush outdoor furnishings from Summer Classics.)
Do you have a formula for planning the perfect landscape? I want to think that there are no ‘formulas’ per se, but there is consistency of intention and quality. Clearly the landscape solution has to work in tandem with the house, land form, and the client’s lifestyle. I look at the house, the surrounding property, listen to the client, and then apply the best possible level of design and practical problem solving to their landscape. Many times expectations are not realistic. It’s hard to put a formal garden on a steep slope, or put roses in the shade. I can’t screen the next house out of view if there is a massive existing canopy of shade trees. These common requests often come up. But I can always reveal the unseen, or maximize what exists, opening up light and space where possible, and creating colorful views throughout the seasons.