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Simplicty rules in Christopher LaGuardia's landscape designs.

HC&G: What drove you to study landscape architecture?
Christopher LaGuardia, landscape architect: One day in college I was in a friend’s dorm room, and he was drawing a landscape for an environmental design class. That’s when it all changed for me. I could draw very well myself, and I later got my master’s degree at the University of Georgia, which has the second oldest landscape architecture program in the country.

What brought you to the Hamptons?
I came out East to work for Norman Jaffe, whose practice was based on romance and ideas, not some dogmatic Bauhaus approach to architecture and the landscape. In many ways, he was my mentor.

Do you still work closely with architects?
Yes. Right now I’m collaborating with Fred Stelle on two projects in China. They’re at the same latitude as where I studied in Georgia, so I’m quite familiar with the plant materials. And my firm is working with Edwina von Gal and Maya Lin on Queen Anne Square, a park in Newport, Rhode Island.

What’s your basic approach to landscape design?
There is no preconceived idea, although having a master plan in place is crucial. But the process ends up being quite intuitive overall. We don’t decorate, we integrate. We consider space and light first, and design with serenity and mystery in mind. People have enough stimuli in the city, and they want to come out to the Hamptons and relax. Our mantra is an ordered calmness.

How do you keep a garden simple but impactful?
By keeping things minimal, and building the most by using the least. It’s important to start with a good, clear plan, with beautiful proportions and balance. And I like really long lines, too. Linear designs are elegant, and they speak to the Hamptons environment.

You started your own firm nearly three decades ago. How has landscape design changed since then?
At the time when I moved here, Oehme van Sweden was creating a revolution by using perennials and grasses and getting people away from exotics. Until the recession in the ’90s, it used to be anything goes, but then everything became very safe, and modernism really suffered. Today clients want their houses to express themselves, and a modern approach lets you do that easily.

What’s your dream project?
I’d love to do a plan for the revitalization of Water Mill, where my home and offices are located. The whole commercial district is a disaster! But it’s small enough that we can save it.

first image on page: richard faron