Designer Crush: Christian Douglas DesignAuthor:Lindsey Shook
Award-winning landscape designer Christian Douglas of Christian Douglas Design has been getting his hands dirty for over 22 years. His passion for integrating farming into classical landscape design has created his unique perspective in gardens around the globe. Douglas designs outdoor spaces that are not only visually appealing but sustainable spaces where families can live from their land and make life-long memories. Here, we uncover how he got his start, where he is headed and what makes him the happiest.
–How did you get your start in landscape design? I became a partner of a young, dynamic design and fine gardening firm in the UK in 2000, after I finished design/horticulture school. My two partners and I positioned ourselves in the niche English country house market. We were young, inspired and hungry to work on bigger and more engaging projects each year, and grew our 25 employee business over the next decade. We opened a garden antique store in London and a private garden/estate tour company. We were also very fortunate to be involved in the revival of a royal estate and honored to win awards at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show.
-How did co-owning a design and fine gardening company in the U.K for 12 years prepare you for launching your own firm? The valuable lesson that I brought to my current practice is to keep it small and highly professional, with excellent client service and attention to detail. Focus on the design. Focus on the client. Focus on the team. This helps me stay close to the reason I fell in love with, and still remain deeply in love with, design. You can lose that running a larger company.
–What are some of the most significant design elements that differentiate California from other places in the world? California is unique and exposed me to a wider breadth of design styles. The architecture and diversity of culture is so varied. I embrace how personal residential design can be. I stay curious, and take the time to learn about each client’s heritage, memories, connection to art and food as I build the project narrative. As a result of these factors, no two projects are ever the same.
-You’ve traveled all over the world—what drew you to California and what keeps you based there? After leaving my firm in the UK, I traveled for four years studying regenerative agriculture. I experienced life in various climates and cultures, but I had been struggling to find examples of integrating my two passions – high-end design and food. I thought to myself, why are we not integrating more food into our residential landscape designs and public spaces? I was looking for something more meaningful that would contribute far beyond the physical and visual plane of conventional landscape design. Then I came to California. Geographically, the Bay Area is near perfect for growing food. It is a dynamic hot-bed of progressive farming and creatives. People are open to new ideas. This made California an easy choice. Here I can explore this design/food edge with willing clients. It’s exciting, relatively uncharted territory.
–Can you tell us a bit about your work on Tyler Florence’s home in Marin and how food and farming play important roles in the work you’re passionate about? Both Chef Tyler and his wife Tolan are passionate creatives who have design and food at their core, which makes for a wonderful collaboration. Their home is a beautiful turn-of-the-century Maybeck with wood paneling, fireplaces, antiques, and an old apple orchard – all of which made me feel right at home when we met. We began developing the seven acre family homestead and discussed how food should be celebrated; it should be a priority, not an afterthought. Tyler and Tolan share these beliefs, and the beautiful three-tiered kitchen garden we created reflects our priorities – it is centrally located and prominently featured at the many social events and activities at the house.
–Who is a client you would love to collaborate with and why? I would love to collaborate with one of my personal ‘design crushes’, Ken Fulk, together with the SF Parks Alliance, to co-create an interactive, dynamic, edible wonderland in Golden Gate Park. My vision is akin to the “Pure Imagination” scene in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. Ken would be the Gene Wilder / Willy Wonka character, and I would be Charlie (I have already figured it all out). I am always so inspired by Ken’s visionary, theatrical, bold yet whimsical works of art. His sense of drama and strong period design elements tick all of the boxes for me.
-Describe your dream farm/garden — what kinds of crops do you have, how big is it, where is it, etc.? My dream has always been to find a location that has the heat to grow avocados and peppers, the coolness for stone fruit and apples, the moisture for blueberries, boxwoods, and old-fashioned roses, and the stunning vistas, native meadows, and creeks against a wilderness edge. I recently discovered that Big Sur/Carmel Valley might be my dream spot!
–Favorite flower? Pineapple Guava – the closest thing to a natural gummy bear.
–Go-to snack? Cheese. Any kind. I don’t discriminate.
–Most quotable movie/tv show? National Lampoon’s Vacation.
-First concert? Neil Young at Wembley Stadium.
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