Joey Pecoraro takes his materials seriously.
Many of his projects utilize multiple elements, yet they all work together seamlessly.
“I don’t figure out the materials in two days,” says the owner of Las Vegas-based Architectural Design Concepts. “I go to a lot of places until I find the material that works for the project. And I won’t compromise.”
The process takes time and patience. Mixing several strong materials can make a space seem too busy, while poorly placed elements can ruin an otherwise good design.
Here, design professionals share tips for how to develop the right material combinations for each job.
Begin and end with the design of the house or a theme.
It’s almost always best to use the home as a reference point, or, if there is no nearby architecture to draw from, choose a theme, such as “tropical.”
All material choices must serve this main design theme.
If a chosen theme is slightly different from the home architecture, then it helps to have at least one or two materials that will tie back in with the home. When using stone with multiple color variations, it’s a good idea to sift through and pull only those pieces with the appropriate hue.
Even materials that seem unique to the pool should have a tie-in. Take waterline tile, for instance.
“I think most often people just try to go with the blue that’s just going to tie into what the pool color is going to be,” says Tim Sheehan, senior associate with Gregory Lombardi Design Inc. in Cambridge, Conn. “But there are many more options.”
Instead, seek out a color that will complement the home and feel of the yard.
Try the rule of three.
The landscape architects at Gregory Lombardi Design make every attempt to avoid an overly busy yardscape. So they approach most projects with a clear-cut strategy.
“We typically have a rule of three for whatever we do, combining no more than three different kinds of materials,” Sheehan says. “We’ll have whatever we use for the coping stones, a decking stone and then a wall veneer, and that’s it.”
That doesn’t mean that only three materials can be used in the whole yard. Rather, they will follow that rule within one space.
“There are always going to be transitions from one space to another, so there’s always the opportunity to switch materials,” Sheehan says. “But we try to stay limited within a specific zone to the rule of three.”
Use materials changes to denote different spaces.
Visual cues can be created by using a different deck material to transition into a new space or elevation. This allows you to introduce a new material and change the mood, and can also serve a safety function by indicating elevation changes.
“Usually if I have an area where it’s all 0 level or minus-6 inches, I’ll keep the same material on that space,” Pecoraro says. “Then if I go to a plus 6-inch or minus 12-inch area, I’ll change up the materials or patterns to define that area. It really details out a certain spot.”
To create a more consistent or monolithic look, try a subtler approach. Signal a new area by using the same material in a different way. Bluestone can be taken from random patterned to honed. River rock can go from flat to standing on end.
Temper and tie in bolder choices.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing a bolder material, maybe even more than one. But try to temper them so they don’t dominate the space.
First, make sure that such attention-getting materials still fit with the house and design objective. It’s fine to throw in a splash of color or seek out contrast, but don’t take it out of the general scheme.
When using these materials, find ways to keep them in check. For instance, don’t butt two bright or highly patterned materials directly against each other. Instead, separate them with something more neutral in tone and simple in pattern. If the more vibrant material has color variations, Pecoraro will try to juxtapose it with something more consistent.
Also, tone down a loud material by limiting its use to a smaller accent — say, as a thin border around a deck. When doing this, look around for inspiration. Maybe there’s a color on the house or in the garden that can tie it in.
Think about the connection.
Anticipate how two materials will work next to each other. And don’t just butt surface materials up next to one another. For instance, never run an expanse of stamped concrete deck, and then just start setting down a flagstone deck.
There should be a border to transition between the two.
“It needs to be a strong enough statement so that people know that was part of the design and not an afterthought,” says Ted Kempton, a managing principal with landscape architecture firm Hardeman Kempton & Associates Inc. in Tampa, Fla. “You never want a project that looks like you ran out of material or money, and then you started doing this.”
If he has an awkward connection that can’t be avoided — say, if it’s in a tight area — Kempton may try to hide it with planter pots and other distractions. Or he might carry the joint out of the immediate area so it falls out of view.
When putting two materials directly next to each other, Pecoraro warns, make sure they are different sizes. Otherwise, the elements will compete and look slightly off, as if you tried to make them match but failed.
“I would never use a 12-by-12-inch tile on the floor, then use a border of 12-by-12s,” Pecoraro says. “I’d use 4-by-12s or 4-by-16s or something. You don’t want them competing against each other.”
Combine and compare samples together before finalizing choices.
Even with the most well-thought-out materials combination, there’s no way to know if it’s going to work until all the elements are seen together.
To ensure a successful design, Pecoraro places samples next to each other and examines them at different times of day, in different lights.
“If something doesn’t work, you’ve got to scratch it, no matter how much you like it,” Pecoraro says. “It can’t be a close match — they all have to work together.”