Throughout 2023, the profound importance of responding to nature and integrating it into design has become even more apparent. We dedicated an entire issue of est magazine – Force of Nature – to how our homes support our intrinsic connection to nature and launched a series of interviews with landscape architects and designers to explore the myriad ways they design to live in harmony with the outdoors. Continuing this theme, we explore five homes thoughtfully designed around existing greenery – often trees that have occupied the site for a significant period of time. Through collaboration with landscape architects and designers, these architects exemplify that when we approach design with a genuine respect for nature, it reciprocates in kind. 

Villa Petricor

Location: Tulum, Mexico

Architecture, Interiors & Landscape: CO-LAB Design Office

This sensibly designed holiday home blurs the lines between inside and outside, advocating a carefree return to nature. Given the topography of the Tulum area and the high density of trees, getting to know the site and its various constraints was crucial. Detailed tree surveys were conducted, which were consistently referenced throughout the entire project.

“It’s not a light decision when we decide to move or cut down existing trees as there are many life forms affected when land gets developed,” CO-LAB partner Joshua Beck says. The plants and trees that surround Villa Petricor were there to begin with – so the architecture came second.

Autumn House

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Architecture & Interiors: Studio Bright

Landscape: Eckersley Garden Architecture

A mature elm tree in the backyard of this terrace house in Melbourne’s Carlton North has emerged as a cornerstone of the home’s design language. Studio Bright have stitched a new layer into and around the Autumn House’s natural context in a way that borrows from, merges with and modernises it.

“The brief revolved around an existing 80-year-old Chinese Elm tree, which already did a lot of the greening work. When we see a site with a tree like that, we always advocate keeping it. Thankfully Studio Bright were very receptive to the tree,” Eckersley Garden Architecture co-director Scottie Leung says.

The Sanctuary

Location: Palo Alto, California

Architecture: Feldman Architecture

Landscape: Ground Studio

The Sanctuary by Feldman Architecture was born out of a response to the site, designed to leave plenty of room for the two existing large oak trees on the property. To protect the trees and critical root zone, Feldman Architecture created a floating footprint: a home on piers that takes evident cues from Japanese design.

The simple palette and subdued volumes allow the home to fit easily into the busy neighbourhood, where it’s a peaceful escape for the homeowners. “None of this would’ve been possible without the landscape collaboration,” Tai says. “We worked closely with Ground Studio to ensure the landscape and architecture equally challenge one another.”

Angel Oaks Residence

Location: Miami, Florida

Architecture & Interiors: [Strang] Design

Landscape: Alma Miron / La Casona Garden

On an oversized suburban lot in South Miami, Angel Oaks Residence is built around years-old existing oak trees. “Designing among the branches was a challenge,” [STRANG] Design managing director and partner Alexandra Mangimelli says. “We floated foundations around the roots, and the outer second-floor walls came within centimetres of branches.”

“We explored the possibilities of using natural materials, as well as playing with light and fluidity,” Alexandra says. “This created a contemporary aesthetic language mixing wood earth tones with the landscape, bringing the outside in.”

Whidbey Island Farm Retreat

Location: Washington, North America

Architecture & Interiors: mwworks

Landscape: Kenneth Philp Landscape Architects

On Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, mwworks designed a holiday home for a growing family with strong local roots. Located on a densely forested hill, the farmhouse works its way around the forest, overlooking chicken sheds, a weathered red barn and cattle fields.

The home’s layout is broken down into separate wings, accessible via the courtyard, providing connection but offering privacy when desired. At the owner’s request to respect the ecosystem, each building wing is carefully situated to wrap around the existing firs to preserve as many significant trees as possible.

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