July 13, 2010 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
I admit I was riddled with garden envy when I attended an urban gardens tour a few weeks ago presented by the French Institute Alliance Française of New York as part of their Art de Vivre series. Curated by Marie-Dominique Deniau Sorman, former Madame Figaro garden columnist, the tour included four different spaces ranging from an rooftop terrace in the Gramercy area to a small Upper East Side basement garden, then culminated with a private evening reception at uptown minimalist terrace.
I began the tour at the low-maintenance penthouse terrace of a brownstone overlooking Stuyvesant Park, where I wanted desperately to take a dip in the outdoor spa. Designed by Chris Myers of Just Terraces, the terrace’s entrance doubles as an outdoor shower which drains down through the roof. Myers makes great use of sustainable materials: untreated Ipé wood, which has a high fire rating, and a LEED-certified summer kitchen counter of tinted concrete with polymer mixed in, rendering it lightweight and durable.
Myers framed the garden’s entrance with Cherry Laurel, and around the perimeter set numerous Sycamore trees, which he favors for the big leaves that are easy to clean up. Part of his inspiration for the garden was a favorite tub experience he had at the Ritz Carleton at Dana Point. “They had a big sycamore by the hot tub. I spent an hour there sitting shaded under the tree in the sunlight. I never forgot it.”
Many of the terrace’s furnishings are built in and double as storage, a theme in much of Myers’s work. Exhibiting the same sort of practical thinking, he tries to specify furniture that looks good uncovered in the winter as most urban residents don’t have a place to store furniture out of season.
The next stop was a ground floor garden terrace (above) that Myers transformed into a meditative Zen space. Working with the original sloped property, the designer interpreted the owner’s desire for Japanese influence and, when they remarked that they loved the soothing light provided in winter when the garden filled with snow, Myers replicated that light year-round by creating a largely white area of crushed marble pebbles and illuminated white planters that offer a soft glow at night.