Landscape Designer Beth Mullins knows a thing or two about outdoor spaces. She has been designing gardens in the Bay Area and beyond for more than a decade, and is regularly featured in Sunset Magazine and other high profile publications. Her work involves transforming peoples’ yards into works of art you can also live in, combining functionality with effortless aesthetic and truly creating spaces you’ll never want to leave. We were thrilled when she agreed to sit down with us and share her ideas and expertise.
Q. So, what is it about landscape design that drew you in?
A. Since I was young I would rearrange spaces in my head and my room so I could 'settle' into the the space- it was a bit of an obsessive habit but I think that was the beginning of my studying of spaces and how they work for people in them. My love of plants and how they change and grow pushed me towards studying landscape architecture vs interior design or architecture. In the bay area we can use our gardens most of the year so that was also an appeal for me.
Q. If I'm starting to think about designing my outdoor space, what should I keep in mind or consider?
A. When starting to think about designing your outdoor space I would definitely think about the functional roles you want from the garden. This is first and foremost to any aesthetic decisions since if it is not functional, no matter how pretty, it won't be used as much as it would if it were also useful.
Q. I want my outdoors to be an extension of my indoor space - how can I do that?
A. To extend your interior space to outdoors, I recommend assessing the access to the garden. Is it viewed above through a window? Is there side access from a door you never use? OR if lucky, are there doors that open right up to the garden? Could a window be changed out for a door? Do the railings on your deck block the view to the rest of the garden space? Sometimes decreasing the activation energy for getting yourself into the garden is being able to observe it from inside so that you are drawn to go out into it simply because you can see it from inside or at least a piece of it. If you are considering any renovations to the home be sure to include the connection to the outside in conversations with your architect and landscape designer so it is not an afterthought when the garden is being designed. Keep at least a sliver of sight line open to the space from the interior so that you will be intrigued to go into it. Look at what outdoor vignette you could set up in line with your access/view from the house so that it captures the feeling you want for your space and encourages you to visit.
Within the garden itself I recommend incorporating either built in seating or moveable furniture and lighting into the design as well as heated elements (in the bay area and other areas of the country) such heated benches and comfortable lounge or chaise chairs and couches so that you have a place to perch or lounge and take a nap! Dining outside can be really nice on a warm night so consider what your weather is like and if it makes sense to incorporate elements for both night and day use.
Q. The spaces you design are all so stunning; and also functional, and eco-friendly. How do you combine all of this? And, is this possible in every space?
A. I think most spaces can be beautiful especially if kept simplified. I would recommend considering what the overall vignette is and the function as above and then when picking out elements for that space choose items that have interest or you enjoy that are cohesive with other elements in the garden - it does not have to be expensive. Sometimes a cool wood beam could be what makes the garden. I tend to design so that no particular element dominates the space. I like the feeling of calm that combining interesting textures brings to the garden vs a single pop somewhere that competes with the rest of the elements.
I try to create planting palettes that have interest but that layer and grow in a way that is easily parsed, vs it feeling overgrown which is overwhelming to me visually. The simplicity in a planting palette can be achieved be by repetition of forms or massing of swaths of the same type of plant, by overlapping lots of similar foliage color or interrupting a muted palette with pods or flowers that create punctuation points in the landscape and help organize the space organically.
Thank you so much Beth for all of the amazing insight and ideas. Your work already speaks for itself, but hearing a bit about your process is so helpful as it allows me to also think like a landscape designer. This makes me want to redesign our backyard and turn into something completely new!
Portrait of Beth by Oscar Urizar
All other photography by Caitlin Atkinson