5 Steps to a High-Impact Entry Garden for Your Modern Home

Use walls, fencing, plants and paths to tie your entrance area to your indoor spaces


Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor


The entry garden sets the stage for your modern home. In traditional home designs, a relatively solid exterior wall defined the house’s edge. The modern approach was to make the home’s exterior walls largely of glass and create a garden wall that defined the “edge” of the house, making the garden as much a part of the home as any other room.


Why not take the entry garden further by creating an enclosed outdoor space that ties itself spatially to the interior? To achieve a comprehensive modern vibe, take the same care in the selection of garden walls, fencing, plants and pathways as with your interior finishes and furniture. Here’s how to design a high-impact visual front garden.


Rising Glen by Tocha Project

In this entry by Tocha Project, the honed concrete flooring extends inside to out, heightened by a flush threshold. The path is also dramatically defined by a dark pebble reflecting pool.


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Bologna, Italy


The computer has revolutionized design by giving architects the ability to convey their ideas in 3 dimension. We now email 3D models to our clients so that they can navigate their way through our designs from their iPads. With this tool, clients can better understand their home design and be fully engaged partners in a way that wasn’t possible before. The advent of virtual reality will soon make walking through a future home and making adjustments in real time a feasible endeavor.


Given the extraordinary powers of the computer, why do architects still rely upon the use pencils, paper and a few simple drafting tools? To begin to understand the strong resurgence in architectural hand drawing, an approach that has changed little since the 15th century, just search #architecturedrawing on Instagram and you’ll be amazed by the vibrancy of the drawing culture.


I first found an answer to this question when I attended architectural school in the 1980’s. High on the walls of MIT’s drafting studio were ancient plaster casts made from iconic Greek temples from the Acropolis. For nearly 100 years, budding architects had honed their drawing skills by sketching these fragments. I took up the habit, making sketches of the historic pieces and then going on to try my hand at drawing everything is sight: caricatures of professors, campus buildings, and interiors.


As I practiced drawing, I learned that my hand-eye coordination and ability to understand objects in 3D was dramatically improving my ability to design buildings. By observing, and then drawing, the environment around me I learned how the built world is made: from its building blocks to its proportions. The act of drawing the world around us commits our observations to memory and they, in turn, become part of the designer’s tool box.


Urbino, Italy 


On a recent trip to Urbino, Italy I sketched the Piazza in front of the Ducal Palace. I focused on both the overall view of the space, and then on a close up of the Egyptian Obelisk in the Piazza. When doing the sketch in closer observation, I noticed how the Renaissance architects mounted the obelisk on a contrasting marble pedestal. While I’m pretty sure I’ll never be asked to design the support for an obelisk, I did learn how contrasting design elements can be incorporated into a seamless composition and how the pedestal served the purpose of raising the obelisk so that it visually held its own in the plaza. Perhaps the most interesting observation I made was how the 2,000 year old obelisk is weathering much better than the 500 year old marble supporting it.


While living at a time that is so technologically driven definitely has its benefits for our industry, sometimes you have to do things the “old school” way to not miss the details that make up the world around us.



Text by Colin Flavin, AIA
Flavin Architects




The Case for the Midcentury Modern Kitchen Layout

Before blowing out walls and moving cabinets, consider enhancing the original footprint for style and savings


Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor


The kitchen can be among the most challenging projects when remodeling a midcentury home. The large, open kitchens we often dream of can far exceed the floor plan of the original space. Expanding the layout can be expensive, as space will have to be carved from adjoining rooms or an addition will need to be placed on the home.


Yet the midcentury modern era taught us that a compact kitchen needn’t skimp on function or beauty. When remodeling a midcentury modern kitchen, consider updating the finishes, appliances and storage while keeping the efficient layout.


Halderman/Brooks Eichler by Modern House Architects

Halderman/Brooks Eichler by Modern House Architects. Photography by Assassi Productions.


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Flavin Architects, Modern Screen Porch in Wellesley, MA


The practice of uniting residential architecture and design to a home’s natural setting first became popular in the Unites States in the 1920’s. It’s an idea that resonates greatly with our studio’s philosophy of Natural Modernism. At Flavin Architects, we strive to create homes that speak to their surroundings in a cohesive and fluid way.


To create this relationship, we approach the built environment of your home and its surrounding landscape as reciprocal spaces. Connection between your home’s interiors and the landscape can be done successfully by establishing visual connections, using a natural material palette, and making cohesive furniture selections.


In your interior, high ceilings and steel framed windows and doors create the illusion of disappearing boundaries. Open floor plans and clear lines draw the eye to the outdoor spaces, inviting you to “experience” the natural surroundings of your home from the interior. You can also connect your spaces through decoration. Lean towards natural materials: you can look beyond wood and use cane, rattan, or other natural plant fibers in your home furnishings. Juxtaposing these elements with softer textures and pops of color creates a sense of warmth necessary for an indoor space. Incorporating natural materials like stone and wood further tie indoor rooms to your outdoor space. A bluestone for the flooring used inside your home can be continued onto a terrace to define a larger entertaining space.


Furniture that is designed withstand the elements, while still speaking to the interior, is ideal for your terrace. Cohesion through contrast can be achieved by incorporating industrial materials in your lawn furniture. Using modern materials like stainless steel in your garden decoration carries the finishes seen inside a contemporary home to the outdoors. 


Flavin Architects, Modern Screen Porch in Wellesley


For a renovation project in Wellesley, MA we worked with Landscape Architect Zen Associates to blur the boundary between interiors and exteriors. The addition of a modern screen porch seamlessly links the home’s structure to the extensive gardens. A grey granite floor runs from inside the screened porch to the outside terrace to achieve an extension of the home’s entertaining space. A black nylon insect screen is used for maximum transparency and a standing seam copper overhang projects the home into the garden.  The addition of the porch creates a refuge from the blaring summer heat, while allowing the owners to savor the fresh air and surrounding landscape.   


Henry Hoover House,


In Massachusetts, Henry Hoover was a pioneer of the movement to unify a home’s interior design with its natural landscape. Hoover benefited from working in a post-war era where he had access to an abundance of mass-produced materials like glass, metals and concrete. In the design of his own home in Lincoln, MA, he took advantage of such materials to fashion rooms with high ceilings, vast open spaces, and a south-facing wall of windows to capture the vistas of the Cambridge Reservoir. It was imperative to him that his homes have a harmonious union with their natural surroundings, and he picked his sites based on where his homes would best “grow.”  Instead of leveling the land to fit the needs of an ideal home, Hoover designed imaginative and modern structures that fit into the landscape like a puzzle piece.


When the distinction between inside and out becomes fluid in your home design, you redefine the spaces in which you live.  


Text by Alejandra Bennett, Studio Manager
Flavin Architects

High-Impact Updates for Your Midcentury Facade

Focusing on exterior details can be key to an affordable remodel that allows the original design to shine through


Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor


Avoid the temptation to overhaul a midcentury modern home’s entire facade when remodeling or adding on. Not only is doing this a daunting design challenge, but it can also be prohibitively expensive. Instead, remember what attracted you to the house in the first place, and let the original design shine through.


Look at the overall composition’s simplicity as an asset, and concentrate on focal points in the facade that will keep your eye interested. Home in on key aspects in the house design that can be updated to give the biggest bang for your buck. When concentrating on these “moments,” it’s OK that most of the house remains a neutral backdrop.


Marcus Gleysteen Architects

Mid-Century Modern Redo: Lincoln, MA by Marcus Gleysteen Architects


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Sketch of the Courtyard Garden at Ryōan-ji, by Colin Flavin


Ever since reading “The Secret Garden” as a child, I have been fascinated by the idea of enclosed gardens. The book, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, describes the mystery and thrill of entering a walled garden after it being hidden for years. At Flavin Architects, we’ve tried to capture the essence of the walled garden by designing diminutive courtyard gardens in many of our homes.


Our design approach is a departure from the classic New England style where the form of the house bears little relationship to the surrounding land. Instead, we favor a floor plan design where the house is laid out into distinct “wings.” for example; the bedroom might be located in a wing that is perpendicular to the main structure of the house. The different wings of the home stretch out into the landscape, coming together to create outdoor spaces that are contained by the house on three sides and are open to nature on the fourth. We love creating this sort of reciprocity between house and land, and witnessing the intimate exterior spaces that the relationship ultimately creates.


Japanese Characters written for Colin by a Monk at the Gardens of Ryōan-ji, Japan


This approach can often be seen in buildings that have expanded over time. A perfect example of this can be found in the designs of Japanese temples and houses. Over time as a temple complex grew with the addition of new spaces, like a meditation hall, dining or sleeping quarters, these new structures were simply added to the original composition. The resulting outdoor spaces created by these additions are wonderfully serendipitous, coming together to form a range of shapes, sizes and orientation. Rather than being a negative, these leftover spaces are inherently more intimate in scale than the surrounding landscape and provide the garden designer with a creative constraint to make a garden specific to that space. The gardens of Ryōan-ji in Kyoto, Japan, where I visited and made a sketch of the floor plan, are contained by buildings on two sides and garden walls on the other two. Remarkably, the garden designer created a miniature ocean with waves of raked gravel and islands of carefully chosen boulders.


Gardens of Ryōan-ji, Japan. Floor plan sketch by Colin Flavin


Our approach riffs off this Japanese tradition by creating surprising outdoor courtyards that capture nature. These spaces ultimately take on a different character, depending on the particular site conditions, orientation to the sun, and Owners preferences.


We don't suggest one particular style for these gardens, but to let the natural surroundings be the inspiration. For example, when the courtyard is abutting a wetland, a good idea is to go with plants that naturally grow in that environment. Orientation is key to garden design. A north facing garden of ferns, moss and some native shrubs, like azaleas, can be spectacular. A south-facing courtyard has many more options. One of my favorites is a gravel or stone terrace to sit in the sun during the shoulder seasons, the surrounding walls of the courtyard capturing the sun’s rays and blocking the wind. The addition of stepping stones can provide access and a defining structure for the garden.


If the courtyard is surrounded by windows that allow the garden to be seen from many vantage points throughout the house, make a garden that looks beautiful year round. The branching structure of many small trees and shrubs are beautiful in the winter, also known as  the “stick season.”


The lesson here is to embrace the nontraditional house formation. Thinking outside the box can lead to the creation of beautiful, unique and unexpected spaces. In the words of Burnett, “If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden.”


Text by Colin Flavin, AIA
Flavin Architects

5 Midcentury Design Lessons for Modern-Day Living

The era’s simple and economical materials and open, energy-smart floor plans still have relevance today. See why


Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor


I have always been enamored of the striking design results that midcentury modern architects were able to achieve. What makes their work so relevant today, though, are the modest budgets and simple materials they often used to get these results. With the steep rise in construction costs for contemporary houses, we need to discover ways to do more with less now more than ever.


Halderman/Brooks Eichler by Modern House Architects

Halderman/Brooks Eichler by Modern House Architects


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The at home study that architect Glenn Rappaport, Principal of Black Shack Architects, designed for his wife Kelly, a graphic designer, perfectly illustrates author E.F. Schumacher’s concept of “Small is Beautiful.” The room is perched on the south-west corner of the house he designed in the early 1990’s in the old railroad town of Basalt, Colorado. The room measures only 7’ x 7’, making it smaller than most cubicles seen throughout the corporate work place. Sitting in the room, it feels more like the cockpit of an airplane. Everything in the space is in easy reach and there are windows on three sides. The space features a three-sided wrap around work surface, below which are located the printers and office supplies. It's a reminder that good design must consider ergonomics; making things larger can actually make a room less convenient. While the study has no door, it has a screen of bookshelves in its place to maintain privacy and create some order to the inevitable messiness that comes with doing creative work. A small heater keeps the room warm and toasty on a winter’s morning without having to heat the entire house before the rest of the family wakes up.


The room looks directly towards Mount Sopris, a beautiful 12,965-foot snow-capped mountain in the area. During a visit this past March, I was fortunate enough to experience the magnificent views from this space in the dawn light. Everything about this view and the ambiance of the office suits Kelly perfectly. Her daily routine places her in her study at 4:00 am, getting in focused design time for her eponymous graphic design firm, Kelly Alford Design. The sunrise on Mount Sopris is her signal that her friends are waiting to accompany her on their daily hike on one of many local mountain trails.


Text by Colin Flavin, AIA
Flavin Architects 


When choosing the plantings to landscape your home, key considerations will most likely include beauty, functionality, longevity and cost. Why not add environmental sustainability to your priority list? Choosing the right "native" flora goes a long way in promoting a healthy ecosystem around your home.


We had a great lesson on plant material selection during a recent visit to a wooded property in New Hampshire. On the property was the foundation of a house that burned to the ground 25 years prior. An old timer who was familiar with the area described the extensive formal gardens that had originally surrounded the house and had been undamaged by the fire. After the misfortune, the property was abandoned and nature took over. Fast forward 25 years and there is almost no sign of the original landscape design. Some evidence remained of the lawn terraces, but otherwise only two plantings from the original gardens remained: a few of the original lilacs and some rhododendrons. In place of the original manicured lawns and formal plantings grew native ferns and river birches, red twig dogwoods and mountain laurel. It was an absolutely beautiful sight to behold. Rather than showing us simply that the original design had failed, the lesson here is to choose plant materials that are beautiful but also thrive in your gardens natural environment.



Of course, there is beauty in non-native formal gardens and there’s nothing better than a lawn for playing with your kids. But why not just dial back on their use in your landscape design? A small lawn area with good sight lines from the house provides a great play area for kids or a place to lounge in the sun. You’ll save money and improve the natural ambiance. Native planting often suggests a rambling woodland garden in New England or a desert landscape out West, and if you’re a lover of symmetrical formal gardens, this can present a conundrum. Working with the talented landscape architect Stephen Stimson on our Modern Blueberry Farm proved that there is a solution to this perceived dilemma. The outdoor space he created has striking geometric plantings that complement the horizontal lines of the architecture. The design extends the line of the house into the landscape with linear and horizontal plantings. The sense of entry to the home’s front gate is heightened as one passes though layers of clipped hedges. Rather than a privet or boxwood hedge to define the entry, Stimson chose a red twig dogwood pruned to form a hedge. It's a hearty drought tolerant plant that has a beautiful fall berry and winter branching structure. Complementing the dogwood hedge is a geometric planting of cinnamon ferns. A linear planting of New England Maples provide structure and shade to the composition.


Try to lean towards what makes sense for the natural surroundings of your outdoor spaces. I guarantee that the final product will be more vibrant and alive than you ever imagined.


Text by Colin Flavin, AIA
Flavin Architects 


It’s common that our clients want to do right by the environment when designing their new homes. Daily, we are exposed to news of the growing ecological challenges that are so prevalent of our time, making it difficult to decide exactly where we can start to make the biggest impact in fixing the problem. At Flavin Architects, we’ve adopted the philosophy that progress towards a sustainable world can start right at home with tangible improvements to our own surroundings.


In this post we’ll review some techniques for improving how storm water is managed on your property.


Each site we encounter has its own opportunities to be environmentally mindful. In several recent projects, we had been asked to design a new home or to do a major remodel on the site of a pre-existing home. In the instance of remodeling, we’re ahead of the game from the beginning, since we are adapting a site that has already been altered instead of adding a new footprint to a previously untouched space. Access driveways, gas and water utilities, and septic/sewer are already in place and can be worked with rather than installed from scratch.We always aim to improve the existing site conditions by keeping the updated home within the footprint of the previously existing structure, while also being mindful of environmental conditions that may have previously not been taken into account. For example, a building addition can tread more lightly on the land by being placed on piers instead of a full foundation.



Buildings and roads are often the greatest offenders behind water runoff and erosion during storms. Not only does runoff damage the soil on your property, the eroded earth can damage downstream properties and wetlands. Thankfully, managing rainwater on your site to decrease runoff and erosion is readily achievable. Standard asphalt driveways are impervious, allowing for rainwater runoff. A good approach if you have an asphalt driveway is to slope the driveway to allow the water to flow into shallow ponds called “rain gardens”. As the name suggests, these can be beautiful with the addition of water loving plants. Rather than using standard asphalt, consider instead a gravel drive that will allow water to soak into the ground, or for a higher price point, you can use “porous paving”, a type of asphalt that allows water to soak through. For parking areas that are only used occasionally, we love “grass block pavers” which allow grass between the concrete pavers. Roof runoff is also a major factor contributing to erosion. Our approach to fixing this is to capture all the roof runoff in gutters and downspouts and then direct this to an underground cistern that allows the storm water to seep back into the ground slowly.


Several of our recent projects have the added constraint of being located near wetlands. Our objective for these projects is to assure that the wetland is a more beautiful and productive resource post construction than it was before we arrived. A fair question, of course, is asking whether it would be better to leave the land alone, than to build in the first place. What we’ve found in many cases is that the existing wetland area and surroundings have already been damaged and there is much to be done to improve this environmental resource. The techniques of storm water management that I spoke to above can help a great deal. When an existing home is near a wetland, the plants chosen can immensely improve the wetlands overall function. For example, sloped lawns do a poor job at capturing rainwater. Around the wetlands border, choose to incorporate native species. Here in New England, species including ferns, dogwoods and river birch are ideal for implementing into a wetland landscape. While these may suggest a naturalistic woodland vibe, these plants can also be arranged to convey formal and traditional, or a strikingly modern aesthetic. We’ll dive deeper into landscape design in an upcoming post.



A special thanks to the Blueberry Farm Design Team:
Ben Wood Studio, Shanghai, China
Stephen Stimson Landscape Architects, Cambridge, MA
Medford Engineering and & Survey, Medford, MA
Eaglebrook Engineering, LLC, Danvers, MA
ReRosa Environmental Consulting, Inc, Ipswich, MA 


Text by Colin Flavin, AIA
Flavin Architects