Profiles in Design: Grace Design Associates

Grace Design Associates Aims for Landscapes with Emotional Impact

Margie Grace

Architect: Margie Grace, 3010 Paseo Tranquillo,

Specialties: Landscape design, architecture, and building

Notable Projects: Private estate gardens, international award-winning project at Pedregosa, Dennis Allen multi-dwelling green space

“I’m never going to be Yo-Yo Ma, but I get to create a space that he gets a little juice off of, and that’s cool,” said Margie Grace, remembering her time playing the violin as a child, and the night that the inimitable cellist personally complimented her on her landscape work. Grace met the honored guest at a local estate during a fundraising event attended by eight Nobel Laureates in a garden she designed. “We build spaces that call people forward to be the very best they can be,” she said of the Asian-styled sanctuary.

Her peers have also recognized Grace’s work. She was awarded the International Designer of the Year award in 2009 by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers for her backyard oasis at a signature home on Pedregosa Street. The clients felt that their lifestyle didn’t allow for much maintenance, so Grace designed the garden with a maintenance plan for “two guys, half a day, one day a month” built into it. She warns, however, that all landscaping requires some care but feels that the early inclusion of landscape architects in the building process is one of the best ways to accomplish garden goals.

“We think that the design-build model is what makes our gardens extraordinary,” she says about her firm’s practice of handling entire projects in-house, where she feels accountable for every piece. “The whole purpose of design is to create something useful and extraordinarily beautiful,” she says. “So the people give you the purpose, and the purpose informs the place.”

Grace admits that an astonishing 25 percent of her business is overhauling a garden that was done in the past year. She cites technical flaws as one of the major causes, but the other common client complaint is “This isn’t what we wanted,” she says. “It’s not good for the industry that people’s experience of the designer guy is that he doesn’t listen.”

She says that unfortunately there are a lot of designers that fall into that category. “I keep people from running off of cliffs,” she says of how she handles an occasionally misguided client vision. “But I don’t fight about much. It’s our job to get into people’s heads quickly and efficiently so that we bring them the right basket of ideas.”

Grace explains that a successful project can often be gauged simply by how a client feels in it when they close their eyes. “It’s really down to, ‘I can feel the sun on my skin; I can smell great scents,’” she says. “It’s when you fall asleep to the hum of the insects.”

One of Grace’s favorite pieces to date has been an old Japanese humble door that she used in an enclosed garden. In order to pass through the door, you must acquire the compromised position of raising your leg to step through the door while simultaneously ducking your head. “You really have to humble yourself,” she says. “It’s the way we approach someone else’s space to not be a threat.”


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