Sustainable. Functional. Beautiful. Open Envelope Studio achieved all three on a residential project in West Lake Hills, Texas.
When well-known architect firm Dick Clark & Associates was hired to design a new residence in West Lake Hills, they knew just who to call for the landscape architecture.
Angelica and Matt Norton at Open Envelope Studio are known for their modern landscape architecture, custom steel work and customer service. Clark called on OES to design the entry sequence to the front door, provide a beautiful view from the inside living areas, and create an outdoor space to complement his contemporary home design.
“For all of our projects, we want more than curb appeal but to activate spaces that draw our clients outside,” says Norton. “We create outdoor living spaces that are scalable and functional.”
To match the contemporary style of the home as well as use locally sourced material, Norton selected washed Colorado River Stone, Texas basalt and limestone pavers.
An exterior wall encloses portions of the garden, creating an intimate courtyard just outside the home’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Running through it is a raised cantilevered limestone boardwalk over the stone and gravel beds. The boardwalk framework is hidden for a clean look.
“One of our biggest challenges was drainage—the property is on an incredibly steep slope,” says Norton. “We worked with a civil engineer, and incorporated the gutter into a rain chain that lands into the fountain, and then a large drain from there. We wanted to create very functional features.”
Norton used mulch on one part of the driveway that is level but selected riverstone in other sloped areas.
“Riverstone is a larger material that allows water to move through it without moving,” she says. “A lot of landscapers put in decomposed granite, but it can spread and become a mess.”
Norton says she designs with maintenance in mind, so that her projects look better and better, not just at install.
Norton likes using steel for its delicacy and flexibility. She creatively used stacked steel tube to create a wall that juts out behind the fountain. At first glance, it appears to be concrete since it has the same horizontal striations.
“I love the patina; I love how durable it is,” she says. “The composition just seemed right to go between the riverstone and the basalt.”
Norton replaced trees and added plants to make the area both private and lush while following city code.
“We knew ahead of time that some of the natural plantings were going to get demolished or damaged during the construction process, and we would need to adhere to the tree caliper replacement laws,” says Norton.
Norton selected river ferns, clumping bamboo, meadow sedge, woolly stemodia, inland sea grass, bicolor irises, red yucca, purple trailing lantana, and Texas Mountain Laurel. Her team planted more than 20 trees including live oaks, Monterrey oaks, cedar elms, Texas red oaks and bur oak.
“Most of our plants were native and if not native, adaptable,” she says. “We wanted them to be drought-tolerant and attract local wildlife for food and habitat.”
Norton was part of the second graduating class for UT Austin’s landscape architecture program.
“It was drilled in my head from day 1 about using plants that are better for the area,” she says. “They really focus on sustainability.”
Another challenge they faced was with the property’s natural limestone shelves underground.
“It was hard to dig holes for plantings,” she says. “We thought we could do it with rock hammer, but we ended up renting an Auger attachment to bore holes into the ground to install the trees.”
All of that hard work and thoughtful design paid off, and the final space is modern yet natural, and sculptural yet inviting—a perfect balance.
The project took about 14 months and came in around $200,000.