Small Garden Ideas From The 2016 Kips Bay Show House


The Kips Bay Decorator Show House, now in its 44th year, is one of New York City’s top springtime attractions. For eight weeks, some of the country’s leading designers and architects lend their energy and talent to creating an amazing array of indoor and outdoor spaces. This year’s show house, located at the newly-renovated Carlton House Townhouse on East 61st Street, features a veritable treasure trove of ideas from 21 top designers. I visited recently to see what was trending in the gardening world.

Rooftop zen

I’ll start at the top (literally.) On the roof of the 10,000 square foot building, the award-winning firm Hollander Design Landscape Architects had transformed a 5th-story, outdoor entertaining space into a cool, green oasis. An expansive terrace topped by white limestone pavers set the perfect stage for a refined palette of minty greens, baby pinks, soft lavenders and yellows. Bright white cushions on the mainly teak furniture continued the clean, crisp aesthetic, while at the far end of the terrace, a torus steel sculpture by David Harbor Ltd played with perspective.


The talented group of designers, which includes environmental planners, landscape architects and horticulturists, integrated the town home’s own architectural features, such as its linear stone elements and black metal stair railings, with contemporary iron lanterns, zinc planters (by Ore Inc.) and exterior walls painted in a steely gray. The walls and planters, which appeared almost luminous, provided a deep contrast to lush groupings of pastel-colored flowers.


This spiral steamed oak bench by Gaze Burvill echoed the circular shape of the gleaming torus sculpture. Notice how the designers set it partially on a brown teak surface so that it would stand out against the white stone flooring.


At the far side of the terrace and adjacent to a dining area, an elegant vertical garden composed of yellow and white orchids in terra cotta pots capped a “hedge” of deep green boxwood and variegated ivy in zinc planter boxes.


A square pattern trellis lent a sense of enclosure to the dining area while the green indoor/outdoor rug “Diamond Sprout’ by Dash & Albert continued the fresh color scheme.


One of my favorite innovations by the designers was this unusual ‘chandelier’ composed of air plants, Tillandsia spp. Air plants prefer warm temperatures and partial shade and with daily misting will provide interest all season long.



Modern aesthetics made functional

On the second floor terrace, designer Daniel Richards, known for his clean, crisp designs, integrated elements of the town home’s architecture, including white limestone floors and walls and black iron railings into his refined garden aesthetic. The approachable and modern outdoor living design featured modular sofas with sleek gray cushions, matte charcoal containers and jet black accessories.

Richard’s stark color palette provided the perfect foil for a row of six Emerald Green Arborvitae and elongated zinc planters filled with Hydrangea macrophylla (Lacecap) ‘Shooting Star’ and yellow-green sweet potato vine.


A highlight of the installation was this dramatic black-leaved plant, Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Coral.’ The unusual species features huge, glossy arrow-shaped leaves on deep black stems.


Synthetic turf design

This unusual outdoor passageway designed by Sawyer Berson featured tall rows of Emerald Green Arborvitae, trailing ivy and a carpet of lush synthetic turf. Artificial turf, while not for everyone, is gaining in popularity among those who don’t have the time to water, mow and edge. And, its permeable backing drains water rapidly.


Indoor gardening

Indoors, one of the most eye-catching exhibits had to be this pair of ‘trees’ in a stunning living room created by Victoria Hagan Interiors. The trees were not trees at all, rather tree-like structures composed of tall birch logs fitted into moss-filled planters and topped by cage-like structures that housed pots filled with vines.


A close-up of one of the tree ‘crowns’ revealed the birch-log structure. This is a clever idea for low-light spaces in which most trees are unable to thrive.

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Indoor flower containers

In the right container or vase, cut flowers become pieces of art and we only need look to the experts for inspiration. This tall, slender vase was the perfect complement to a simple bouquet of white calla lilies. The shape was echoed in the columnar piece of furniture it rested on.


This single purple orchid was enlivened by its rounded, shiny brass container.


I’ll admit, I’d never thought of using hosta leaves in their own arrangement, but the creamy margins of this bundle of hosta leaves worked perfectly with the simple white container.


Gorgeous antique purple roses looked like they were balancing on tip-toes in this narrow rectangular glass container. The black books underneath made a perfect pedestal, setting the simple arrangement to its best advantage. (Design by Suzanne Kasler.)


Large masses of peonies look great in any large glass container. I especially loved the curved base of this bell-shaped vase.


These light and playful designs in a vibrant room designed by Philip Thomas were enhanced by their unique and colorful containers.



For more information on this year’s show, which runs through June 9, click here for the show house website. Admission is $35.