Meet the Next Generation of Bay Area Landscape Designers

Talc Studio

Anastasia Sonkin (far left) and Taylor Palmer bring more than simply a love of plants to their practice. Palmer has a background in graphic design, while Sonkin’s résumé boasts studies in documentary film and food policy. Both have roots in biodynamic farming. “So much of what we do is about ecological restoration, smart design, returning landscapes to native plantings,” says Palmer. Sonkin echoes that site-specific spirit, explaining, “We’re always trying to gather local knowledge—what kinds of plants are actually thriving in the places where we’re working, what are the plants that will attract birds and bees.” That focus extends to collaborations with Northern California’s extraordinary artists, craftspeople, and builders. “Their work is essential in establishing a specific sense of place,” Palmer says. Sonkin emphasizes the loose, frequently improvisational nature of their process: “We try to let things unfold organically over time. Gardens are not about instant gratification. The waiting becomes part of the magic.” talcstudio.com

Dune Hai

A bachelor’s degree in art history, coupled with a fascination with physics and structures, led Anooshey Rahim to obtain master’s degrees in both architecture and landscape architecture. “I approach design as problem-solving, and I love working with living materials, so the move into landscape felt natural,” explains the Texas-born principal of this East Bay–based studio. “All art and design are products of the society and culture that produced them. Putting a historical perspective on contemporary landscape allows us to honor multiple heritages and traditions.” Her process is equally pragmatic: “You start with what you have—what’s the microclimate, who’s using it, how will it be maintained? You always have to consider environmental issues. Our resources are finite, and water is life.” Rahim honed her craft in the office of landscape architect Andrea Cochran before launching Dune Hai in 2018. “Now I’m ready to bring a new flavor to the work.” Part of that flavor is pure delight. “In every project, we always do at least one unexpected, inventive thing—a celebration of the spirit of the garden.” dunehai.com

Pine House Edible Gardens

Armed with a quiver of prestigious degrees, Leslie Bennett began her career in the fields of environmental justice, land-use and cultural-property law, and preservation. Then she decided it was time to get her hands dirty. “I felt useless being a super-wonky desk worker,” Bennett recalls. “I wanted to reconnect to the land.” So she set off on a journey into the world of organic farming, apprenticing at operations on both sides of the Atlantic. After returning to her native Northern California, Bennett launched her garden enterprise in Oakland in 2010 with a mission to bring the wonders of green space to urban dwellers of various backgrounds. The firm’s equity pricing structure provides small subsidies for clients with historically limited access to the kind of private urban oases that are the stock-in-trade of most landscape design operations. “We see gardens as spaces of opportunity and uplift, spaces where people can tap into their ancestral cultures,” says Bennett, who has translated that philosophy into projects across the Bay Area, including Black Sanctuary Gardens—an arts initiative focused on creating natural refuges in collaboration with Black women and Black communities in and around Oakland. In Bennett’s words, “It’s about awesome Black women being fabulous in their fabulous gardens.” pinehouseediblegardens.com

Daniel Nolan Design

Daniel Nolan describes his entrée into the world of landscape design as a “focused stumble,” beginning with his art school days in Los Angeles, when he first discovered his green thumb. His true master class in plant identification and selection came during a nearly decade-long tenure at Flora Grubb Gardens, the venerable San Francisco emporium for all things horticultural. “I’m fascinated by both the artistry and the biology of the garden,” says Nolan, who opened his namesake design practice in 2018 and has gone on to create magical landscapes for a broad range of private residences and commercial clients, among them Kistler Vineyards in Sonoma and Napa’s Clos Pegase winery. “My taste is not very flowery or complicated,” he says of his approach, which balances lush, expressive plantings with clearly articulated, minimalist hardscapes. “My intention is always to be drought tolerant,” he continues, affirming his abiding interest in the theme of his 2018 book, Dry Gardens: High Style for Low Water Gardens. “In the end, the work is always about creating spaces for meditation, repose, and joy.” danielnolandesign.com

Soft Studio

Clementine Jang (left) and Jessie Booth take an expansive view of landscape design, looking beyond the confines of a particular project to forge connections with the broader ecosystem and the myriad cultural and social forces that come to bear on it. The Oakland-based partners met at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where they cultivated a shared passion for plants and gardens as a fulcrum for exploring issues of sustainability, climate change, cultural identity, and even social justice. “We spend a lot of time thinking about what we do in our own work that interacts with these larger spheres of interest. The world seems to be falling apart, and we can’t just be on the computer designing backyards,” says Jang, a native of South Korea. “Fostering an intimate, personal connection to the land means more than just picking pretty plants,” adds Booth, who grew up in Oakland. Soft Studio’s website includes a “Thoughts” section that features a paean to pioneering Black historian Delilah Beasley, meditations on the Black Lives Matter movement, and a love letter to the cheerful California poppy. Says Jang, “We’re not just talking about Frederick Law Olmsted. There’s so much more to landscape.” softstudio.us

This story on Bay Area landscape designers appears in AD’s October 2022 issue. To get a copy, subscribe to AD.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

More Great Stories From AD

Related Posts