They say beauty comes from within, but in a home what’s on the outside can count just as much as the interior in terms of appeal, value and marketability. For 25 years, Michael Derrig, founder of Landscape Details in Sag Harbor, has proved that point by creating stunning and sustainable exterior designs for his clients in the Hamptons. Recently, On the Inside caught up with him in search of insights for homeowners.
What trends do you see in landscape design today?
Less is more. While every project is very individual, overall we’re seeing that clean, open spaces are especially appreciated. There’s been an increase in modern homes in the Hamptons, and the landscaping I design for those properties reflects a new, modern style with a pared-down palette and fewer types of materials. It requires tremendous attention to detail, and the overall effect is subtle and simplified. It can have great impact.
Tell us about your design process. What inspires you?
Color, for one thing. Green inspires me, and I love white flowerbeds. One of my favorite trees is the green leaf Japanese maple. It’s green most of the year but turns crimson in the fall, which is something the client can look forward to.
When my team approaches a project, our goal is to create or enhance a space that people will enjoy for decades. Form follows function, so after we design and lay out the patio or pools or whatever structures we’re working on, we then layer in the plants and trees, which help further define the space and add beauty, dimension and life as well as a bit of shade. Overall, we want the materials and every detail in the design to create a serene, breathtaking environment that evokes peace and happiness.
You grow your own trees at a 25-acre nursery in Calverton, New York. Why cultivate the trees you plan to install on your clients’ properties yourself?
Bottom line: I’m picky! I’ve spent my whole career searching for the best of the best materials to offer my clients. I finally realized that for them to be the best, I would have to grow them myself. The trees on the nursery—which include Hornbeam and Beech and pleached Linden trees—are extremely well cared for and have been cultivated to have the proper branching habit and canopy.
On average, how much should a homeowner expect to invest in a property’s landscape to increase its value?
Ten percent of the property’s value—that figure has been the recommendation for decades. But homeowners who appreciate fine details, quality materials and diverse expertise should expect to invest a bit more.
How do you take upkeep requirements into consideration when planning a landscape design for a homeowner interested in selling the property?
The time and money that will be needed to maintain a property are often quite high on a buyer’s mind, and a beautiful, lush property might turn off a prospective buyer if he or she thinks the landscape upkeep will be too costly. That’s why we take our initial consultations with the clients very seriously, to fully understand their future plans and their expectations for maintenance. Fortunately, years of experience have taught our team how to modify designs around our clients’ budgets. For instance, some perennial or annual flower gardens require weekly care, whereas flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas are equally beautiful and easier to maintain.
What about disruptions from weather and wildlife? How do you select plants, trees and flora that can flourish in those conditions?
The Hamptons see a lot of snowy winters, high winds and hot sun, not to mention deer and other pests. To select plants and trees, I have to rely on my 25 years of experience with trial and error, because a lot of the information out there isn’t trustworthy. For instance, many websites list plants that are supposed to be deer-resistant, but I’ve seen those same plants chewed to the ground by the end of winter and can recommend others that will thrive.
Also, it’s really important to consider the conditions at every single property and adjust the design accordingly. Certain plants simply cannot survive at a waterfront home with high winds and salty air no matter how many types of protection (e.g., burlap or antidesiccants) are added. Others, such as Hollywood juniper trees, are able to withstand winds quite well—much better than another evergreen variety like the Eastern Red Cedar. Over the years, I’ve learned what to recommend based on the weather and other disruptions in this area.