Third Nature Studio to redesign Aidlin Darling Mill Valley Residence

Nicole Kelly and Randi Johnsen of Third Nature Studio have been selected to redesign the landscape surrounding Aidlin Darling's stunning Mill Valley Courtyard Residence. The clients seek to update planting and address problem areas in the landscape that were overlooked initially. 

The house is located in a quiet residential area in Mill Valley, and is designed to maximize the indoor/outdoor experience that is so well suited to Marin County and the Bay Area. We seek to raise the landscape bar, and strengthen the outdoor spaces to be a more powerful compliment and counterpoint to the interior experience of the house.

Aidlin Darling Mill Valley



Third Nature Studio Awarded Best of Houzz 2016

Third Nature Studio has won “Best Of Design” and Best Service” on Houzz®, a leading platform for home remodeling and design. Third Nature Studio was chosen by the more than 35 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than one million active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals.

“Anyone building, remodeling or decorating looks to Houzz for the most talented and service-oriented professionals” said Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz. “We’re so pleased to recognize Third Nature Studio, voted one of our “Best Of Houzz” professionals by our enormous community of homeowners and design enthusiasts actively remodeling and decorating their homes.”


Burbank Ranch Winery, Templeton, California

Collaboration with - Location Aware Audio Tours

Randi Johnsen is collaborating with Detour as they create a new audio tour for the Albany Bulb. is a Bay Area based, location aware audio app. The producers use interviews and real voices to take the listener through time and space, to discover the unknown and unexpected in the world they travel in. Previous Detours include San Francisco's Tenderloin district, Golden Gate Park nature walk, and even a journey along with the city's trash to see how San Francisco aims to go zero waste by 2020! 

Randi will offer her special insight into the unique history and landscape of the Albany Bulb for this upcoming tour of one of the Bay Area's most treasured sites. Watch this space!

Modern Update to a Shady Hayes Valley Courtyard

We feel very lucky to have worked once again with fantastic clients and an excellent contractor on our Hayes Valley courtyard project. This space started as a dark, muddy shade garden in the back of a glorious San Francisco victorian home. The clients wanted to create a modern, easy care space that felt elegant enough for a cocktail party, and accessible enough for relaxing with a toddler. 

Hillside Entry Garden in the Oakland Hills

When I saw our clients' house in the Oakland Hills for the first time, I thought of a Raymond Chandler quote about a house in LA situated like a corner pocket on a pool table. This house felt just like that: you drop right into the main entry from the street, down a steep flight of stairs. When you arrive, you discover a gorgeous midcentury house nestled in a lush garden. We reworked the precarious entry to be a gorgeous contemporary concrete stair, and added a custom metal mesh screen, an ipe deck, and built in bench in the entry courtyard. The planting palette is a mix of luminous, sculptural grey-green plants that transform the formerly overlooked space into a showstopper.

The project is currently under construction, we can't wait to see it completed.


Agave attenuata 'Nova'

Dichondra 'Silver Falls'

Fatsia 'Spiderweb'

Agave attenuata 'nova'     Dichondra 'silver falls'    Fatsia 'Spiderweb'

From Garden to Vineyard at Burbank Ranch

At Burbank Ranch Winery, we worked the transition between garden, vineyard and greater landscape by encircling the house with masses of grasses. Near the house, we planted a mix of evergreen shrubs that echo the distant oaks, like Manzanitas and Little Ollies, and encircled them with ribbons of Nassella tenuissima and Pennisetum spathiolatum. The result is a lovely blur between foreground, middlground and background that makes the clients, and visitors to the soon to be opened on site Winery & Tasting room feel that they are part of the larger glorious landscape of the rolling hills. Photography by Drew Kelly.

Contemporary Shade Garden in the Oakland Hills

Our lovely shade garden for clients in the Oakland Hills features California native plants and strong contemporary lines that play off the lush, lacy, rich textures of the plant material. The hilly landscape provides an opportunity for paths and stairs to lead you to quiet spaces for rest and reflection.

Burbank Ranch Winery Online

Our landscape design work is featured on the new website for Burbank Ranch. Check it out and buy some amazing wines while you browse!

In 2009 Nicole Kelly and I worked with Fred and Melody to create a landscape around the main house at Burbank Ranch as well as their agricultural manager's residence. We were inspired and impressed by their love of the regional agricultural landscape, and sought to create spaces that reflected that love and interest.

SF Edwardian - Demo and Reconfiguration

Our design and permitting process is finally done, and now work has begun in earnest at our new (very old) house. While the design moves strive to simplify, the work we are doing is substantial and will be completely transformative.

Most of the change is happening on the back of the house. An old laundry porch (that looked like it was built by drunken prospectors) is being removed, and the random, unaligned aluminum windows are being replaced by wood framed windows.

The existing conditions look a bit like this:

And the proposed elevation:

And the proposed elevation:

Above drawings are by Zack | de Vito Architecture & Construction.

Above drawings are by Zack | de Vito Architecture & Construction.

Third Nature Featured on Houzz

Third Nature Studio is happy to announce we were featured in an ideabook on the home page of Houzz about the cooling visual effect of blue plants in the landscape. Check it out.

The project featured was a Los Altos garden in a hot, sunny location. The plant palette suggests lushness with rich greens and blues, but does not include any lawn.

Thanks Houzz!

Lawn Alternatives

It's not impossible to have an iconic green carpet of grass in California and save a little water. It is really astounding how much water goes into maintaining residential lawns, and there are so many refreshing twists on that old tradition to try.

The images below are from projects I've worked on around the Bay Area, a no mow fescue grass at Cavallo Point, myoporum groundcover in Los Altos, and Carex pansa at a residence in San Louis Obispo County.

Another possibility with a traditional turf grass lawn is to give it a clean edge - a metal header, a dg pathway or even a concrete mowband to define a smaller lawn space and make it look a little more refined at the same time.

Our House, the Existing Floor Plan

Clearly, I am no architect. These are rough existing floor plans of the house from memory, and a little help from Google Maps. Our biggest concern is getting more light into the back of the house. We may increase the size of some of the windows in the back, and remove some of the closets and porch that cover the South and East facades. Oh yeah, North is up.

It's the opposite of staged

Most houses in SF that we have seen in our year long hunt were staged and updated to the max. They looked like hotel lobbies frozen in time with bowls of perfect green apples on granite counters and coffee table books just so. Yeah, not so with our place. The as-is state helped us see potential, imagine crafting something that suited us well, and it probably kept most of the sane people away too.

So far the most revelatory part of this process, is learning the point of view of the client. I feel like it will help me grow as a design professional to understand first hand what it feels like to sit on the other side of the table and navigate the construction and renovation of my own home. If you have undergone similar projects, I would love to hear your experiences! Any and all advice is much appreciated. And yes, I realize it will take longer and cost more than we can ever imagine.

And so it begins: our new old house

Its official, we are the new owners of an 1880's fixer in the Mission District. A long process lies ahead, with minor changes and renovations in every room, and no doubt some surprises too. Still, as crazy as I am sure it will be, I am so very excited.

We continue our life as a family of three, soon to be four, in our little one bedroom apartment just a few blocks away. We have some time ahead to design, plan and permit, so nothing concrete is happening yet. In our quiet moments, we slowly build our pinboards and ideabooks, and dream about the rest of our lives in this beautiful house.

A Wave Organ Proposal with Peter Richards

Third Nature Studio and graphic designer & landscape architect Leah Elamin are assisting Peter Richards with a wave organ project for the City of Marseille. As an artist in residence at San Francisco's Exploratorium, Richards created a Wave Organ in the San Francisco Bay 1986.

The Marseille wave organ is inspired by the graceful form of a fish, with undulating, silvery, expanded metal mesh decking that is hidden and revealed by the changes in the tides. The organ pipes turn the form into a piece of habitable, sonic sculpture.

Marseille is undergoing extensive renovation along its central harbor or Vieux Port, including a new Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations just opposite the site of the organ at Fort Saint Jean.

Saivu: Gateway for Norwegian National Park

I am prone to think of the Norwegian landscape as a place rich in folklore and fairy tales. As a child, I associated much of what I saw and experienced in Norwegian forests with my favorite books, and most of my memories and familiarity with Norway are those of a child visiting her grandparents. Mossy, lichen covered rocks, clearings full of wild blue berries, long cross country ski trips to frozen lakes make all of that magic just feel right.

Eriksen Skajaa ArchitectsPUSHAK Architects and Bjørbekk & Lindheim Landscape Architects recently won a competition to design a Gateway for Sjunkhatten National Park near Bodø, Norway. The project, titled Saivu, draws its formal vocabulary from the Sami language, nomadic building, and the romance of folklore and fairytale.

It has been difficult for me to reconcile the idyllic Norway in my head with the reality of a complex, contemporary society, and the surreality of recent events. This project is a thoughtful celebration of the Norwegian landscape, and I smile when I think about the wonder and delight a project like this can inspire.