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Landscape architect Dean Philip Saunders creates outdoor spaces that truly stand apart

04 May 2020

Over the past 25 years, Dean Philip Saunders has built an impressive body of landscape design work ranging from private estates to residential and commercial properties to schools and body corporations. The multi-award winning designer and director of Auckland-based Outlook Landscapes Limited previously received a bronze award for his designer garden, 'eleganza sofisticata,' in the 2017 NZ Flower & Garden Show and another bronze award for his European garden, 'risonanza sonora,' in the 2018 NZ Flower & Garden Show.

Heavily influenced by the neoclassical design movement, Dean’s work is unique. He sees his outdoor spaces as “visual symphonies” that blend style and sophistication with practical sensibilities that reflect his clients’ personalities and lifestyles.

We caught up with Dean to find out more about his journey, what inspires him and the design advice that he keeps coming back to time and time again.

You moved from Melbourne to Auckland in 1988 to study Horticulture and Landscape Design at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) starting in 1990, but I understand that your passion for design started long before that. What ‘planted the seeds’ of interest in you for pursuing a career in landscape design?

“During my years growing up in Melbourne, I was surrounded by a plethora of inner city architecture and European styling. I would spend hours walking around Melbourne and marvel at the incredible structures, buildings and monuments, which were so prevalent in the city. I'd walk along the bluestone footpaths and take in the aesthetics of the old brick laneways and the modern civic spaces. The cityscape inspired me with a sense of pride and a desire to emulate the style and scale of these beautiful architectural buildings. Though I didn't fully understand it at the time, architecture was the starting point for me into landscape design.”

A unique challenge of landscape design is the ability to see what a project will become as it matures. While Dean’s work on this recently completed garden may be done, the plants within it still have years to go before they will be fully formed. Fence stained in Resene Woodsman Crowshead and pots painted in Resene Eighth Wheatfield.

What inspires you about the neoclassical design movement, which heavily influences your work?

“I have always been inspired by clean, pronounced symmetrical lines – styling which had a timeless appeal that was neither pretentious nor forced, but in all ways deliberate. There is an elegance in subdued design, a marriage between form and function. These elements have always interested me and lend themselves to not only creating a truly unique outdoor space, but are essential in helping me tell the story behind my designs.”

Where else do you find your inspiration, and what do you do when you’re feeling ‘stuck’ design-wise to get yourself going again?

“I am very much inspired by music and the arts. The renaissance painters and sculptors like Michaelangelo, DaVinci and Vesari were also renowned architects, who understood the relationship between symmetry and scale. It is very much the same with music. So many disciplines have overarching principles that assist in their creation. Sometimes, even something as simple as a conversation can spark an idea that will lead to a grand design. But of course, if all else fails, dance!”

What are your favourite types of projects to work on?

“I really enjoy large scale renovation projects that require a complete overhaul of a site. These types of projects allow me to utilise all my design skill and knowledge to create something quite unique for my client. There is something truly rewarding when designing a space from the barest of bones. Previously, I was commissioned to design a 32-acre estate in Auckland that was surrounded by stunning sea views, with a grand European manor. The overall garden aesthetic was in a formal French provincial style, which incorporated a vast tapestry of traditional European plants and materials. It was a tremendous project to be a part of.”

Dean’s signature style is evident in this recently completed project. The fence is stained in Resene Woodsman Crowshead and the pots are painted in Resene Eighth Wheatfield.

What is your favourite bit of design advice that you always find yourself coming back to?

“Keep an idea simple. If it's too difficult to convey, then it probably needs revision. A simple idea has the potential to be built upon and finessed into a strong emphatic design. That is really at the heart of what I do.”

We love your ‘Plant of the Month’ stories on your blog. What inspired you to start doing that?

“I wanted to showcase the relevance that plants play in a landscape. If done right, plants have the ability to lead one effortlessly through a garden. They form the personality of a design. They can unite the overall aesthetic and give that living element to an outdoor space. I thought my knowledge and design reference could help readers establish a more designer look to their home and garden.”

What do you love about Resene products and why do you choose to use them in your work?

“Colour is an important element in my designs, and I need to ensure that the colour I want will work perfectly. I exclusively use Resene products on all my projects – not just because of the tremendous range available, but also because of the professional advice I receive from Resene colour specialists. It all goes a long way into creating that bespoke designer look for my clients.”

What are your favourite Resene colours and what do you like about them?

“I use a lot of neutrals in my designs with some contrasting colours too. I like to use colours that will enhance an architectural feature and/or my plant selection. Resene Eighth Wheatfield and Resene Woodsman Crowshead timber stain are two favourites. But I also have a few Resene products which I swear by and think are sensational. Resene Resitex and Resene Sandtex are two I use often in a variety of colours to create an elegant and textured look. The versatility of these products is amazing.”

Dean chose Resene Woodsman Crowshead for this fence in sharp contrast to the garden’s other natural and man-made elements, such as the pots painted in Resene Eighth Wheatfield.

While it’s hard for many of us to plan even a month out from now, is there any exciting news or work that you’ve got on the horizon that you’re looking forward to?

“I have a few projects underway at the moment. I am currently overseeing a commissioned design of mine for a primary school in Northcote, Auckland and an outdoor refurbishment of a 1970s townhouse in Pakuranga, Auckland.”

To see more of Dean’s work and read his ‘Plant of the Month’ blog posts, visit the Outlook Landscapes website.

images Dean Philip Saunders, Gerald Shacklock Photography