When landscape architect Stacy Paetzel gets a call from a prospective client whose property presents particular challenges, she doesn’t hesitate — she gets excited.
Marshall Paetzel Landscape Architecture — the Mattituck- and Amagansett-based firm she founded with her husband, Jonathan Paetzel — has become one of the most sought-after landscape architecture firms on both the North and South forks, precisely because of its willingness to embrace projects that require an outside-the-box approach.
“One of the things I would say sets us apart from other people is that we’re really looking to do something unique,” Ms. Paetzel said in a recent interview. “People will call us because they have a really interesting
or unique property, or challenges like wetlands, difficult grades or setbacks.”
Overcoming the challenges or obstacles that those kinds of properties present is a collaboration between the Paetzels and their employees. The couple’s partnership began when both were students in the landscape architecture program at Virginia Tech (she graduated in 2000, her husband in 1998). They’ve both played to their strengths in establishing a business together.
“Stacy’s strength is the big-picture design inspiration,” Mr. Paetzel said. “I have a lot of experience in construction, so I get excited about putting all the pieces together out in the field to make things happen.
“We’re both capable of doing all aspects on our own,” he added. “And we collaborate in a lot of ways behind the scenes, so it’s not a handoff necessarily.”
Inspiration comes in many forms for Ms. Paetzel, but Mother Nature is the ultimate muse.
“I love to be outdoors, so I spend a lot of time hiking and going to the beach,” she said. “I definitely take a lot of inspiration from the natural environment.”
Ms. Paetzel said it’s important to her to make sure she steers away from the “traditional Hamptons super-fussy landscape” and instead tries to go for a more seamless, eco-friendly approach that blends elements of design with a respect for the natural environment.
“You want to make sure you’re not hiding the hand you had in the work, but feel like it’s still a part of the natural setting, and that it feels at home there,” she said, explaining the thinking that informs her design choices.
Ms. Paetzel added that an important early part of her design process is to let the property speak for itself, in a sense.
We want to really explore what works best for a particular property, and that starts with a really in-depth analysis of what’s unique about it, what the history of it is. Was it a farm? Were there barns or an outbuilding? Then we think about how the design might tell that story while being functional.Stacy Paetzel, Landscape Architect, Marshall Paetzel Landscape Architecture
Once they have a handle on big-picture ideas and questions, Ms. Paetzel said she gets to work on a master plan, using mood boards, images, and other tools, even 3D modeling from time to time. Budget discussions are a given, and transparency when it comes to cost is important, she said. Once the master plan is complete, contractors are chosen and the real work begins. Once implementation is complete, the firm continues to consult on maintenance and, if the client desires, is even so thorough as to help choose outdoor fixtures and furnishings that best complement the work.
Ms. Paetzel added that her firm always advocates for environmentally friendly design and maintenance practices, moving more in recent years toward toxin-free, organic methods of landscape maintenance, something she considers a duty as a landscape designer.
“Our job as designers is to be tastemakers, so we have to make what’s healthy for our planet beautiful,” she said. “That’s how I feel we should be moving, given the current situation in the world.”
The Paetzels both try to practice what they preach in their own lives and have put their skills and abilities to work at their own home in Cutchogue, where they redesigned the landscape and installed a pool.
Like the projects that excite them most, their backyard presented unique challenges — namely, a sloped area that created difficulty in placing the pool. Ultimately, they worked with that feature instead of around it.
“The pool is cut into a hill and raised above the grade, so the pool is partially out of the ground,” Mr. Paetzel explained. “You get a nice perspective when you’re standing on the pool patio, perched up, and there’s a drop-off on the outside of the pool, so we treated the pool wall with stone veneering.
“A lot of the aspects of the placement were definitely not easy or cost-effective, but the results seemed well worth it,” he added.
The Paetzels agreed that, as two designers with plenty of ideas, taking on their own home wasn’t always an easy collaboration. But when they did eventually come to agreements about certain design elements, they said, that gave them extra confidence that they’d made the right choice.
“It is a challenge, because each one of us may have what they think is a great idea,” Mr. Paetzel said. “But we’ve learned, I think, through experience that when it’s right, both of us are really excited about it. So it just takes some time and going back and forth to get there.”
The back-and-forth of collaboration that exists in any design project is something the Paetzels seem to have mastered, in both their personal project and those they do for others. According to their clients, they strike the right balance between listening to and respecting the desires and visions owners have for their property and suggesting ways to alter or elevate those ways of thinking.
Susan Akselrad hired Marshall Paetzel to do the landscape architecture at her home overlooking Peconic Bay in Cutchogue. She purchased the home five years ago and splits her time between the North Fork and New York City. The design was associated with a major renovation, an attempt to form a cohesive look between two lots that had been combined into one. The original landscape design was dated, Ms. Akselrad said, more typical of something that would have been done a quarter-century ago, very “commercial” in look. The family wanted something more in sync with nature, with the use of wildflowers and other elements that would more naturally blend in. The home has an open floor plan, a purposeful design meant to complement the fact that they love to entertain guests on the weekends. There are plenty of windows as well, meant to enhance views of the bay.
“You’re looking out on the bay, and at the landscaping, so it’s meant to complement the water, which I think is the most important asset we have here, with the views,” Ms. Akselrad said.
She said she met with several other designers, but was drawn to Ms. Paetzel.
“She’s got a wonderful way of opening you up to new ideas,” Ms. Akselrad said.
“She listens. But she got her way ultimately,” she added with a laugh. “But they were just really terrific and responsive. With all the people we dealt with, they were the easiest and most approachable.”
Ms. Akselrad said Ms. Paetzel beautifully addressed one design challenge — the driveway and entryway to the house — coming up with a solution that was an improvement in terms of both function and aesthetic.
“Previously, there had been a circular driveway as you came up to the house, and Stacy correctly pointed out that if you have lots of people over, you end up with people blocked in and it causes a lot of confusion,” she said. “So she made a place to park cars off to the side, but in front of the house. It’s a cobblestone grid where the grass grows up between the blocks, but it makes it natural and easy for cars to come and go. It protects the grass that’s there, and the cobblestones sort of disappear. It’s almost like an outdoor chessboard.”
It was the kind of unorthodox thinking that has given Marshall Paetzel a stellar reputation, and Ms. Akselrad admitted she wasn’t sold on it right away. Once it was done, though, she said she couldn’t have been happier.
“They’re just great to work with,” she said.