Principles of Design: Harmony in the Landscape


As a band geek , I’m going to work the music I love into any post I can.  Anyhow, harmony is what happens when you combine all your architectural elements, furnishings, and design elements into a successful, pleasing whole. The shorter definition is “when everything works together and makes you nod your head and say yeah.” Harmony relies on two subordinate principles, unity and variety.

Unity means a single, cohesive identity. This can be established with color, or by keeping all the furniture styles consistent in an interior space. Outdoors, it can be a continuity of materials. For example, in designing the wedding arbor for the grounds at Old House Vineyards I used the same white oak that was used on the pavilion.

If, like me, you’re a Project Runway fan then you’ve probably heard Michael Kors call out designers for being too “matchy-matchy.” Too much unity can result in a very matchy-matchy landscape. It’s why you rarely see a large brick home with a brick patio, brick columns, and brick pathways. Even overuse of a plant can spoil an otherwise good design. This photo is from a greenhouse at Wollom Gardens in Culpeper, but I’ve seen monoculture landscape plantings like this too.

The other essential part of harmony is variety. Variety brings in different colors, textures, and materials, and adds interest to the space. However, variety on its own is also undesirable. Without unity to pull everything together, the design can be chaotic and displeasing. In the photo below, you can see that the stone veneer on the home is echoed in the stone on the columns and the step risers by the curb, creating unity; the brick on the home and the flagstone walk are of a similar character yet still provide interest and variety.

It’s easy to create a landscape design where everything is exactly the same. It’s also easy to create a design where everything is different. The value of taking the time to create a landscape plan is that you’re better able to combine unity and variety to get a beautiful, satisfying landscape.

Next up: the elements of design!

Dave Marciniak is a landscape designer and speaker. He lives in Culpeper, Virginia and can be found via his website and on Twitter.

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