This Designer Dreams
Award-winning landscape designer Keith Williams finds inspiration in people, places and technology.
By Lauren Varga King
Keith Williams recalls being fascinated with his father’s work from a young age. His dad was an ad man who ran his own agency. Within those agency walls, Williams found inspiration, honed creativity and explored art. “Artistically, my father had a lot to do with where I am today,” says Williams.
Continuing to reminisce, Williams talks of spending time with his mother in the garden of his childhood home in Michigan. “My mother was an avid gardener, and I learned a lot from her,” says Williams.
According to Williams, his parents have a lot to do with where he is today — which is in Palm Beach, Florida, where he’s a partner at Nievera Williams Design.
“I always thought I’d be a graphic designer,” says Williams, who started out his professional endeavors working in newspaper advertising. Years later, he’d drop “graphic” from any kind of formal title or aspirations, and add “landscape” in its place.
“There’s certainly a correlation between landscape design and graphic design,” says Williams. “And, ever since moving to Florida, I’ve been fascinated with its landscape.”
That fascination, coupled with a passion for “artistic freedom,” has led Williams to be recognized with the American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) Award of Honor in 2013, and the Palm Beach Preservation Foundation’s Lesly S. Smith Landscape Award in 2012.
The ASLA Award of Honor was given for a serene and sustainable waterfront landscape in Palm Beach. According to Williams, the client was angling for a low-maintenance garden, and for her water bill to be less than $500 a month.
Williams’ solution? “It was all about the right location of plants, and making use of shade,” he says. “And, most importantly, a high-tech irrigation system.”
In addition to designing an English garden that could flourish in 95-degree weather, Williams and his team have accomplished feats like craning a $30,000 palm tree into a backyard, and designing a Warhol-inspired pool floor to a client’s exact specifications.
“If you live in Florida, you have to have a pool. They’re mandatory,” says Williams. “I consider a pool an outdoor room; its own space.”
“More and more people are learning, and educating themselves on sustainability,” says Williams. “That can be harder to achieve in [Palm Beach].”
Williams encourages everyone to use high-tech irrigation systems. The systems, he explains, read soil moisture levels and incorporate drip irrigation to waste less water.
“If overhead systems are needed, we use larger droplets,” he adds. “These also waste less water.”
According to Williams, he’s not the only person putting technological advances to work in creating a perfect landscape. His clients are getting tech savvy as well.
“Typically, my clients are very inspirational,” adds Williams. “Most people gather and show me pictures. The big trend is using Pinterest.”
For this project, inspiration came in the form of a trip to Bermuda to study the landscape. Then, he brought his findings back, incorporating planters at the top of walls with cascading varieties, lacy greenery and other accents. The home now looks as if it has been there for 100 years, or more.
One of the greatest aspects of the project? Williams and his team found a way to extend the property by eight feet, all with the addition of a “green dock,” as Williams calls it.
“The property allowed for a dock, so we cantilevered quartz and steel trays in place and loaded each with dirt and plants,” describes Williams. “We’re responsible for anything beyond your door, and sometimes that means extending your property.”
Tools of the Trade
You won’t find Williams without:
“I love my iPad and the app ‘Annotate.’ It’s an extremely helpful tool when it comes to designing or marking up plans when you’re on the run.”
“Living in Florida all year round…they’re a must have and I love mixing up different styles and colors.”
Colored pencils and markers
“Not arranged nor neatly scattered.”
Words of Wisdom
Williams leaves three tips for readers embarking on a new landscape design project:
Always listen to your designer
If you have any doubt about color, always use white
Don’t be afraid to let your designer dream
Williams offers up a few of his personal landscape design choices:
“I’m a big fan of succulents. They can provide color and texture, are low-maintenance, and extremely unique and interesting.”
“For me, a green and white garden is perfect.”
“I love to travel and Italy is one of my most inspirational places. I try to bring that romanticism back to Florida.”