Editor’s note: Robert Bruss is temporarily away. The following column from Bruss’ “Best of” collection first appeared Sunday, March 12, 2006.

In their unique book, “Outside the Not So Big House; Creating the Landscape of Home,” best-seller author Sarah Susanka and noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy team up to show landscape ideas for “completing” modest-sized homes. Along the way, they share the benefits of sound landscape techniques to create enjoyable outdoor spaces that are both attractive and practical.

A special feature is the authors explain how they created the landscaping, often to meet the special requests of the homeowners. In other homes, Susanka and Messervy share how they combine landscape methods to accomplish a goal.

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My favorite is “blurring the boundary,” where Susanka’s home architecture is blended with Messervy’s landscape design.

As usual with the beautiful Taunton Press books, the color photos make this “coffee table”-quality book come to life to illustrate the thoughts of the authors. Photographer Grey Crawford did a superb job of showing what is explained in the text.

Unfortunately, not much attention is paid to the unique, interestingly designed homes that could have been the topic of an accompanying book. Frankly, the homes shown only from the outside look as interesting as their landscaping.

Most of the homes, and their landscaping, appear to be several years old so the landscaping has “matured” and is virtually full-grown. What makes the narrative explanation so valuable is that the authors share what they tried to accomplish to blend landscaping with the house.

To give the reader a perspective, each house shown includes a landscape design plan that reveals the overall yard landscaping in relation to the house. Both old and new houses are shown, often with updated landscaping to bring out the strong points of the older houses.

Although emphasis is on homes located on larger parcels, many houses shown are on city sidewalks with attractive landscaping used to accomplish specific goals, such as privacy. However, usually the backyards are shown, where landscaping adds special benefits, like a joining of the house to the outdoors.

This is one of the very few home design books to emphasize the importance of landscaping to enhance a home’s atmosphere both inside and outside. Most of the homes are not brand-new, showing what can be done with modest-sized older houses to make them more attractive with landscape techniques.

Chapter topics include: “Playing Up the Corners”; “The Attraction of Opposites”; “Variation on a Theme”; “The World Behind the Walls”; “A Landscape of Stone”; “Good Fences”; “Rooms Inside and Out”; “Garden of Earthly Delights”; “Three Cabins in a Forest”; “At Home on the Range”; and “A Cottage in the City.” The Appendix includes a house-by-house list of the architects and landscape designers.

Just as every house is unique, the premise of this book is that home landscaping should also be special to bring out the residence’s best features (or hide its drawbacks). The authors share what their goals were and in most cases they appear to have used effective landscaping to bring out the best features of each home. On my scale of one to 10, this outstanding new book rates a solid 10.

“Outside the Not So Big House; Creating the Landscape Architecture of Home,” by Sarah Susanka and Julie Moir Messervy (The Taunton Press, Newtown, CT), 2006, $34.95, 209 pages; available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries, and www.amazon.com.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center
).

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