Can you trace your interest in landscape construction and design back to a particular influence?

I am a landscape designer because I am not a very good swimmer. In college, I wanted a summer job where I could work outside, and I knew I would not pass the lifeguard test. A friend got me a job with the landscape company where he worked. I worked on the construction crew. The company designed and installed beautiful residential gardens, so I was exposed to some amazing landscapes throughout Puget Sound. One of the first job sites I worked on was installing the landscape at Paul Allen’s estate on Mercer Island. At the time, I was finishing an English degree at the University of Washington and was interested in studying fashion design. I had started teaching myself how to sew and pattern making. Slowly, plants, stone walls and hardscape design began replacing my fascination with fabric, seams and fashion.

What is your firm’s ideal project?

We love creating spaces for outdoor living — spaces for gathering, lounging, dining, cooking and play. We especially enjoy the challenge of designing and maximizing small or awkward spaces.

Your work is nationally recognized for using materials in new and novel ways and coming up with creative, cost-conscious solutions. Does the ambition of installing or designing a unique, forward-thinking garden mean that the bar is continually raised for you personally?

I have always been driven to find great solutions for our clients in response to the their goals, the site and their budget. Each project is unique, so it makes sense that each design and response is unique.

Your firm often works with and installs gardens designed by notable landscape architects; how does the collaborative process foster innovation?

When I first started SEI in 2000, most of our work was installing gardens and landscapes designed by some of the Northwest’s top landscape architects and garden designers. I consider working with these designers to install their projects my master’s degree. In the past 10 years, SEI has grown and we now focus on working with clients where we both design and install the landscape. SEI is a great group of landscape architects, landscape designers, project managers, and craftspeople, so now the collaboration takes place among our team, our clients, and building partners.

How do you approach or decide on the overall “feel” of a garden?

This is a blend of numerous factors. The home, the site, the client’s input, the budget, and our perspective and expertise are all part of this. That said, our natural inclination is for designing low maintenance outdoor spaces with strong hardscape designs that look great all year long.

What’s next on the boards?

We continue to work on spaces for outdoor living and entertaining. We’re currently designing several covered outdoor dining and lounging spaces. We’re working with a company that specializes in the fabrication and installation of these and are excited by the possibilities. One of the dining spaces we are working on will include heaters, lighting, a TV and a decked out kitchen.

Favorite travel destination for inspiration?

Anywhere with my wife. She is an interior designer with a background in art history. We are always traveling somewhere new.

What are some of your favorite public or private gardens?

The High Line, The Sound Cylinder (Parc de la Villette), Twin Silo Community Park in Fort Collins and the Baroque and Renaissance gardens of Italy.

Three words that most appropriately sum up your approach to landscape design are…

Design for enjoyment.