This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Architectural Digest.
With his tattoos, black leather badges, dark sunglasses and fleet of Harleys, architect and designer Peter Marino is cutting a spectacular path in the world of blue-blazer design. But this biker character is somewhat misleading. The New Yorker behind a global range of chic and inventive high-impact boutiques for Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Loewe and other luxury brands has a sweet, dare we say romantic side hidden in the Hamptons , where the modest white of her weekend home the doors open onto a dozen lush and enchanting acres of horticultural paradise.
Creamy ‘New Dawn’ roses cast their canes over a parade of classic arches, and wisteria cover a dome-topped motorcycle shelter. A quartet of amethyst-colored rhododendrons flourish around a venerable stone fountain that Marino found on a business trip to Bordeaux, France. On the other side of the house, more than a thousand pink hydrangeas bloom in a frothy profusion far from the threatening tattoos of the architect.
The revelation of this dream landscape, said Marino with mock horror, “will ruin my reputation!” Joking aside, the seemingly endless gardens are as detailed without compromise as any project under his direction. “Anal retention doesn’t begin to describe me,” he says, adding, “If a hedge has a leaf in its place, the veins in my neck swell.” The trees in the apple orchard may appear irregularly spaced, as if they had grown from the scattered seeds of Johnny Appleseed. Yet this apparent coincidence, Marino observes wryly, “is about as natural as Marie-Antoinette.” He helped position each of the fruit trees, noting with a broad smile: “I’m driving a mean tractor.”
In the mid-1990s, when the architect purchased the property, an indifferent landscape presented itself to the eye, crossed by dog courses and chain link fences. “It had a prison aesthetic,” recalls Marino. At its heart was a poorly renovated 1920s mansion that stood majestically at the end of a long driveway shaded by mature red maples. Too majestic, in fact, for its new owner; he razed it and built it again.
“We don’t live in Tara,” explains the architect, married to costume designer and historian Jane Trapnell Marino. The replacement house is deliberately off-axis, so visitors walking up the aisle only see the imposing bronze maple and sheep sculptures by François-Xavier Lalanne standing like sentries (38 works by the artist French and his wife, Claude, dot the ground) before ending in a large courtyard. Right next door, the white-painted residence shyly appears through a canvas of greenery. Its appealing asymmetry blends Dutch Colonial, Arts & Crafts and McKim, Mead & White inspirations into a Yankee hybrid that needed a complementary frame.
“American landscaping, like American architecture, is its own thing,” says Marino. “A combination of formal and informal.” Hence the neo-colonial style flowerbeds pert near the house. Further on, mounds of red and pink azaleas are so opulent that they evoke the azalea groves of Henry Francis du Pont in Winterthur; these flowering shrubs, in turn, dissolve when they come into contact with the dense grove that demarcates the perimeter of the property. To maximize privacy, the architect reinforced the lot lines with Leyland cypresses, cryptomeria and arborvitae, or around 500 trees in total. Over 50 percent of the species here are evergreen. As Marino explains with an eloquent growl, “I really hate trees without leaves in winter, they crush your soul.”
The gardens are arranged like a color wheel: purple flowers to the north of the house, red to the east, pink to the south and multicolored in the rose garden facing west. A clever mix of early, medium and late flowering strains keeps palettes flourishing for much of the year. The yellow flowers, however, are quarantined in a remote location because “mixed with a color other than green they look cheap,” Marino says firmly. “Gardening is like decorating. It’s all about the placement.”
It’s also about knowing how to add a touch of vulgarity, to paraphrase Diana Vreeland. In Marino’s world, that means a garden of cuttings teeming with gladioli, a once fashionable plant that’s about as welcome today as slugs. “Nobody grows them because people don’t want to be accused of having bad taste,” says Marino. “So I have acres of it.” Touché: The credibility of the tough guys is restored.