Andrea Rowe is a landscape architect, company owner, award winner and designer of cool outdoor living spaces with roots in Cow Head, on the Northern Peninsula.
As a kid surrounded by the mountains of Gros Morne National Park, Andrea grew to love the outdoors. She left that little town to study at Memorial University in St. John’s, graduating at a time when everybody, she says, had a degree. The cod fishery had imploded, taking down the local economy with it, and finding a job was as hard as finding a cod in the ocean. She and her now husband left for the more fertile employment landscape of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Andrea enrolled in University of Winnipeg’s environmental design program with the intention of studying architecture.
But things don’t always work out as intended. As she worked through the program’s course offering, sampling the various design disciplines, she realized that landscape design was her true passion. She ended up graduating with an environmental design degree in landscape architecture.
The couple returned to Newfoundland in 2006, finding the employment drought had ended. She began her new career as a landscape architect intern, where she realized that sitting behind a desk all day wasn’t her thing. That prompted a move to a construction company, where she spent three years designing and getting out of the office to spend time on the job site. On the way, she learned how to cost out and quote jobs.
All of that – from the internship through to the construction company – was a learning experience leading to Atmosphere, a company she started with business partner Adam Smith, and Airo, her own company focused on landscape design.
Which brings us to the here and now, where Andrea is the sole owner of the landscape and construction company, which will now operate under the Airo name. She’s excited. This is where she wants to be, working on designs, then heading out into the field to oversee their execution.
The designs come alive with paper and coloured pencils, then move to the computer screen before being printed for delivery to the job site. But landscapes are three-dimensional creations with designs that can be difficult to interpret on a two-dimensional surface. That problem is solved with clay.
It can sometimes be difficult for an excavator operator to interpret a paper plan, says Andrea, but put a 3D model of that plan in front of them and they get it right away.
Using pottery clay, Andrea creates scale models of her plans, shaping hills and mounds and walls to create a miniature version of her design, which she can then give to an equipment operator with the instructions “Here, build this.”
It’s just one of the many ways that designing for outdoor spaces is different than designing interiors. Take, for instance, scale. Inside, says Andrea, you’re limited by the ceiling and walls, but outside, the exterior of the house is generally the only wall. This expanded scale explains why a patio footprint that makes sense for an interior room – say, 10’x12’ – seems tiny in the backyard.
To alleviate that feeling of mismatched scale, Andrea looks at the height of the home’s exterior wall.
“Usually you want to reflect that house height outward, extending as far horizontally as vertically.”
That horizontal extension may become a patio, which Andrea says should be a minimum of 15 feet to give enough room to walk around a table and chairs.
Good design is at the core of Andrea’s work, and it isn’t just a simple matter of making things look good – although that’s important, too. Good design, for Andrea, means listening to the homeowner’s wants and needs, considering the architecture and look of the home, as well as assessing the site and any potential issues with sun, shade, wind, privacy and wildlife.
With all of that in mind, she designs an outdoor space best suited to the way the homeowners plan to use the space, whether that’s for entertaining, lounging, family fun or a bit of everything.
It’s a lot to consider, and Andrea has proven she’s good at it, with awards from provincial and national landscape organizations on her shelves, as well as a business award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs.
“It was nice,” she says of the award. “I felt like I was being recognized for my work.”
Think like a landscape designer with these tips from Andrea Rowe
- Ask yourself are the plants suitable for this region? Look for plants that can handle a Zone 5 climate.
- Look around the yard and decide what and where the focal points will be.
- Consider how you can maintain or enhance the privacy of your yard.
- Lighting can change the look of an outdoor space – consider adding lights.
- Give careful thought to your material choices. For instance, natural stone around a pool could create a tripping hazard, so a manufactured stone is the better choice in these areas.
- Don’t be afraid to make your deck larger.
- If you’re starting with an empty lot and plan to install a septic field, consider placing the house closer to the street and putting the septic field in the backyard.
- Plant several of the same plant, instead of many types of flowering plants. This will avoid visual clutter and busyness. Instead, use one standout flower as a focal point.
- If you want a variety of flowers, consider a smaller specimen garden to contain the colour burst.