DesignPRO: Amber Freda on creating modern warmth

DesignPRO:  Amber Freda on creating modern warmth

Contemporary Deck


Amber Freda NYC Garden Design

Why is it that as one gets closer to NYC, the design aesthetics of the outdoor living spaces get so much more modern, intimate, and sophisticated? Perhaps we can we bring a bit of those gorgeously clean details up the river to us here in the Hudson Valley? We think so.

Let's get ready to throw in some of those modern touches, mix it in with our incredible natural Hudson River backdrop, and build a few outdoor "walls" to create cozy spaces. But before you do anything crazy, let's hear from the experts!

Outdoor Home caught up with Amber Freda to go backstage at Amber Freda Garden & Home Design for some great design advice. 

OHM: While most of your work resides in urban settings, the connection to our readers’ upstate outdoor rooms is greater than one may think at first glance. The outdoor living spaces you create have such intimacy—what advice can you offer to others hoping to create this feeling?

AF:  The garden truly is an extension of the home.  If you look at the interior living space and notice the way intimacy is created through furniture arrangements, walls, etc., then you can start to see how the outdoor space can also be molded in a similar fashion.  Long spaces can be broken up into separate outdoor rooms to help create a cozier, more intimate feeling.  Terraces and decks can easily be divided up by having part of the space used for one task – i.e. dining and entertaining, and another part for something else, i.e. comfortable lounge seating. Furniture, outdoor rugs, and planters can be placed in such a way as to create a separation of different spaces for the feeling of a series of rooms.

OHM: We love horizontal slatted fencingand it seems like you like to use them as well. What type of wood do you use to build these? Are they custom built?

AF: We typically use ipe, a hardwood with a 30-year life expectancy, and oiled with Penofin to bring out the natural richness of the wood.  A less expensive option that we also commonly use is clear cedar, which has a life expectancy of around 15-20 years, and which looks lovely lightly stained or oiled.  Both of these woods are free of knots, which can make a space look more rustic than the contemporary, clean look we are usually trying to accomplish.

OHM: What features, styles, and/or materials are your clients requesting as of late?

AF: People are requesting white and metal planters more often.  Many people are starting to move away from the bulkier wicker furniture that is very matchy-matchy looking and using dining chairs that are different from their lounge chairs, for instance, so a more eclectic look that still harmonizes together very nicely.  Wood slab or farmhouse tables with metal or resin dining chairs are a popular combination.  White, yellow, grey, and aqua are the in colors this year, so we design a lot of spaces that use those color combinations lately.

OHM: Planters are a staple in any outdoor spacewhat are some of your favorite plants for creating these potted beauties?

AF: Weeping Japanese maples are ideally suited to life in containers because they grow slowly and can be easily shaped with pruning to fit any space.  Arborvitaes, junipers, and boxwoods are all evergreens that do really well in containers.  Cherry trees, crape myrtles, hornbeams, and multi-stem white birch trees all make good container specimens.  Ornamental grasses and bamboo also do well in containers, and bamboo is kept in check and looks very tropical potted on a deck or patio.

OHM: Take us behind the sceneswhat does an average day at Amber Freda Home & Garden Design entail?

AF: Blood, sweat, and tears.  Haha, it’s really hard work, but we try to make it all look very easy and hassle-free for the customer.  Every day spent on the job means big increases in cost, especially in NYC, where you have to coordinate large delivery trucks on small streets and narrow service entrances, parking, gas, labor, etc., so our goal is usually to try to install everything in one week or less, whenever possible.  There’s a tremendous amount of coordination involved in just getting everything from the street to the top of a penthouse roof garden.  The weather is a constant challenge to work around.  I compare my job to being something like a Survivor Race in that we are faced with extreme challenges that need to be tackled, solved, and endured to reach the finish line.  Maybe I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie because I love nearly every minute of it.  I can’t imagine sitting in an office all day and not feeling this intense connection to nature and to beauty and to creating nests in the sky for people to enjoy.

Amber has taught dozens of classes in garden design at both the New York and Brooklyn botanical gardens.  Her client list includes many of New York's most notables, including George Soros, Brett Icahn, Anna Quindlen, and Hermes. She was named "Best in New York" by Shecky's, and she has been interviewed as a guest expert by the CBS New York Morning Show. She has also been featured in the Associated Press, Better Homes & Gardens, HGTV, Daily Candy, New York House, New York Resident, and Design Bureau Magazine.

Amber started her own business in 2004 when she became dissatisfied with the lack of high quality design or interest in sustainability found elsewhere in the industry.  She wanted to offer clients a design aesthetic that was really clean, contemporary, and grounded.  By grounded, we mean a design should feel connected to the space's architecture, the individual style of the client, and also the pulse of the city around it.

Be sure to catch the next installment of DesignPRO, where Outdoor Home Magazine chats with industry professionals located right here in the greater Hudson Valley area.