Stepping onto the terrace outside the Walden House is itself almost an act of meditation.
While expansive views of the New York and Gore ranges anchor this sense of calm, tranquility was also intentionally built into the outdoor space. At the center of it all, mirroring the sky, is an expansive water feature that looks like the work of Mother Nature, not one of America’s most revered landscape architects. Even with a gorgeous, modern swimming pool (by Maximum Comfort Pool & Spa) and nine miles of private trails encircling the 10,000-square-foot home, that one-acre pond is the true heart of this property.
Edwina von Gal is the designer behind the pond, the pool, and the landscape at the Walden House. Through her eponymous East Hampton, New York, atelier, Edwina von Gal + Co, she has built a storied reputation—not to mention a prestigious client list—for her ability to create sustainable, naturalized landscapes that reflect both elegance and effortlessness.
“My work is particular to people who want something that is not intrusive on the environment,” says von Gal, who also founded the Perfect Earth Project to advocate for chemical-free landscaping. “I go to places that are already beautiful, and I design a landscape to make it look like I didn’t do anything,” she adds with a laugh.
The irony is that a lot of work goes into making a landscape look like it was shaped by nature, not designed by a human. “We worked hard to make the pond look comfortable in that spot, and to minimize impact on the surrounding land as much as possible,” says von Gal. It required artistry, science, botanical knowledge, and significant engineering.
Hidden under a gravel edge circumnavigating the pond is a system of pipes that manages water levels and drains overflow. Native plants were installed to form a riparian buffer zone. The roots prevent soil erosion, as well as filter and clean the pond water. Berms near and adjacent to the pond were built to inch-by-inch precision to shield views of anything human-made, without compromising natural vistas.
The pond at the Walden House (currently on the market for $29 million; waldenhousevail.com; on August 29, 2020, the property will be offered to the highest bidder at Concierge Auctions) becomes the connection between the home and the natural world. From inside, floor-to-ceiling windows direct attention to the shoreline of the pond, which comes within feet of the house. A covered dock doubles as a patio for alfresco dinners and rest breaks between paddleboarding sessions. Kids cast fly rods from the deck in summer and ice-skate in the winter. Animals migrate through, enjoying the pond as a watering hole and a respite from the alpine sun.
More than a decade after its installation, the built landscape, a true work of art, has matured into a self-sustaining, water-efficient array of plants and grasses that seamlessly blend into the surroundings. Approximately 90 percent of the new plantings were native, selected intentionally to rebalance the disturbed environment with what von Gal calls “ecological services.” Native flora fulfill specific roles in an ecosystem, from symbiosis with other plants to providing food, pollen, and shelter for animals and beneficial insects.
It takes a certain humility to acknowledge that nature is good at what it does. “We all felt this place was so incredible; we didn’t want to disturb it. We wanted to bring out the best of what was there,” adds von Gal. It’s that sincere appreciation and design restraint that make the final result so successful.
Landscape Design Lead: Edwina von Gal (East Hampton, NY); Landscape Installation: Rocky Mountain Environmental Construction; Architect: Annabelle Selldorf, Selldorf Architects (New York City); Contractor: Shaeffer Hyde Construction (Avon); Additional Pool Design and Build: Maximum Comfort Pool & Spa (Eagle-Vail)