Frank Lloyd Wright House In Issaquah, WA

My fascination with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright began early in my career as a builder and landscaper. My passion for his designs were strong enough that I planned a trip to Pennsylvania to see his masterpiece,’ Falling Water’. The home exceeded my expectations in every way. In New York City, I toured the Guggenheim Museum, which is also a Wright design.

I came back from my trip with a burning desire to see as many Wright homes as possible. To guide my travels, I purchased “The Atlas of Frank Lloyd Wright” and started to plan my next trip.

During the course of my planning, it came as a great surprise to me that Wright designed three homes here in Washington. One of these homes was built in 1952 for Ray Brandes and had an Issaquah address. After traveling all the way to New York, I discovered that the Brandes home was under a minute from my own in Sammamish.


I made arrangements to tour the home with the then owner, Jack Cullen, the son of the original owners and had grown up in the home. The Brandes home sits on 3.2 acres and features innovative use of natural materials, heated concrete floors and Redwood interiors. Full-height glass doors are featured in every room, with a free flow of space for which Wright is famous. The 1900 sq. ft. home was placed on the property to take full advantage of the natural contours of the landscape, terrain and the movement of the sun. The home is totally furnished by furniture designed and built by Wright himself.

The entire time I was viewing the home, I was mesmerized by his incredible design concepts. I was also moved that his designs have stood the test of time and that his work is even more revered now, than when he was alive.

Currently the home is for sale. Hopefully, the new owner will honor, cherish and maintain the integrity of this amazing work of art.

I find it ironic that after traveling across the country, I was able to find what I had been earnestly seeking in my own backyard. ❖




Creating A Landscape Without Grass

By Jeff Skierka

Incorporating beauty into your landscaping without a lawn can be tricky but rewarding. Here’s how…

 One increasingly common request I receive involves a layout without a lawn.

With the high amount of clay in our native soil, many people are living with lawns that are not functional or attractive. If you don’t need a lawn area, then a layout that is easy to care for and attractive year round is possible!

One of the ways to achieve this is to use pathways throughout the landscape.

By having pathways, you can create areas of interest and stopping points. You may add features into the landscape that you would not otherwise have room for. These stopping points can include some of the following: water features, fire pits, secondary sitting areas, vegetable gardens, gazebos and more. In fact, one of my clients is an artist who has added art to their landscape, creating an art-walk or exhibit. With the use of low voltage up lighting, the walkway is even more dramatic after sunset.

Sallee Back After


When choosing the materials to use for your walkways, it is important to look at pre-existing elements in the home and landscape and use those options for the walkways. If the exterior of the home has a lot of stone then a sand set stone walkway would be one of the first options to consider. If I am dealing with a home with a lot of brick, then I would opt for a pathway that has brick pavers. You should always match the brick or stone so that it complements the home’s existing features.

The amount of traffic that these walkways will accommodate should also play a factor in the type of materials installed. For example, a heavily used walkway might justify solid paving. A lightly used walkway may be done with crushed-gravel, bordered by pavers.

Mortar set stone instead of sand set stone would be another option when dealing with pathways that have differing traffic flows.

Once the lawn is removed and the pathways are installed, then the fun really begins. With all this extra space, you can now add a variety of plants to fill it. Ground covers like thyme or moss can be added to the layout and will make your new landscape easy to maintain. Many of the projects that I design are done over a span of a few years. In the case of this project it was a 4 year process to eliminate all of the lawn and convert into walkways.

Today you would not be able to tell where the project started and where it ended. This is simply a matter of consistency, using the same materials from beginning to completion. Now, this once boring backyard is an enchanting resort on the property. ❖

How To Use Lighting Effectively In Landscape

By Jeff Skierka

The benefits of using low-voltage lighting systems.

Charlton Lighting

Now that the days are getting shorter, the value of an outdoor lighting system increases significantly. However, installing lights in your landscape should not create the look of an airport landing strip.

A well-designed low-voltage lighting system can add both safety and dramatic beauty to the home and outdoor spaces. While you might not think a low-voltage system can provide adequate lighting, remember that your car’s headlights are run off a battery. To create a magical and enchanting landscape at night, adhere to these principles:


    • It is always more dramatic to enhance a desired area by uplighting an element such as a tree or rock than to make the lighting fixture the focal point.
    • When designing the planting layout, choose plants that will add drama to the landscape and home when lit up.
    • Properly installed downlighting can give the effect of a “moonbeam” light.

Only after exhausting all possibilities for up- and downlighting to create a dramatic effect should you turn your attention to using path lights creatively to further illuminate walkways.


The only requirement for installing a low-voltage lighting system is access to a 110-volt outlet where a transformer can be plugged in. The transformer will convert 110-volt power to low-voltage current. Using low voltage will make the cost to dramatically light your landscape and home minimal. These systems can be set to go on using timers, photo cells, or switches.

The difference that a quality low-voltage lighting system can make in the enjoyment and safety of your home is like day and night.

How to Create a Backyard that feels like an Extension of Your Home

By Jeff Skierka

Creating a big room out of a little backyard

As a designer, I am seeing more clients who wonder what to do with nonfunctional outdoor spaces in planned communities such as Talus and The Highlands in Issaquah, where homeowners’ backyards may be only 10 to 20 feet deep.

In a space this small, having a lawn or a play area for the kids is not a realistic option. (Fortunately, developments like these incorporate multiple park areas throughout the development to address this need.) This is the dilemma that Stan and Stefanie Finklestein, who live in Talus, faced. Their backyard was problematic in almost every way. However, they looked at this space with a new set of goals in mind, and decided they wanted:

  • A large mortar-set stone patio
  • A gas fire pit and water feature
  • A planting layout that makes their backyard private
  • Low maintenance
  • Low-voltage lighting that brings the backyard to life after sundown

With the backyard makeover complete, this area is now their favorite room of the house. Stefanie says, “We never wanted to go in the backyard before this makeover, and now we can’t wait to spend as much time out there as possible.” One benefit of a small backyard: This type of transformation can be accomplished at a much lower price.

Finklestien Path BeforeFinklestein Path After

The Running Man

By: Jeff Skierka

Making a difference one step at a time.
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The Heat is On

By: Jeff Skierka

Ever since caveman days, humans have been fascinated by fire.


While we no longer need fire for survival, the desire to enjoy its warmth and ambience remains as strong as ever.
If the element of fire is something you would like to incorporate into your outside living area, you’ll want to consider the following issues.

Fire pit

Cost. The price of a constructed fire pit can range from $750 up to $6,000, depending on the size, how it is finished, the type of rock used inside, and whether it is going to be gas or wood burning.

Design. A fire pit up to 16 inches tall can serve as a place to sit when it is not in use. If you plan to install an aboveground fire pit, picking a facing that matches materials already on the existing home will give it a look of connection. You can also decide if you want to use material such as lava rock, glass rock, or synthetic logs.

Gas or wood. While a gas fire pit is going to be more expensive than a wood-burning fire pit, not having to worry about things like ashes, burn bans, and smoke makes this a popular option. In my experience, people who have the gas option use it virtually all of the time and the wood option is rarely used at all.

Outdoor fireplace


If you are looking for something on a grand scale, an outdoor fireplace may be the answer. The fireplace has always been the centerpiece inside the home, and this holds true for outdoors as well.

Consider the following factors if you are considering this option.

Cost. Outdoor fireplaces can cost $6,000 to $20,000 or more.

Location. Install your fireplace so it is a centerpiece, but don’t allow it to block views to the rest of the yard. However, you might want to site the structure to provide screening from unwanted views.

Design. Think about what you want in regard to size, facing material, hearth, and mantels, and doors.

Gas or wood. As with fire pits, gas tends to be the more convenient option.

Homeowners derive great pleasure from an outdoor fire feature and often use it even more often than their indoor fireplace. I have never met anyone who regretted installing a fire pit or outdoor fireplace.

Making Your Landscape An Extension of Your Home

By: Jeff Skierka

One of the most important decisions when planning your landscape is which materials will coordinate with the look or style of your home.
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How To Properly Prune

By: Jeff Skierka


Prune like a pro and your trees will love you for it.
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