Have you tried Houzz?

Original Ideabook


Once upon a time, long before there was Pinterest … before there was Houzz … before there were so many ways to bookmark and share your ideas on the web instantaneously and effortlessly … there were ideabooks: binders with plastic sleeves for saving magazine clippings and writing down our ideas for our remodeling projects or our dream houses.

And before binders with plastic sleeves, there were notebooks and style-boards– for collecting bits of fabric, paint samples, drawings (remember hand drawing?) of furniture styles and window treatments, decks, patios and container plantings. We made notes with hand lettering, detailing why we liked a certain photo of a room (the wall color, flooring or light fixtures… the way the light streamed in from large windows, or the cozy reading nook) or where we would buy that Persian rug or dining room set.

Origins of the Houzz Ideabooks -- Analog Ideabooks

Designers used ideabooks long before Houzz existed. They made style boards to present to their clients. They often asked clients to clip and save their own ideas, gathering them into ideabooks that would help the client and designer be on the same page when it came time to narrow down things like color, materials, style.

I love Houzz. I really like using Pinterest too, though I try not to get too sucked in to the Pinterest vortex. It can be a huge time waster if you aren’t careful. Houzz has made architectural, garden and interior planning so much easier. And easier to share with others.


When I work with a landscape design client, I often ask them to open a Houzz account to share their ideas with me. They can also browse around my Houzz ideabooks to get a feel for my signature style, as well as other styles they might like to consider. It sure beats buying alot of garden magazines and cutting them up, then wondering what to do with the remains!


Houzz is specifically set up to gather ideas when you are planning a remodel, refurnishing or redecorating your home, or designing new construction. I’m pretty sure the Houzz founders used designers’ ideabooks and style boards as the basis for their online format.


On Houzz, you make ideabooks remarkably like analog ideabooks. You can “clip” images to your ideabooks as references or inspiration. You can have multiple ideabooks, based on function (lighting, flooring, layout) or by room (kitchen, bath, bedroom, garden.) Your imagination is the limit.

Clip images from anywhere on the web to your Houzz ideabooks, or just browse other people’s Houzz ideabooks and clip images directly from theirs into your own. It’s a great way to share ideas with people you know, with strangers who have similar taste, and with your architect, landscape designer, or interior designer. It’s also a fun way to collaborate with others who involved in your project such as family members and friends.

You can keep your ideabooks private or make them public. When you comment you can mark your comment as private if you like. How much you share is totally up to you.

The photos in this article are my mother’s analog ideabooks from a few years back when she was designing a new house with my architect sister, Marybeth, and her landscaping with me. Mom involved all of her kids in the design and planning process, as you can see from her very detailed diary of the planning process.

In fact, now that I think about it the ability to keep an online diary or calendar of planning/design/construction right on one’s account might be a good idea for Houzz to develop. It would make a great record of what you and your contractors did during a project … and could be shared with others as an example of how a home project might evolve.

Origins of the Houzz Ideabooks -- Analog Ideabooks Origins of the Houzz Ideabooks -- Analog Ideabooks   IdeabookOriginsWaterEarthWindFire.Com05

It’s always a good idea to take an inventory of what you already have whether you are designing a remodel or new construction. Especially now when we are all trying to simplify and live more conscientiously, it pays to design around the big things you already own. Mom did that when she was designing her new house, below. She also included clipped photos that showed ideas of ways she could use her present furniture in the new house.


Okay, enough about ideabooks. I think you have the idea of how Houzz originated their format. Now, go explore Houzz if you don’t already have an account and I hope you sign up, even if you don’t have a project in mind right now.

You might start with an ideabook for next year’s gardening season … or just for fixing up one room in your apartment in simple ways. Start a color ideabook, or a wall-decor ideabook (clip ways to frame art, ways to display artwork, and artwork you like) It’s always fun to dream and imagine!

Check out my ideabooks. Here are links to some favorites:

Other Links about style boards and ideabooks

My Hometown: Color Hunt in the Rain

colorful lichen-covered stone

Have you ever stayed indoors because it’s just too uncomfortable to go outside?  Sometimes we all do that: hide from the elements — wind, rain, heat, snow, ice, sun. When I choose to stay inside and not head out into nature, I often regret it later. Yesterday was one of those days. I seriously thought about not going out in the rain, but Charlie needed his walk and I needed my nature-fix. So, I bundled up, put on a hat, grabbed the umbrella and my camera and took off with my favorite walking buddy.

Rain. Have you ever noticed when it’s raining, that in spite of overcast skies and gray air, the rain has an amazing effect on the colors all around you?  I decided to turn our soggy outing into a hunt for awesome colors. This time of year in Montana, the colors of the land appear to fade but they don’t, really. Prairie grasses morph to tan, gray, brown. Wildflowers seed. Yes, aspens, larch and other trees will soon put on a color show, and the ground shrubs are still colorful, but mostly, when our eyes look out at the prairie, our brains see “gray/tan.”

But. When the rain comes, all you have to do is look a little closer and you’ll see a tapestry of brilliant colors. Here’s one, above — a community of lichens.

Click the photo to see it large — you’ll see the colors better. It’s like getting down on the ground up close to your subject. 🙂


Art and Science Smash-Up: Milk Swirls Paintings

Milk Swirl Painting

milk and food coloring paintingI saw this idea on Photojojo a couple of days ago and immediately thought of doing this with Adia, who is very good at math and science. When I suggested this fun experiment for today, she was all over it! She remembered seeing the project on a website she called “Science Steve.”  Here is an excerpt from Steve’s post about this Color Changing Milk:

The secret of the bursting colors is the chemistry of that tiny drop of soap. Dish soap, because of its bipolar characteristics (nonpolar on one end and polar on the other), weakens the chemical bonds that hold the proteins and fats in solution. The soap’s polar, or hydrophilic (water-loving), end dissolves in water, and its hydrophobic (water-fearing) end attaches to a fat globule in the milk. This is when the fun begins.

The molecules of fat bend, roll, twist, and contort in all directions as the soap molecules race around to join up with the fat molecules. During all of this fat molecule gymnastics, the food coloring molecules are bumped and shoved everywhere, providing an easy way to observe all the invisible activity. As the soap becomes evenly mixed with the milk, the action slows down and eventually stops.

Milk Swirl Painting in ProgressSteve’s description of this experiment explains that it’s important not to stir the colors and the milk with the cotton swabs, but Adia couldn’t stop herself. She seemed much more interested in seeing what would happen when you stir all the colors together (you get a grayish tan color that looks totally unappetizing!)

I convinced Adia to let me to take photos along the way, before the colors were all mashed together. Aren’t these cool? The blue one looks a little like an angry face.

milk swirl painting in blue milk swirl paintings Green and Red Milk Swirl Painting Green and Red Milk Swirl Painting

What You Will Need

  • Whole or 2% milk (must have some fat for the science to work)
  • Dinner Plate
  • Food coloring (red, blue, green, yellow. We also used Neon colors)
  • Dish-washing soap (We used Ivory Liquid, but some sites say Dawn works best)
  • Q-tips (cotton swabs)

How to Make your Milk Swirl Paintings

Pouring milk for milk swirl painting
Pour a thin layer of milk onto a dinner plate that has a lip (we had to level our plate with a shim under one side


Beginning of Milk Swirl Painting
Put a few drops of food coloring into the milk
Green and Yellow Milk Swirl Painting
Touch the soapy swab to the colors in the milk and watch what happens.
Milk Swirl Painting
The color zooms away from the swab tip and makes beautiful, interesting shapes. You can keep dabbing the swab onto the colors, add more drops of color if you want.
Green and Yellow Milk Swirl Painting
You can also drag the swab lightly through the colors to make swirls and shapes.
Green and Yellow Milk Swirl Painting
Take photos! These make really cool abstract designs

Milk Swirl PaintingLINKS AND IDEAS:

Photojojo has a very clear, short video showing how to do this science/art project
Steve Spangler’s Science Experiment, Color Changing Milk. He even has a section on tips to turn this fun activity into a science fair experiment.
Here is a detailed description with great progress photos, of Steve’s color-changing-milk experiment.

Paint Sample Art — Butterflies Celebrate Summer Solstice

butterfly art project

Butterfly wall artOne of the projects I did with the girls this week was to create this piece of wall art for their mom’s office wall. (Her office is so totally in need of bright beautiful art to cheer up the grayness. heh.)

Butterflies-impWe used the paint samples you can get at hardware stores. Home Depot was kind enough to let us have a big handful of samples for free. The girls picked out the colors, punched the shapes with paper punches and bent the wings to make the butterflies look three dimensional. We also used some leftover pieces of printed papers I had lying around, to add variety.

Next we worked together to come up with the swoosh shape and I glued them onto a large piece of foam core. I wanted to use a large stretched canvas, painted white, but my supply budget for the summer wouldn’t stretch quite that far and I didn’t feel like stretching my own canvas. You could also use a piece of nice 1/4 inch birch plywood with sanded edges … maybe leave the natural wood color, or paint with white acrylic or indoor wall paint.

IMG_0191-impWe used Craft Glue to attach the butterflies to the foam core. I thought about using hot glue but decided it would be too messy and overkill, since the little butterflies are so lightweight.

butterfly art projectWe have a rainbow thing goin’ on in this butterfly swarm, but we could as easily have chosen to use a different color scheme. You could even do an “ombre” design — the great thing about paint samples — there are so many colors, and if you get the sample cards that have 4 or 5 shades of color on each, well that would be just easy!

Glue or stick some hangers on the back and voila! You have a colorful work of happy art. Total cost for this project: $3.00  (I already owned the paper punches. These are expensive, but maybe find someone who would lend you theirs … or plan to spend many evenings hand cutting hundreds of shapes.)

Supply List: craft glue, foam core (stretched canvas or 1/4 inch plywood panel may also be used), lots of paint sample chips, paper punches, one or two picture hangers for the back


Water Conservation in the Garden: Principles of Xeriscaping

Pergola and Patio in WaterWise Garden by Native Design, Helena, Montana

World Water Day is tomorrow, March 22, 2013 and Earth Day on April 22 this year. Mother’s Day is on May 12th, a good day to honor our human mothers as well as our Earth Mother. 

To celebrate World Water Day, I thought I’d write about water conservation, and include a number of photographs of gardens I have designed around Helena, Montana, using the 7 main priciples of Xeriscaping, or, as I like to say, WaterWise garden design. I hope you find some inspiration in these photos. If you have any questions about the gardens in this post, please email me or comment below. Thanks! 

Trumpet Honeysuckle "Mandarin" in garden by Native Design, Helena, Montana
A colorful drought-tolerant vine that also smells delicious and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, this hardy Honeysuckle vine also create shade and privacy on the back patio.

Private Front Yard Garden by Native Design, Helena, Montana
Front yards do not have to be just a few shrubs and trees surrounded by expanses of thirsty lawn. If you have a small property, make use of the front yard to create usable outdoor rooms. This waterwise garden provides plenty of privacy and several different activity zones in a little over 900 square feet. What was originally an open, dry lawn now has a 6 ft privacy fence, arbor and gate, two patios, a shade pergola and a colorful xeriscaped garden. (see concept sketch below)

Conceptual Sketch for Garden Design by Native Design, Helena, Montana

Large Garden Deck in Landscape by Native Design, Helena, Montana
More often than not, suburban back yards are just a weekend mowing and watering chore. Why not replace a huge lawn with a series of decks that are not only more attractive and easier to maintain — but add to the square footage of your liveable space? This deck in a WaterWise landscaped back yard provides at least four different “rooms,” one specifically designed for watching sunsets.

Small Private Garden with Cedar Fence by Native Design, Helena Montana
A privacy fence creates a whole different feeling in the backyard, making it perfect for quiet visits, reading or shaded dining on hot summer evenings. Birds are attracted to the running water in the pond, and butterflies feed on flowering perennials and vines.

Overflowing Water Feature by Native Design, Helena Montana
Xeriscapes can include water features. Here, an overflowing urn appears to flow into a dry stream bed. The bright blue color and sound of bubbling water create a focal point in this garden.

Garden Pond Plantings by Native Design, Helena Montana
Pondside plantings include native irises, corkscrew rush and tufted hair grass which will mature to a graceful arching clump grass

Rain chain near front door of courtyard garden, Native Design, Montana
Xeriscaped front yards do not have to be all gravel, juniper, yucca and potentilla. In fact, a well-designed xeriscape can look much more attractive and welcoming than a mostly-lawn entry garden. Here, sumac, hosta and native ferns share a plant bed next to the front porch, where a Japanese “rain chain” directs roof runoff into a drainage pipe disguised by a dry stream bed of black rocks. Spilling onto the stone paved front patio are drought-tolerant groundcovers such as creeping thyme, artemisia and snow-in-summer.

Xeriscaped Front Garden with Slate and Boulders by Native Design, Helena Montana
A xeriscaped entry garden with just the smallest circular lawn for a cool green sitting spot. The rest of this front yard is slate walkways and patio, a Mediterranean-style gravel garden, and planted terraces with aspens for shade and privacy

Slate Landing along street at garden entry point, Native DesignSlate paving provides a comfortable spot for guests to approach the front garden of this home. Steps leading down into the entry garden are flanked by aspen trees, daylilies, ornamental grasses and colorful flowering perennials.

Hillside Terraced Garden by Native Design, Helena, Montana
A grand entry experience greets guest to this home built on a steep slope above the road. There is no lawn at all in this xeriscaped garden. Instead the slope is tamed by a series of stone terraces and slate steps that create lots of liveable space on an otherwise unusable slope. The dramatic focal point of this planting is Karl Foerster Feathered Reed Grass.

Enter this driveway through a small grove of native aspens mulched with smooth river rock. The aspens frame visitor’s view of this grand brick home in the Helena Valley.

Xeriscaping and Native Planting by Native Design, Helena, Montana
A drainage problem prompted design of this dry stream bed to handle roof runoff during storms. Boulders and pebbles meander through drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials with a clump of aspens. Daylilies, Siberian Iris, Coreopsis, Potentilla, Russian Sage and Arctic Willow make a striking accent planting near the front door of this home.

Hops Vine on Trellis by Native Design, Helena, Montana
Xeriscapes can include vines such as this Hops vine to cover unsightly fences and block walls, or to create shade and privacy as in this photo. Here, the hops grows on a trellis on the west side of a porch, creating a cool spot to sit outside on hot summer evenings.

In our hot, dry Helena summers, shade is an important landscape element and fits well with any xeriscape design. Here, a pergola attached to the south side of this home provides shade not only for the stone patio, but also for some of the plants in the beds around it. Honeysuckle and Clematis vines are planted at the base of each post to eventually grow up and over the pergola. Aspens planted in clumps augment the pergola’s shade as they mature.

Pergola Shade Structure with Native Plants, by Native Design
A cedar pergola planted with vines shades this stone patio and bench-height retaining wall. Xeriscape principles followed in this design include thoughtful planning, low-volume irrigation, drought tolerant plants located in groups according to their water requirements, low-maintenance, improved soil, shredded bark mulch to retain soil moisture, extremely small lawn area and a native grass meadow.

Shady Private Garden with Aspens and Patio, by Native Design
A xeriscaped back yard has two circular stamped-concrete patios shaded by a small aspen grove, stone terraces planted with native drought-tolerant plants and a very small lawn area.

Courtyard Garden Sitting Area and Stone Wall by Native Design, Helena, Montana
This could be a front garden or back yard dining area. There is no lawn at all in this xeriscape. Instead the homeowners chose to install a paved patio surrounded by this stone retaining wall. Paved area tend to retain heat and can get uncomfortable in our hot summers. This patio has lots of cool shade provided by aspens and other trees, vines climing the walls and a cooling water feature that splashes down the stone wall, crisscrosses the patio and spills into a small reflecting pool. Plants are grouped according to the sun and water requirements, making watering and maintenance easier.

Entry Garden Paving by Native Design, Helena, Montana
An alternative to lawn grass: these pavers are spaced a few inches apart with grass planted between them. This allows rainwater to permeate as well as gives visual interest and breaks up the expanse of hard material.

Contemporary hillside home with native grasses, by Native Design, Montana
A native grass meadow was planted on this slope after construction of the home had disturbed the soils. The designer used all xeriscape techniques and mostly native plants to connect this contemporary home to it’s natural surroundings in the hills south of Helena.

Boulder terraces and native waterwise plantings by Native Design, Montana
An alternative to the big front lawn: a native grass meadow with boulder terracing punctuated with drought-tolerant mostly-native shrubs, trees and perennials.

Waterwise entry garden reduces the amount of lawn with drip irrigated beds, Native Design, Montana
To reduce the amount of bluegrass lawn in this front yard, the owners of this Helena Valley home put in large, bermed plant beds with many native plants such as aspen, potentilla, juniper, dwarf pine and artemisia. The soil was improved before planting and under the river rock mulch is a low-volume drip irrigation system

Entry garden with native waterwise plant beds, Native Design, Montana
To reduce the amount of bluegrass lawn in this front yard, the owners of this Reeders Village home installed several large, mulched plant beds with drought-tolerant plants such as amur maple, flowering crab, potentilla, blue fescue, blue oat grass, rocky mountain juniper, dwarf spruce, snow in summer and artemisia. The soil was improved before planting and under the mulch is a low-volume drip irrigation system.

Gravel path meanders through entry garden, Native Design, Montana
This Lakeside home replaced half of it’s thirsty bluegrass front lawn with a meandering gravel path, stone steps and a perennial garden under the mature trees. This is how visitors approach the front entry: much more welcoming than it was before these changes.

Slate terraces and plant beds by Native Design, Helena Montana
One principle of Xeriscaping is to group plants into zones according to their growing requirements, especially water requirements. Here, an isolated bed of shade-loving plants separates a lower patio from the upper one. Hosta, Maiden Pinks, Lady Fern and Coralbells thrive in the same bed.

To be continued … check back for more photos, more details and more inspiration!

Looking to nature for inspiration

Study for Lovejoy Fountain by Lawrence Halprin
Study for Lovejoy Fountain by Lawrence Halprin
Lovejoy Fountain in Portland, Oregon design by Lawrence Halprin









Note: this is a 2005 post I have resurrected.  I tried to update links, but if you find a broken link please let me know. Thank you!

A discussion on Garden Web about water feature trends got me thinking what exactly is it that makes a well designed water feature?

I first learned of Lawrence Halprin in landscape architecture school a very long time ago … I was impressed by the 100’s of sketchbooks he had filled over the years. Of particular interest to me were his sketch studies of waterfalls, creeks, plunge pools, eddies and other water shapes in mountain creeks and rivers … he spent countless hours studying the way water acts naturally so he could design the urban concrete fountains for which he is known. And his sketchbooks inspired me to do some of my own studies as I backpacked around the Washington Cascades, Olympic Mountains and places in Montana.  

Ira Keller Fountain by HalprinSome of my favorite Halprin fountains are Lovejoy Plaza and the Ira Keller Fountain in Portland, Oregon along with Freeway Park in Seattle. In Washington DC, the FDR Memorial waterfalls are well used. You pretty much have to have studied the natural flow of water to make convincing monumental artificial falls like these, also at the FDR Memorial.

Halprin is by no means the only architect/landscape architect or designer noted for beautiful, appropriate and celebrated water features. But he is one who influenced me, influenced the way I design and the way I look to nature for guidance, for ideas, for inspiration.

Water Features in the Garden: How to Visually Connect Them

dry stream and sculpture in garden

dry stream and sculpture in garden
Garden features such as urns, ponds and small flowing streams can add to your enjoyment of the garden as well as connect the different parts of your garden together.

Here is an example of an outdoor room with two water features. The water features — a flowing urn and a pond — are separated by a distance of about 25 feet in this garden. We needed a design solution to visually connect them.  The garden’s pond is located next to a low deck and appears to extend under the deck. The second water feature is an overflowing urn fountain on the other side of the small garden (in the photo above, look for the blue urn, barely visible behind the ornamental grasses.) The water flows over the rim of the urn and disappears into a hidden reservoir under the container. We wanted to visually and psychologically connect the urn fountain with the small garden pond as well as solve a drainage problem. 

Our solution was to build a dry stream bed using the same stones we used in the pond and around the urn. The dry stream gives an illusion of flowing water and in the imagination and mind of garden visitors, the urn is a perpetually flowing source of clear fresh water for the pond.

In order to fool the eye and create as natural-looking a stream bed as possible, I took my inspiration from the way bedrock, boulders and cobbles come to rest in a mountain stream. Too many times when folks attempt to create a dry stream bed in their landscaping it results in something that looks very unnatural — or worse. The tendency people have is to dig a swale or channel; line the edges with large rocks and fill the center with smaller river rock. That isn’t the way river dynamics form streams in nature.


In the center of the above montage, you can see the rough sketch I made before we started construction. It’s almost impossible to design the exact layout of water features, when working with boulders and other natural materials.  Fortunately I was able to stay involved in the construction process to make sure the final results matched what was in my head. I also owe much of the credit to the contractor who installed the water feature — he was sensitive to the same forces of nature I observe, and we worked well together.

If you want to design water features in a “natural” style, consider water’s natural behavior — particularly the way water affects the environment through which it flows. Take a hike in the mountains and observe the way gravel and cobbles fill the nooks and crannies between boulders lin a tumbling mountain stream. Gravel is lighter than boulders, so it is picked up and carried by water more readily than the larger stones. Spring runoff and high flows are strong enough to move boulders so these are shifted until they get stuck in a tumbly looking pattern. If you live in a valley — there may be natural water features you can imitate.  A stream or river can give you design clues in the shape of the meanders, the oxbows, the inner and outer curves and how the banks are sculpted by the flow.  Where are the large rocks, if any?  Where is the gravel deposited and is it all the same size?

What other garden features might benefit from an observation of nature in the design process?  Ponds, boulder benches, stepping stones and other pathways, terraces, stone walls, even steps leading from one garden level to another. These will be topics in at least one future post so check back for more design inspiration.

Links that might help with designing garden features in a “Nature Inspired” style:

Garden Buddha in Dry Stream Garden

Here are some more photos from this garden installation and it’s first year. There are several nature-inspired garden features in this small private landscape project including dry-laid stone walls, shade structures, a wandering stepping stone pathway, boulder benches and a total absence of lawn. Click on any of the photos to see a larger version. Enjoy! And please comment if you have any questions about your own water feature. Thank you for reading!