City Living: Contemporary Design Ideas


The Northwest Flower and Garden Show attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year and the 2016 extravaganza was no exception. With twenty large show gardens, a bustling marketplace, a floral competition, over one hundred seminars and a kids treasure hunt, gardeners of all ages and levels of experience  are  inspired to transform their own space no matter how large or small into something truly special.

On a glass encased bridge with view of the Seattle skyline were ten City Living exhibits that I especially appreciated for the take-away ideas that they offered. Intended to represent a  high rise apartment balcony, the designers were challenged with transforming each 6′ x 12′ space into an outdoor living space using materials that could be transported through a homes interior.


The display created by Jason Jorgensen of Third Spring Landscape Design stood out for its contemporary aesthetic, marrying interesting geometric shapes with a restrained but youthful color palette and fabulous foliage. Here’s how to get the look.

Create a Picture Frame


Jason built a simple but sturdy pergola to visually frame the space while also creating a ‘ceiling’ from which to hang planters and string inexpensive lights. Treated with a semi-translucent grey stain the overall effect is soft and warm. Fresh sawn dark brown cedar, the default PNW construction lumber would have been too harsh a color for this setting. This stain adds a sense of instant age yet the lack of embellishments such as finials on the posts or tails on the cross beams ensures that style remains contemporary rather than rustic. The scene has been set.

Furniture Selection

Jason approached Room and Board for use of this attractive Crescent sofa upholstered in a warm mid-grey canvas. The choice of a white frame keeps the  look fresh and avoids appearing overtly masculine, something which pared down design can often do. White was also chosen for the Gehry bench, pressed into service as a coffee table and Kubik stool which serves as a side table, both unusual, oblique shapes. As such the bench becomes quite the focal and talking point. Don’t be afraid of introducing one solid looking piece of furniture like this even into such a small space. It is functional (as a table or extra seating) as well as sculptural art. Selecting furniture that can be used in multiple ways is also important when space is limited. Flexibility and adaptability are key.

Container Selection


Keeping with the contemporary theme, the six, sleek, cylindrical containers  vary in height and color (grey and white) but notice how the two groups flanking the sofa are placed asymmetrically for interest. When selecting containers for a contemporary setting avoid fussy shapes, too many colors or additional decoration. Solid colors in a matte finish work well.

Behind the sofa, two custom planters interlock, allowing the designer to introduce more plant material but also bringing a bold splash of turquoise into the scene, a color which is repeated in the hanging hover planters suspended from the pergola. All these pots are from Pot Incorporated.

Plant Palette


Cool foliage and interesting textures are two hallmarks of contemporary garden design and this small space has great examples. With a total of eight floor containers and three hanging planters it would be easy to introduce lots of different plants and colors. Instead Jason has kept to a monochromatic scheme of green and white with just a hint of  gold (love this use of the conifer Golden Spreader fir (Abies n. ‘Golden Spreader’)) and deep burgundy for contrast. The cylindrical containers on either side of the space are planted as mirror images of one another.

Foliage plants such as variegated Spider’s Web Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’), fatshedera (Fatshedera lizei ‘Aureo Maculata’) and Ascot Rainbow spurge (Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’) mingle with grass-like Silver Shadow astelia (Astelia ‘Silver Shadow’) while darker cordyline (Cordyline australis ‘Renegade’), evergreen mountain pepper (Drimys lanceolata) and the green bark of a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shidava Gold’) add height.

The evergreen succulent Angelina stone crop spills over the edges of several containers while blue and white spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, grape hyacinth, dwarf iris and snowdrops add seasonal color. Two additional small Indonesian pots, found at a local import store were set on the floor and just planted with a few bulbs. These can easily be set aside or replanted as needed and are small enough to set on a table for a new look.

Finishing Touches


A few throw pillows in navy and white and a navy ottoman add an elegant touch while cobalt blue votives in a geometric metal frame become wall art as well as accent lighting.

The theme of this years show was America the Beautiful, so Jason has given a final nod to patriotic colors by adding a red cafetiere – and watering can.

Small this space may be but it is stunning in its stylish simplicity- LOVE IT!

Which show displays have inspired you? Do let us know by leaving a comment here or on our Facebook page.

5 thoughts on “City Living: Contemporary Design Ideas

  1. Loree

    You expertly dissected Jason’s display. I knew it worked (and I loved it) but you pointed out things I didn’t pick up on.

  2. berlinboy2013

    Of the 10 city gardens at the Northwest Flower and Garden show, this one was my favorite. I loved the clean lines, lack of fussiness and “old lady” decorations that you see so often in garden displays. It was stylish yet approachable and a realistic concept of what can be created and maintained on an urban balcony with busy residents. It appealed to my male taste. This was a bachelor’s pad done right!

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