Why FFLO chose to create a ‘toy theatre’-style back garden for a Chelsea home

a living room with a large window
FFLO creates garden designed to be gazed atJohan Dehlin

When reconfiguring and extending this four-storey home, which is part of a modernist-style block in London’s Chelsea, architecture practice Pricegore made two significant changes. The first was to excavate the rear of the building by 1.4 metres, creating a split-level ground floor that matches the arrangement of neighbouring Victorian terraces. The second was to add a single-storey extension that provides space for a more generous lounge and dining room. This resulted in a room with plenty of drama, combining a 3.6-metre-high ceiling with a fully glazed rear wall.

a house with a glass door and plants in the garden
Johan Dehlin

For Claire Fernley and James Fox, founders of landscape studio FFLO, this meant they had to create something equally striking behind the windows. ‘Often, landscapes can be subservient to the architecture,’ Fox says. ‘In this instance, we needed to be more in charge.’

garden with a palm tree
Johan Dehlin

The unusual brief from the owners, a couple with two teenage children, was to prioritise the view of the garden above everything else. The logic behind this decision was that, while they will only use the garden part of the year, they will be able to see it every day. ‘The idea was to create a big scene through the window,’ Fox explains. ‘It’s just like a toy theatre. The house is the proscenium arch, with layers of landscape compressed together behind like a stage set.’

a living room with sliding glass doors
Johan Dehlin

This approach called for dense planting, which suited the informal, almost messy feel that Fernley and Fox like to bring to their gardens. ‘We don’t like the design to be incredibly evident,’ says Fox, citing a preference for spaces that look like they have been assembled over time, maybe even by several gardeners. ‘It gives a kind of humanity,’ he says. The effect is heightened by the clean lines and raw materiality of the living room interior, where sand-blasted concrete columns and unpainted, lime-rendered walls provide a contrasting neutrality.

a building with trees and cars in front of it
Johan Dehlin

Tropical plants feature heavily across the stepped beds, including tree ferns and kniphofias. An important benefit, according to Fox, is that exotic plants tend to ‘have a longer bandwidth’ in terms of seasonality. Many are evergreen, ensuring the garden will offer visual interest even in the winter. ‘London is considerably hotter than the rest of the country, so we can use more tropical plants than elsewhere,’ the designer explained. ‘They help with the feeling of escapism.’ pricegore.co.uk; fflo.co.uk