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Fernando Wong

January 2024

“When it comes to spaces we feel comfortable in, we all go through a process of discovery,” says award-winning landscape architect Fernando Wong. “We gradually learn what environments calm us and bring us joy. My job is help bring those spaces to life.”

Fernando opened the doors to his Miami-based firm, Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design with his partner Tim Johnson in 2005. He has since built an incredible portfolio of residential and commercial projects across the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean, with offices in Palm Beach and Miami Beach. Notable recent work includes the transformation of the Four Seasons Hotel and Surf Club in Miami in collaboration with Richard Meier, a sculpture garden and surrounds at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, additional Four Seasons hotel projects in Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and The Retreat in Nassau, an 11-acre wildlife sanctuary and national park in the Bahamas.

“I studied to be an architect—I went to architecture school and spent three more years in interior design. But my first job in the U.S. was working with a landscaping crew, and that was so valuable to me. I was able to see how classical interior design principles could be applied to outdoor space—large rooms suited for defined purposes. I think that’s really the ethos of our company. Interpreting classical architecture in a way that works for the customer, while allowing the space to claim its own identity. It is,” he says, “deeply rooted in the Italian philosophy—anything close to the house is manicured and tailored—a space for people. You cede control to nature the farther from the house you go, working in the context of nature’s larger scheme.”

Fernando says there is purpose in negotiating these boundaries. “We like to play on the extension of space—whatever that is. It can be the blue of the sky, a mountain range, a view of the ocean, or a rolling field that falls away from the house. Connecting the landscape to the outside environment makes the property seem larger than it is,” he says. Boundaries provide living scenarios for the occupants of the house—influencing where the family sits, relaxes, eats, or socializes—defining space and providing comfort for those activities outside.

“Some clients know exactly what they want,” he says. “To shield their pool from neighbors or hide a distant building. We do all kinds of things with hedges, walls, and trees. But when I’m hired by someone, I feel a responsibility to acknowledge, ‘Yes, I’ve heard you, I understand your concerns and your desires here, but are you open to other possibilities that maybe you haven’t considered?’ I’ve been lucky enough with some clients,” he says, “to be allowed to dream. To bring something to life that wasn’t there before.”

“I like to create meditative spaces,” Fernando says. “Even in green-on-green environments, different plant materials have distinct qualities and attributes. The contrast between grass and something a much darker and duller green calls attention to newer green growth behind it. So, grass, then dark green, then this very new, very fresh, bright chartreuse green behind it. It’s invigorating and calming at the same time.” Some people, he admits, prefer more varieties of color. “I’ll use cocoa plants or sea grapes which are a little bit sun-kissed, a little bit blushed, with a subtle orange cast. It’s that subtlety that I’m looking for. Your eye is always browsing and sometimes bright colors take away more than they add. They can push everything else to the background when it’s the entirety of the space I want people to experience.”

“My gardens are an extension of the house—large outdoor rooms, really,” he says. “The pools I add will very often be French gray or black because that allows me to bring all the colors of the sky into the floor of the garden.” Creating these spaces allows people to commune with something larger than themselves. “To see a breeze move through palm fronds, allowing light to peek through the canopy, or watching it ripple the water across a pool—opening yourself to these moments is priceless,” he says. “Sharing them with other people is one of the greatest joys of my work.”

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