Beautiful isn’t good enough for Frank Mariani. “We want to create something spectacular,” the CEO of Chicago-based Mariani Landscape says. And working with his team, he did just that at a Detroit Lakes, Minnesota vacation home.
All images by Tony Soluri Photography
The formerly lodge-like structure owned by Fargo, North Dakota businessman Ace Brandt, was getting a major makeover, inside and out. Architect Mike Abraham was already involved, and then renowned designer Mick De Giulio took the helm of a complete re-do, infusing the home with a fresh, modern take on lake house style. The last piece of the puzzle was reinventing the property’s landscape design.
“When we went out to take a look, you had to go down a concrete driveway—which reflected so much light that you needed sunglasses,” Mariani says. “We knew that had to go. And once you pulled up to the house, you had to walk down stairs to the house. That was not pleasing. I knew the best thing to do was lower the driveway.”
Changing the grade of the driveway was a major undertaking, requiring that the concrete be removed and utility lines be lowered. But it produced breathtaking results, giving the renovated house new presence on its site, now above the reinvented driveway—which is composed of permeable granite cobbles set over a gravel base. It’s beautiful and also prevents water runoff during heavy rains.
The front entrance to the house gained extra impact with the installation of an innovative water feature. “The water rill signifies the front of the house, telling people where the front door is,” Mariani says. “It has lighting, bubblers, movement—and we also integrated a fire feature that Ace loves.”
From there, the landscape team carved out alfresco rooms that fit the Brandt family’s lifestyle. “They wanted to swim, light a fire, have a barbecue,” Mariani says. “We created aesthetically pleasing places that the family wants to come to.”
A zero-edge pool clad in bluestone serves as a play space and water feature at the back of the house. “It’s functional but also a piece of art,” Mariani says. “It’s dramatic, reflective. I love how it continues the view to the lake.”
The home’s lower terrace wraps around the pool, providing a place to relax and unwind. Glass walls protect the terrace from the wind yet don’t steal any of the pool area’s visual clout.
An upper patio off the kitchen features a fireplace and outdoor kitchen for family barbecues.
Perennial plantings and boulders plucked from a quarry just a half-hour away add beauty and complement the home’s exterior. “We went with native plants because the conditions here can be extremely brutal,” says Mariani Landscape Design Principal Carrie Woleben-Meade. “Temperatures can get below zero in the winter, and there are sometimes 60-mph winds off the lake.”
The plants and boulders also do a fantastic job of stabilizing the property’s many slopes. Mariani used the elevation changes to his advantage, siting fences at the lowest points to keep out plant-nibbling deer. “Having the fencing downslope make it nearly invisible,” Mariani says. “The property looks like it goes on forever.”
Similarly, the landscape design team was unobtrusive with lighting, choosing fixtures that provide functional lighting but don’t keep the Brandts from enjoying a full moon.
Organic and modern, the entire landscape speaks to the location and the sophisticated lake house. “With the amount of glass on this home, we needed to design from the inside out,” Mariani says. “We framed the views and made sure the landscape complements the interiors. A lot of work went into getting an effortless look.”
But now that the work is done, the landscape is easy to care for. “We push the envelope when it comes to design and creativity,” Mariani says, “But we also make sure everything is easy to care for so the owner never has to worry. We like to have our cake and eat it, too.”