Scottish graphic designer adds color to his Berkshire landscape
Photos by John Gruen
The clean, precise lines of Paul Gardner’s home stand in stark contrast to the lush, undulating hills that comprise the many vistas from his Sheffield property. Gardner hails from the golfing town of Carnoustie, Scotland, which, he says with a chuckle, “becomes the center of the world for one week” every nine years when it hosts the British Open.
His propensity for precision, no doubt, comes from his father, Willie Gardner, a retired graphic designer who spent 20 years working for Jackie, a bestselling teen magazine in Britain that folded in 1993. Paul Gardner recalls coming home from primary school to find his father engrossed in “old-school magazine layout,” featuring photos of pop stars and bits of text. “I realized collage could be a job,” he says, applying a fitting metaphor for his multifaceted life.
Ask Paul Gardner what he does, and he’ll give an unpretentious answer: “I design logos.” Still sporting an audible brogue, Gardner is likely to be clad in jeans and bare feet when working at home. He ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps—making a career in design—and has developed globally recognized visual identities, from the MSN butterfly to the Intel logo. After many years with a big-branding firm in New York City, Gardner went into business for himself in 2008 and simultaneously began to tire of the city.
A house in the country was his solution to breaking the monotony. Gardner came to the States in 1991 and, over the ensuing two decades, made the trip from New York to Monterey for regular “Brit weekends” with longtime friends and expats who had a home there.
He points to the many similarities between the Berkshires and County Angus, which straddles the boundary between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. Gardner speaks of his native country as being populated by pine trees, rolling hills, forests—“a bit like this,” he says, in a sweeping gesture to the landscape that unfolds beyond the single-pane, Door-to-ceiling windows and doors, each spanning an impressive nine feet in height and integral to his modern home’s design.
A single red maple on the neighbor’s side punctuates the otherwise green perimeter of Gardner’s property, which he found wholly by chance. His choice of design was far more deliberate. Chilean-American architectural designer Rocio Romero—widely celebrated for her well-crafted, minimalist homes that maximize living space, yet are both sustainable and affordable—caught Gardner’s attention.
At first glance, his home, situated below grade on a country road dotted with Capes, is simple and attractive. Upon further examination, however, the structure’s celebration of modern living within nature is stunning.
Gardner worked closely with Romero to build what loosely resembles an L-shaped floor plan that is virtually flooded with light. The home is largely anchored by glass and steel, resulting in what Gardner calls a “sun trap.” A tour of the house reveals a color scheme that deliberately “rebels against New York City’s black and gray.”
In the guest wing are yellow and red rooms, and the bathrooms are similarly identifed as being blue or purple. Gardner defaulted to an all-white Ikea galley kitchen—one whose clean lines resemble his Brooklyn kitchen—that serves as the hub for weekend dinner parties. Polished-concrete doors, with five zones of radiant heat, unify the sprawling single level.
A self-described eccentric, Gardner displays his many diverse interests throughout his home. Expansive walls sport artwork, from Gardner’s own large-scale photograph of a woman on a beach in Thailand to a larger-than-life watercolor portrait of a boxer at the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. In the dining room, a gritty portrait by photographer Lou Bopp, who spent his career photographing old blues musicians in Mississippi, graces a wall where closeups of an Indian man hang.
And then there is the music. Strains of Exile on Main St. by the Rolling Stones—a band Gardner has seen live more than 21 times—emanate from an impressive sound system. The living room, bright and airy, showcases a jaunty, teal sectional sofa. In the corner are two guitars, an acoustic Martin and an old Fender Telecaster, whose purchase quite possibly was sparked by a 14th-birthday gift of 12 pounds from his uncle, which Gardner used to buy his first guitar.
Gardner has two favorite spots. The rest is a single armchair, hidden in a nook behind the master bedroom and beyond his office, that offers southwesterly views of his four-acre property.
The land, once filled with corn fields that backed up to Balsam Hill Farm just down the valley, abuts wetlands that are home to a rare species of salamander, and are thus likely to remain unscathed by further development. From here, Gardner enjoys a cacophony of frogs and the blinking of fireflies, like “having the paparazzi in the backyard,” he says. The diminutive space is embellished by an autographed poster of the Clash, a housewarming gift from a friend who works for Sony.
The second spot is the master bathroom’s two-foot-deep soaking tub, which spans nearly six feet. Situated behind four frosted-glass panels that slide open, it affords distant views of the surrounding landscape.
“I don’t miss the city,” says Gardner, who keeps a creative hand in myriad projects and still spends time each week in Manhattan. But he is most at home in the Berkshires. “If I build it, they will come,” he jokes, in a nod to his many friends and family who visit what was originally meant to be a weekend retreat. And come they do, for golf outings, Tanglewood excursions, long weekends, and dinner parties throughout the seasons.
“I didn’t expect this,” Gardner says of his landing fulltime in the Berkshires, “but I kind of love that it happened.”