deCordova Courtyard Cafe

A convergence of landscape, art, and community

I have a deep-seated interest in the role plants play in creating healthy, vibrant lives and communities – and I have a story to share about a convergence where I was able to see it play out in real-time at deCordova.

A few things happened at once: Linda Hammett Ory sparked a conversation about building authentic community at deCordova, and the Museum Café was moving to the grounds-level. The dusty, hot, barren square between the Store and the Lincoln Nursery School studios had potential to be a cozy, contemplative, conversational gathering space within the larger sculpture park context. DeCordova had dual needs: courtyard and community. The way we approached the project developed both.

The new Courtyard Cafe at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, designed by SegoDesign and plants donated by FloraVerdura

Community is created when members have a sense of belonging, a feeling that they matter to one another and to the group, and that their needs will be met through their commitment to each other. When people pull together for a greater purpose, the community alchemy actually works. The designated “Courtyard Café” project became the creative catalyst for a volunteer-led process, one that asked people to give of their real interests and expertise. There emerged an enriching convergence of people and purpose, around a space that needed more plants.

A limited budget, potentially an obstacle, instead became an even greater lever for community involvement. John and Linda’s receptiveness, with just the right amount of input, was instrumental in fostering the creative atmosphere that encouraged volunteers to step forward.

I developed an overall design, presented it to the Landscape Committee, and worked with deCordova staff and the committee to ensure the Nursery School, liquor license, and store and Café needs were being met. I realized the need for more hands to execute the plan – and all its various needs – within budget. This area comes with a wonderfully wide array of creatives to draw from; I assembled a “Dream Team” of community members who worked in tandem to realize the space. The pergola, integrated bench, and farm-style tables are the main structural design moves in the Courtyard. Nick Maynard, of Maynard Architecture, brought them all to life. Wendy Harrington of WAH Design designed and built the long sculptural bench of mahogany and granite, gave key material recommendations and peerless design suggestions. Pauline Curtiss artfully installed the decorative wall finish of donated steel discs above the bench. Pauline’s decorative painting company, Patina, came in to refresh the paint on all surfaces facing the courtyard.

Sculptural Mahogany and Granite bench design-built by Wendy Harrington of WAH Design

Steel discs in a murmuration installed by Pauline Curtiss of Patina

My companies, SegoDesign and FloraVerdura, donated planting design and plants to ring the space in green and create a more welcoming microclimate. Robert Young, of New England Stonemasonry, built the footings, moved stone, set granite, and coordinated the entire project, handling delays and frustrations with a cheerful forward gait.

Native plants, flowering shrubs, and herbs combine in a ‘modern-yet-natural’ planting design, ringing the space with green

Many more neighbors, friends, and community members contributed: girl scouts, engineers, nurseries, gardeners, town officials, and the ace deCordova staff.

The many helpers that made the Courtyard a reality

The project created a community gathering space through a community process. Working together, with skills, interests and ideas, over and through bumps and trouble spots, we created community. And the Courtyard will be a centerpiece within the park for years to come.

Natalie DeNormandie

Natalie DeNormandie is principal designer and owner of SegoDesign, a 12-year-old landscape architecture firm in Lincoln, MA. Her locally-grown flower-and-herb CSA, FloraVerdura, delivers fresh seasonal organic flower bouquets weekly. Natalie obtained a Master in Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and studied group creativity at the Harvard Business School. Her son, now 11, attended Lincoln Nursery School in its pilot year at deCordova. Natalie is newly appointed Chair of the Overseers Leadership Council, a committee charged with creating community at deCordova.


This article is reprinted, with fewer images, in the deCordova Magazine

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