After viewing the saltwater lagoons and aquariums at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, a client of landscape architect Mario Nievera made a seemingly straightforward request: Replicate that concept at his residence on a nearby island. The catch? The house is sited considerably above sea level. To address the problem, the 41-year-old Nievera built coral rock walls that ascend the hill and pumped 20,000 gallons of seawater up into an aquarium attached to the lower level of a 12,000-square-foot guesthouse. There, the owner now can stand cheek-to-gill with exotic creatures of the deep, or observe them from his terrace, above.
Few of Nievera’s projects achieve this degree of fantasy fulfillment. The designer is better known for creating outdoor rooms—secluded spaces within larger gardens—where plants serve as walls and flooring. “I like things that are architectural, that have a sense of enclosed space,” says Nievera, who studied landscape architecture at Purdue University. He says his gardens are not really formal, but rather well composed. “I try to incorporate levels of softness,” he says. “I don’t feel it should all be tidy and perfectly clipped. I try to design in little bits of imperfection.”
Nievera, who established his Palm Beach firm in 1996, has demonstrated that he is an innovative, versatile practitioner who is equally adept at crafting a tropical paradise, the grounds of a Connecticut country estate, or a 3,000-square-foot penthouse garden overlooking Central Park. He juxtaposes color and texture and blends symmetry with more natural garden forms.
His plantings often define or follow the architectural lines of homes, walls, and water features. And Nievera sometimes includes an element of surprise in his designs, such as a bright red bench placed in the middle of a grove of potted trees or a shell-encrusted mirror suspended in midair at the end of a path. “A lot of my clients know each other,” he says, “so you have to find things that make each garden unique, interesting, and whimsical.”
Mario Nievera Design