Jardin d’Amis

A31-05A common truth about being an Architect or Designer is that for many of us, one of the reasons we got into our profession in the first place is because we were first inspired to create environments for ourselves as children. After we complete our training and begin working in our profession, the next thing we often set our sights on is renovating our home. Often times it involves a kitchen renovation or addition. In my case it was something very different. Mine was to create an architectural and artistic respite within the shell of a deteriorating early 20th Century garage.

I call it “Jardin d’Amis” or “Garden of Friends”.


Constructed of memories and influences gathered over a lifetime of architectural design practice, they are brought together in a way that creates a space with its own unique personality and style.

The primary source of inspiration for the project is the Casa Malaparte. A surrealist monument, this home on Italy’s Island of Capri sits upon a craggy promontory overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and is the subject of the garage’s triptych interior painting. The Jardin d’Amis takes this idea of a private respite and turns it inside out by reinterpreting it as an enclosed room in which one can see the world and its vast horizons from within.


All elements within the garage are visually tied together by the common horizon line created in the painting, as well as the vertical garden plantings and other design and architectural elements. This horizon line extends onto the garden walls outside and aligns only with those on the interior when seen from the main residence some 150 feet away creating an alternative perspective.

The end result is what is often called an Architectural Folly. Neither fully practical, nor useless, the real purpose of the room is to be a place where one can relax without the intrusions of daily life. People often ask me if I have considered putting a TV or other elements into the room and the answer is always no. The room isn’t so much about what you can do, it’s about what you can’t.


Another aspect of the project besides the design was the physical challenge and the question of how much of this project I could actually build myself using just materials from Home Depot and Lowe’s. In the end, it turns out, quite a bit. I built it all over a period of two years, only using professional contractors to bring new power and water to the garage, pour the concrete and install the steel. After that it was a lot of hard labor on my part. Even though I did the bulk of the work myself (and no one really does anything alone), I had help from a number of my FRCH colleagues, whose help was indispensable. Mike Keifling helped to line up the necessary contractors and helped brace and shore the masonry structure. Matthew Gates and Phillip Freer helped me hang the four nearly 250 pound doors I had built. Phillip also helped get me started on the painting of the Casa Malaparte by showing me the right paint mixes and techniques that allowed me to approximate something a real artist might do. Dave Zelman helped me with some of the masonry repairs and Mike Davin helped me with some of the plumbing and electrical work (more than once he will tell you, by the way).

For me, one of the most interesting things about the project is that when I started building it I had a very different conception of what the final product would be. Originally it was supposed to be a very minimalist cottage-like design with construction much like you would see in Nova Scotia. In the end, it became something completely different and it was a terrific journey to follow it to its completion.

I’m proud to say that the Jardin d’Amis recently received a Design Award from AIA Cincinnati at this year’s Cincinnati Design Awards.

3 Responses to Jardin d’Amis

  1. Nicole McDevitt says:

    I think this is absolutely amazing!

  2. Alankrita says:

    Wow! This is really an amazing space 🙂 Kudos to all the hard work!

  3. katekreimer says:

    James, I am amazed and happy. What a space! I saw this near it’s beginning, somewhere in it’s middle and now at his pre-completion – for how can this environment ever be finished! It is so Jim Stapleton – challenging, thoughtful, intricate, surprising, layered, intriguing, inviting, and pushy. Thanks for the experience.
    When is he next gathering???

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