Jack Merlo is one of Melbourne's most renowned landscapers - working with some of Australia's top architects and developers. Applying modern and contemporary design to gardens within small homes, to grand-scale planting in multi-residential apartment buildings, Jack has earned the trust of the likes of developers Gurner, and architects such as Gary Catt.
How did Jack Merlo start?
I started when I was about 18 as I had started running my own business - I was more hands-on those days, whereas now I have to run multiple projects at a time. We do anything to single, to large houses, to multi-residential projects - in the multi-res they vary from boutique, higher end product, to more budget apartments.
When designing for landscaping and community - what aspects do you have to consider the most?
It really varies per product - with Mandeville Lane, keeping it in-line with the surroundings of Toorak was of utmost importance - the streetscape, the presentation, and the sensitive interface with other properties were key to both the developer and the council. There wasn’t so much a focus on a community, compared to other apartments such as Ikebana by Gurner, but what we offer in Mandeville Lane is a private and exclusive, grooved terrace space. Whereas, in the case of Ikebana, the internal amenity area, which had a karaoke room and a teppanyaki grill, as well as an outdoor spa area, grill, and an enclosed room with sofas and fireplaces to relax in. Outdoor entertaining is pivotal to some developments, but for some, it isn’t - it really is about finding the balance.
Who leads the creativity when collaborating in the pre-production elements of a development?
The architect is a leading source of creativity and we all feed off that. In the case of Mandeville Lane, Gary Catt, the architect on that project, was the leading creative force. Specifically for Mandeville Lane, which is based around New York real estate, Gary had actually spent a lot of time in Manhattan - so his vision of a classic contemporary style mixed with deco influences was the core priority, so we followed that. This was already the theme before we came on, but in the end, it really is a collaboration - without every bit of the team, there would be no development, or at least, not a very good one.
With the recent planning changes, there is still a push for high-density. They are seemingly encouraging specific zones to get high-density development but they are also trying to preserve the leafy suburban vibe to suburbs. It’s all about creating enough dwellings and affordable prices to give people who mightn't have been able to buy an apartment previously, but now can.
Target markets vary; Mandeville Lane is aimed at 50+ who are, generally, downsizing, whereas Ikebana, with the likes of hot tubs and karaoke rooms, is more designed at the young professional, or even an overseas buyer, unless there is a 60 year old couple who likes those kinds of things? But I assume most would want a more spacious apartment in a quiet leafy area such as Toorak - so it is a very different approach.
Are there trends that are defining or prominent?
In recent times, the amount of imported materials has increased a lot, we are now blessed with the accessibility to some of the most natural materials, whereas 10 to 15 years ago, you might have used concrete pavers, whereas now, at the budget end of the market, you would use a sawn Bluestone, or the limestone, or sandstone,
We always try and choose plants and trees that will require low or minimal maintenance, with the belief that most residents, or the body corporate for that matter, will not want to focus too much of their time ‘gardening’. If we are putting on a rooftop garden, it has its own inherent challenges - we are designing a garden on a concrete slab which requires considerations to weight loading, you have to choose things that are tough, as it is often quite exposed up the top, and plants that grow in contained environments over the course of a longer-term. There are challenges like that, in a project like Mandeville Lane, where it is very much in a residential area of town, Stonnuington have serious objectives in their planning policy, which calls for the use of canopy trees - a lot of in ground planting, they dont want to see just contained planters, they want to know that these plants are for the long-term and that they match the facade of Toorak.
Is it difficult to be able to plan ahead when you know that for 18 months, you won't be able to see what will actually happen?
We are bound by the permit and the plans, so we need to ensure that the plans and plants that we submit to the council are exactly what is happening - as more often than not, we end up at VCAT assessing everything. They’ll comment on the planning, the level of light going into the development and other things - it really is an important process. Our planning and our landscaping is designed to last decades - and that too, is the expectation of the developer, as well as the council.
Jack Merlo landscaped Mandeville Lane in Toorak, to enquire, click here.