For some, interior and architectural design is in their blood. For others, the world of architectural design is part of an unplanned journey that often begins with a love of art and architecture. This was the case for Keith Williams.
An Understanding of Art
Born and raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Metro Detroit, Williams always had an interest in art. “I went to school for graphic arts,” says Williams. “My father worked in an advertising agency and I was always interested in what he did graphically from an artistic standpoint. I enjoyed art: painting, photography, throwing pots, and all that good stuff.”
During a break, Williams was invited to visit a friend in Florida. “I went there to get away for a few weeks and never went back to Michigan.”Having made Florida his new home, Williams found work at the Palm Beach Post newspaper working in the advertising department where he stayed for nine years. During his free time, Williams continued to paint and had a small studio where he sold much of his art.
A frequent buyer of his paintings was a man named Mario Nievera. After nine years in the graphic art business, Williams was looking for a change. “He was on his own,” explains Williams of Nievera’s landscaping business, “he asked me to come work for him for a couple of weeks to see if I liked it. I did, and that was that.”
Although Williams’ artistic talents had been limited to canvases and advertising design, his mother was a master gardener, and her uncle was a landscape architect. “I fell right into it,” says Williams. “I could read plans and I was off and running right away. It wasn’t difficult at all.”
A Much Larger Canvas
With the wide variety of landscapes in southern Florida, Williams found that his painting skills easily transferred into the landscape world. His knowledge of color, scale, texture, and form soon had him designing outdoor masterpieces of a grand scale.
A strong sense of how landscape design relates to architecture allowed him to work with interior designers for a cohesive feel throughout the property.
One of his first large projects was for an estate owned by the Lauder family, heirs to cosmetics company, Estée Lauder. “I had to learn quickly,” says Williams, “I was given plans and told to make it work. It was a huge learning experience.” As Williams gained knowledge, referrals, and formed relationships in the architectural landscaping business, he quickly became one of the lead designers for Nievera and eventually a business partner.
In 2011, the Nievera Williams Design landscape architectural firm was formed with the sole purpose of creating the ultimate outdoor experience for their clients. Since joining Nievera, Williams has designed projects throughout Palm Beach and Florida, New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, the Bahamas, and Shanghai, China. “Kind of all over the place,” he says.
His clients range from the average homeowner to historic and landmarked residences and commercial properties. “One of my favorite residential projects, although they are all my favorites, was for a good friend of mine who has a great imagination and a little bit of an architectural background,” explains Williams. “It was Bermuda inspired, true Bermuda architecture, and we actually went to Bermuda and studied the architecture and the gardens. There was a lot of detail and a lot of imagination. Nothing really held us back from being creative. ”
Every client receives the same level of attention when it comes to creating the perfect outdoor oasis. With water conservation always an issue, designing for water efficiency is a large part of the design process. “We consult with civil engineers and irrigation contractors. As long as we have control of that part of the project, we use smart clock and drip irrigation systems. The idea is that the smart clocks can detect humidity and moisture and reduce the run times for water,” says Williams. “We also try to use plants that require little water.”
The Lure of the Great Outdoors
Earlier this year, House Tipster had the honor of meeting Keith Williams at the New York Kips Bay Decorator Show House. The Nievera Williams Design firm had been chosen to transform the rooftop space of a luxury Manhattan brownstone building.
The team designed a garden terrace inspired by a 1947 fabric called ‘Schumacher’s Citrus Garden’ designed by architect, artist, and designer Josef Frank. “The idea of the gardens was whimsy; we wanted to make it feel very whimsical,” said Williams. “We wanted to use whimsical fabrics, which we got from Schumacher fabrics, to pick up on that look.
We brought elements in from Florida as well, such as planting some of the tropical plants and the colors.” Although only a small sample of what Nievera Williams Design can create, the rooftop garden managed to lure everyone to the great outdoors.
Fun and whimsy are design elements that Williams uses often when creating a new outdoor space. “It depends on the client, the architecture, and the location,” says Williams. “We love to introduce whimsical elements like follies and pergolas. Something that is the opposite of the house and the architecture.” Bright colors, oversized pots and plants, statues, water features, and custom outdoor furniture and lighting makes a space feel good as well as look good. “One of the things we are known for is creating outdoor rooms or spaces that are visual, from inside the house looking out, and functional to help draw you outside,” says Williams.
In Florida, homeowners can entertain almost year-round and part-time residents who escape the cold of the north in the winter want to be able to enjoy the outside of the home as much as the inside. Maybe even more. A balance of color, texture, fragrance, sound, and architectural details are needed for a feeling of harmony and subtle elegance.
“One of my favorite commercial projects was a revitalization project,” says Williams. “It was the Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach. We did all the gardens and the fountains and redid the courtyards. It’s been a real big success. For me it’s something I can go by and see people using it and enjoying it. That’s really rewarding for me and shows how successful everything was. Plus it’s preserving a little bit of history, which we love to do.”
Whether designing a small outdoor garden or a multi-acre project on a grand scale, Williams always manages to create an outdoor space that far surpasses his client’s expectations. “It’s fun,” says Williams. “It’s exciting. Always something new every day.”
Visit this link for an interview with Keith Williams and more on and the Kips Bay Show House exhibit.