APLDWA Featured Designer:
Heidi Fehr

Owner and Principal Designer at Ashworth Studio
Member since 2012

This quarter, Heidi Fehr is telling us her story – from growing up playing in a Seattle greenbelt to bringing her love of nature to her interior design as well as her landscape design clients.

Heidi Fehr, owner, and principal designer at Ashworth Studio sits with colorful pumpkins
Heidi is currently planning her submission for APLD certification. Photo Credit: Julia Hower

When did you start designing gardens? Tell us about your path from then to now.

My family tells me that my interest in design was evident once I could crawl. While my parents were building the house I would grow up in, my ‘bedroom’ was a travel crib by the front door. Apparently I’d follow the builder around and watch him working, perhaps it was then that I felt the excitement of creating appropriate spaces! I also had my first initiation into the dangers of a job site when my dad dropped me on my head into a mud puddle. He still feels awful about it.

Next, I explored the outdoor world within the undeveloped land around our home. I spent a lot of time playing in the ravines creating hideouts under Oemleria cerasiformis shrubs with my mom’s pruning shears, pretending that leaning mossy Acer macrophyllum were kitchens…that kind of thing. I’m certain it was this privileged and unsupervised play that fostered my positive emotional connection with nature.

Oemleria cerasiformis beneath Thuja plicata trees.
Oemleria cerasiformis beneath Thuja plicata trees. Photo Credit: Heidi Fehr

In grade school I most looked forward to art and I remember reporting that I wanted to be an architect. In high school and college, I enjoyed writing poetry, physics, human genetics, geology, art and philosophy. My first two years of college were at the UW and prior to my third year I applied to the nationally accredited Interior Design program at WSU once I decided that was my best-suited career path. It’s funny how things can come full circle. I recall that while my parents were visiting several months before receiving my Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design I mentioned that I was considering a Masters in Landscape Architecture. Although I wasn’t encouraged to pursue that, I was fortunate to enjoy a twenty-five year career as an Interior Designer. During those years my project types included award winning designs for restaurants in Seattle and California, a resort in Napa and store design for Nordstrom.

When the 2008 recession hit the field of architecture hard, more than fifty percent of my firm was furloughed on a single day. I took this opportunity to pursue a dream I’d had for several years and enrolled in the Edmonds Community College Landscape Design program. There I met several women who were also pursuing new careers. One of these friends, Susan Picquelle, not only encouraged me to join APLD with her, but also talked me into submitting a design to the APLD Design Awards Program. I was fortunate to earn the top honor that year in the Student category despite managing to crop the north arrow from my plan on my submittal, which resulted in a Silver rather than Gold award. Following that bittersweet moment I opened my design-focused business and began teaching a SketchUp class I was asked to develop at Edmonds Community College. I enjoyed teaching, but realized I would be happier with a course working one on one with students and using tracing paper.

SketchUp drawing of a concept for an entrance and courtyard
SketchUp drawing from the APLD design awards submittal. Image Credit: Heidi Fehr

How would you describe your design style?

I like to think that my design solutions reflect my clients’ homes and lifestyles more than resulting in a ‘Heidi Fehr landscape’. I definitely approach my design solutions with a tool kit that includes many years of experience in space planning, working with interesting materials and creating unique immersive environments. I enjoy the creative process and what I discover along the way and imagine often leads to more than my clients expect.

A split boulder nestled among plants as a garden feature
This boulder split into three parts when it was dropped in the stone yard. Photo Credit: Heidi Fehr

Who inspires you and your designs?

Art and societal movements, and their parallels with our current world, have had the greatest influence on what I find to be relevant and beautiful. I’m a member of the Voysey Society in England and feel a connection to the history of the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau periods. I was fortunate to study in London, and visit historic sites including William and Jane Morris’ Red House. This visit had more impact on me than the stately homes I studied. With this said, in my design work, I enjoy finding what makes a property special no matter its architectural style.

Red brick well in front of the Arts and Crafts period Morris Red House
The well in the grounds of the Red House. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I enjoy perusing architectural salvage companies for inspiration. I am currently designing a custom fountain that may incorporate an antique curved iron fence, an historic Seattle slate fireplace and Pewabic Pottery tiles.

Red brick, colorful tiles, rusted metal and flagstone serve as inspiration for a fountain design
Considering materials for use in a custom fountain design. Photo Credit: Heidi Fehr

What experiences as a designer have you found to be most challenging?

The wonderful thing about being a landscape designer is that much of our medium has the power to positively transform itself. We have a hand in creating, but don’t have ultimate control. This fact means that our work will potentially achieve something greater than what we’ve imagined. The big payoff may be years down the road post installation when you revisit, or hear about, how much a garden has meant to your client. Whereas with interior design, on opening day you have the full impact of your hard work being seen in its entirety, at its best moment. The critics have every right to judge, and it’s very exciting. However, from that moment on your work begins to wear out, ultimately requiring complete replacement. Encouraging my clients to have patience, and understand that it may take years of care before the atmosphere I’ve worked to design is fully realized is a challenge to manage.

My own personal experience with patience helps me to manage client expectations. It was tough going from a position as a senior designer with a large body of work, and a decent salary, to starting a business in which my portfolio was of no use for marketing.

What experiences have you found to be most rewarding?

I especially enjoy that time when I feel I can focus my effort creating a presentation that will communicate what I’ve seen in my mind’s eye to my clients. It’s during this time, when the layers become deeper, that I feel most creative and content. It’s rewarding when I can see that my clients are understanding what I’m proposing for them, and they show excitement about the design process. Ultimately, what I find most rewarding is knowing that I’m making a positive difference in the world by creating spaces where people can find healing within nature and feel most at home.

A 3D sketch of a planting design for the entry to a Tudor-style house
A quick sketch exploring planting options. Photo Credit: Heidi Fehr

Tell us about one of your favorite or most memorable projects.

Rather than projects it’s individual moments, both when working on my own and when engaging with my clients that I remember. Those are what keep me working as hard as I do. When I first see a potential client’s garden; while I’m focused on creating a design; while walking in a nursery with the sun low in the sky; visiting a site during installation and being greeted by the contractor; seeing a client’s enthusiasm build; the last day seeing all the elements finally in place. All of these are my favorite moments. Inevitably these memorable moments come most often on projects when a client is open to the creative process, and engaged in the outcome. Then I have enough.

Ferns and hostas featured in front of a low picket fence
In the Crown Hill neighborhood of Seattle adding a low fence provided neighborly sense of enclosure. Photo Credit: Heidi Fehr

A dark-purple house sits in an elevated position among grasses of varying textures and colors
The deep purple house color offered a great opportunity for contrasting foliage selections. Photo Credit: Heidi Fehr

A narrow entry garden with 2 staircases, lawn play area and stone patio
A narrow corner lot gained two new entry staircases, a play area and a patio for entertaining. Photo Credit: Heidi Fehr

Heidi Fehr, Principal + Designer

Ashworth Studio
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