“Twelve years ago we married and bought the Dr. Frederick P. Moersch House, a 1932 Tudor Revival home, designed by architect Harold H. Crawford, in the Pill Hill Residential Historic District of Rochester, MN. We figured it would take us thirty years to restore the house. In fact, we spent ten years concentrating on the exterior and interior of the structure, relying on expert local craftspeople with knowledge of historic homes. We’ve juggled credit lines and kids’ college tuition payments and have tried to take a long view of investing in this proud old home.
The plantings around the house indicated that a gardener had lived there at one time, but the site, like the rest of the house, had been sadly neglected. The yard had majestic trees, deer and rabbits, and birds, including owls and other birds of prey. Unfortunately, we had little time for it. We mowed and raked and bagged leaves in the fall, but otherwise limited our use of the yard to eating out on the back deck, weather permitting. It was a shame, as we realized that the site had great potential.
In early 2011 Dan Campion, the traditional stone mason who had been working with us, mentioned that a childhood friend living in Colorado did landscape design and might return to Minnesota. Soon thereafter Charles Seha was quietly taking stock of our back yard. He listened to our suggestions for low-maintenance perennials and native plants and to our backyard dreams, which included a place where we could relax with friends over wine, write, or read in the company of our Norwegian Forest Cats and Ocicat. Charles soon presented us with an inspired plan, and we were off on a grand two-year project.
Charles tamed the steep site by clearing brush and trees, brought in huge loads of local limestone to be hand-cut and transformed into dry-laid retaining walls and stairs, and introduced new plantings amid winding paths. Charles, Dan, and their teams worked with us to address long-standing concerns to protect the house. Dan restored the 80-year-old retaining wall on which the house and driveway are perched. They tied new gutters into an underground drainage system. They replaced the floor of the tuck-under garage. They tore out the asphalt driveway and replaced it with a concrete drive, in the process removing and replacing the fill in the existing retaining wall and rebuilding and anchoring the stone wall supporting the north porch.
The result is deeply satisfying on many levels. In addition to a new patio of antique pavers, we have a lovely free-standing screened garden room (stone, with cedar and glass roof, electricity, and water). Charles removed the ramshackle wooden fence bordering the property and planted trees in its place, so that we can enjoy our neighbors’ yards and they ours. We humans are not the only ones reveling in the garden, even in the Minnesota winter. We often see several pairs of fat cardinals at a feeder at the same time.
Charles’s June 2011 landscape plan is framed and hanging in our kitchen, evidence of how thrilled we are with the results of the project. We marvel that somehow Charles envisioned it all from the beginning. He incorporated into the design elements that we could never have imagined. He anticipated our reactions—for example, what a difference it has made to have a view from our kitchen table, not of overcrowded trees, but to the eastern horizon and inspiring sunrises.
Charles has an unusual gift. Innately curious, he has a deep appreciation for nature, strong sense of history, and fine education in both horticulture and landscape design. He is reasonable and respectful. He has a quick wit and sense of humor. We feel privileged that he chose to conceive and guide this project, which we consider an unqualified success. We recommend him highly to others.”
Jeanne Nevin / Christopher G. Chute, Rochester, MN.
“I have had the distinct pleasure and honor of working with Landscape Designer Charles Seha on numerous occasions. Mr. Seha, quite frankly, is a genuine master of his art. Charles’ work, in conception, design and creation, as well as his remarkable execution, is unsurpassed. His compositions and implementations have significantly strengthened and improved the architectural statements we have created over the years. Mr. Seha’s work is highly creative, site specific, and very skillfully accomplished. Thinking outside the box, Charles landscape and environmental solutions are unique, thought provoking, and a pleasure to experience. I believe that Mr. Seha can, with boundless talent and energy, master a project of any size and scope. Charles is one of a kind and I look forward to working with him in the future.
Charles always executes his assignments with conscientiousness and punctuality. He has a profound understanding of nature and its influence on the project. I can highly recommend Mr. Seha, without hesitation, for any landscape design assignment.”
Jon Pomeroy, Architect
“We have very much enjoyed the artistry, natural seeing, and flow you have brought to our project. May the spirit of mountainous contemplation always be with you.”
Steve and Lisa Self
“Thank you for the outstanding job you have done for us in choosing a site for our house, designing our driveway, getting plantings started, and, of course building the beautiful hills for privacy and wind protection from the tremendous amount of soil left over from our landing strip construction. We appreciate your gift of design and have greatly benefited from your involvement in this project. Thank you for turning a hay field into an extraordinary living space.”
Tom and Rosalind Buffaloe
“In May of 2008, my husband, Paul Holland and I broke ground on our home in Portola Valley, California. Our stated goal was to build a Beyond LEED home that would be recognized as the greenest home in America in its class (with full knowledge that a tent or a yurt would be greener). Our goal was to create a demonstration project that would hopefully debunk the myths of green building and provide education and inspiration that would help propel the regenerative building movement (beyond sustainability) forward; create a market for green goods and processes; and help other families build and live green. Goals were established and integrated across all five dimensions of green building: energy, water, waste, materials and habitat. We assembled the best team in the country to bring this dream to life. Given that integrated design is critical to building a regenerative home and landscape, we needed individuals who, though they might have a specialty, were also multi-disciplinary in their knowledge and understanding, who could work with all other sets of expertise and creativity and who were personally committed to the values and goals we established for the project. Charles Seha became a critical member of that team. Charles played a key role in helping ensure fluidity between the house and the land. He worked seamlessly with our amazing landscape architect, Tom Klope, who had been on he job since before we met Charles. Tom eagerly embraced Charles as part of his team and would also provide the highest recommendation for Charles as well.
Charles was brought on to the team as the brilliant stone mason that he is but he consulted on almost every aspect of the landscape including getting on a tractor and helping to “sculpt” some of the the land to restore it to its prior glory (another goal was to help restore the land as if it were 200 years ago), determine the best natives to populate the stone areas, investigate natural swimming pond and bog options, confer with the team of field biologists helping us create habitat for local fauna and provide his artists eye and experience in many other value adding ways. One of the goals mandated that the stone chosen would have to be recycled stone or waste material from quarries, no newly quarried stone could be used. Seismic concerns were also an issue in the material choice and affected the scale of the material chosen and the construction methods used .Concrete and steel footings were frowned on because of the embedded energy cost so the material had to be dry laid with very thick blocks to produce enough mass to retain the slopes as well as resist failure in a seismic event. Recycled limestone paving material had been chosen for paving material early in the design process so, from Charles’ perspective, it was only natural to use limestone for the retaining walls. Charles recommended stone from Vetter Stone for its’ warm color and high strength as well as the fact that it is some of the only limestone that occurs in beds up to five feet in thickness so Charles could vary the bed thicknesses and stagger the wall face in and out to create an interesting “cubist” effect that would be more interesting and more multi-dimensional than a flat wall.
Vetter Stone operates quarries that have produced high grade limestone building material for over one hundred year, there are thousands of waste blocks over hundreds of acres in every size and shape that have been deemed unusable because of variations in color or texture. For Charles’ purposes this waste stone was ideal because of the diverse textural differences in the faces of the stone. He intentionally chose stones to display evidence of the different processes used in quarrying: drill marks, saw marks, natural seam faces, split faces and pitched faces. The result is an extremely textural composition. In all honesty, the finished product is a work of art! The finished product is a resounding success which provides a unique identity for the home. The first two things people comment on when they drive up to the house are the architecture and the stone. It is truly beautiful and even though we haven’t moved in yet, the stone looks like it has been there for 1000 years. Not only is the finished stonework aesthetically outstanding, the habitat value for wildlife is immense. As Charles build the walls, lizards and snakes were moving in and native plants were colonizing the microclimates created by all the vertical and horizontal stone faces as well as the sheltering crevices between stones. The most satisfying aspect of using stone as a building material is it will endure for thousands of years and can be recycled indefinitely by succeeding generations and civilizations. We have Charles and his amazing team of masons to thank for all of the above.”
Paul Holland / Linda Yates, Portola Valley, California
“We recently completed a somewhat complicated remodel to our home which also involved a complete landscaping project to reconcile changes to the entry to our home and make connections to the outdoor play and living spaces that we desired. Our 25 year friendship with Charles Seha and a familiarity with his extraordinary design abilities led us to secure his services in developing our property.
His design solutions not only demonstrated an aesthetic sophistication in his use of materials, but turned the most problem areas into our favorite outdoor spaces. His diligence in convincing us to develop a patio near the front entry and reworking a deck to make an easy connection to the kitchen was not in our vision, but he convinced us it was the only area on our site that had shade in the afternoon and is out of the wind on our exposed site. It turns out to be our most used outdoor living space because of its protected nature. A child-friendly water feature incorporated into the patio also adds to our use of the patio and provides a welcoming element to our main entry. Charles also designed the stone masonry on our home and his use of the same material in the landscape gives our home and landscape a continuity that we couldn’t have imagined.
Charles’s design abilities are unparalleled as well his his knowledge of construction that saved us from many costly mistakes. He also really listened to us and applied his design to our needs and lifestyle to make it uniquely “our” special landscape. We highly recommend Charles to help with transform your dreams into reality.”
Levi and Cathy Siffert