By Robert C. Martin

Most of us have some idea about what types of flora best suit our region’s fauna, but when it comes to picking the right surface for a driveway, terrace, or walkway—that’s where things can get a little tricky. Selecting a well-suited ground cover can invariably enhance or diminish an otherwise pristine property. Further still, factors like texture, heat gain, and maintenance have as much to do with the use and function of an outdoor space as they do with looks and longevity.

Because such decisions are best left up to a pro, landscape architect Keith Williams certainly fits this category. As principal of Nievera Williams Design in West Palm Beach, Williams not only knows his plants but also the vast array of pavers and other durable options that are available today. “For me, it all starts with selecting the appropriate hardscape material that will harmonize with the architectural style of a project,” he explains. “My firm strives to take advantage of every available inch of space, whether it be designing full gardens, intimate spots for solitude and reflection, or a combination of both; the need for some sort of hard surfacing almost always comes into play.”

what's underfoot?In most garden shops and home improvement stores, the kinds of outdoor flooring are numerous and sometimes overwhelming; they can range from such basic resources as brick, flagstone, and concrete, to more costly varieties, like porcelain, slate, and granite. Other possibilities, particularly composite, manufactured products, have been developed to help conserve rainwater and improve drainage by being permeable (enabling water to pass through it). “As for me, I prefer using real stone—quarried versus man-made,” Williams adds. “Likewise, I favor creating gravel parterres, not only for functional reasons but sometimes also for the visual interest they add in the garden. Such features are often unexpected and can provide a sense of depth in smaller spaces.”

This landscape architect also ensures that his designs are well-grounded by using local materials when possible. “For instance, I love tabby concrete, which is a shell-based aggregate that is poured like a monolithic, concrete slab. Once it’s had time to cure, the surface is then blasted to expose the shell components.”

what's underfoot?While picking out an outdoor material that will hold up to the elements is crucial, just meeting the basic requirements should only serve as a starting point. “Above all, don’t be afraid to dream a little when selecting a flooring type for an outdoor space,” Williams concludes. “Just keep in mind the material’s suitability, maintenance, and structural integrity when making a decision.”

Laying Down the Luxe

Landscape architect Keith Williams provides more tips to improve your property:

• Driveways: “Sun and heat gain are important to think about, as well as tire marks and the expected wear and tear of cars and equipment. All of these points should all be taken into consideration when designing and proposing hardscape materials.”

• Terraces and walkways: “Always take stock of your home’s interior and how an exterior stone or material will react to the indoor finishes, particularly if an outdoor surface is accessed directly from the inside.”

• Pool decks: “I tend to like lighter materials, such as beiges, light grays, or exposed aggregates, to offset the heat. Slip resistance and a comfortable texture must be high on the list as well.”

what's underfoot?

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