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Susan Cohan

Landscape Designer

Primary design concentration:

Residential Landscape Design

Most preferred tool for designing:

My brain

1. How and why did you choose to become a designer?

Probably when I was a freshman in high school and started dreaming about becoming a fashion designer and started obsessively drawing fashion designs. That was my first intent. Later, between my junior and senior year in high school, I attended a special program at Parson’s School of Design. That cemented the deal—it was the first time I felt I was where I was supposed to be.

2. Challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

Landscape and garden design have mistakenly become thought of as an offshoot of gardening, rather than as a design discipline in its own right. The constant challenge I have in designing residential properties is that more often than not, my work is an afterthought. Even if it’s not a renovation project, many, not all, homeowners don’t think about their homes and property as an integrated, useful space that should be a cohesive whole. They compartmentalize the items: house, interior space, pool, patio, and garden. Thoughtful and creative solutions to problems become more difficult when the project is a retrofit. But isn’t that the nature of all good design? Finding solutions to problems?

3. Your definition of an “elegant solution,” that is, good design?

One that solves the problem, in a way, where the designer’s presence is invisible after the process/project is complete. Gardens, despite being an artistic and creative expression by a specific designer, also have to work visually and functionally within their environment and will ultimately become someone else’s.

4. From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

The ability to apply your filter appropriately to a design, so that the client’s expectations are exceeded every time.

5. How do you stay motivated and grow personally and professionally as a designer?

In my twenties, I knew a blacksmith, Frank Turley, who said that the day he stopped learning would be the day he died. That had a profound effect on me. I still take classes, travel, visit gardens, art galleries, museums, talk to designers inside and outside of my discipline, and try as much as possible to stay current and open.

6. For those aspiring to become a designer, whatever the discipline,what is your advice?

Be positive, think, and be willing to explore every unexpected path.

7. What is your quest in design?

To accept that it’s okay that I’ll never be totally satisfied with the finished product.

Susan Cohan runs a boutique landscape design studio specializing in residential projects in the New York/New Jersey metro region. When it comes to inspiration, she greatly believes that looking and finding what is influential “is in constant flux and can be anything from a piece of bark to Astroboy to politics to burnt toast.”

Image courtesy of Susan Cohan.

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