This Landscape Designer Creates Enduring Gardens Full of Childlike Wonder
Landscape designer Molly Sedlacek draws on Oregon and California influences to create gardens that evoke childlike wonder and a sense of discovery.
The gardens designed by Molly Sedlacek, of OR.CA , a design and product studio she operates out of Marin, California, are so evocative, playful, and unique they’re more than just landscapes—they’re functional art installations. A seating area looks like a long-forgotten paleontology dig. Salvaged redwood “mushroom stools” are scattered across a weathered cypress patio , sculptural yet inviting. A trio of hammocks and climbable wood totems tell the story of a father raising his two sons.
When Sedlacek opened OR.CA, which takes its name from her childhood in Oregon and her love of biophilic California design, her mission was to create gardens that would tap into people’s formative selves. “When we’re children, we take in nature with curiosity and wonder, with no preconceived notions of what a space should be,” she says, adding, “OR.CA is my inner child connecting to materials and outdoor space, and translating that to adults.”
After using the phrase inner child , Sedlacek wonders if she sounds too “woo-woo,” but her landscapes are clearly tapping into something we crave. In just two years, her studio has installed gardens in Marin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, with gardens in Texas and New York in the works. Meanwhile, the heavy materials she uses and the time it takes to create her bespoke pieces aren’t child’s play. For a limestone fire pit , she crafted a chair for artist Kevin Carman to sit in while he hand-carved not only the pit but the round volcanic balls inside. “That’s pretty much the opposite of how someone will tell you to build a garden—slow and methodical,” Sedlacek says. Then again, she adds, “It’s not an add-to-cart type garden.”
Sedlacek’s creative process begins before she meets with a client. In nature, she keeps her mind open so that when it’s time to design, her subconscious can offer up inspiration from her deep well of mental imagery. The effect is artful without being pretentious, imbued with a sense of history without being nostalgic. For a garden in Marin, thinking about a seating plan unearthed the image of curving vertebrae. (“I must have seen a skeleton while hiking,” she says.) When creating a garden she affectionately refers to as “Mars”—thanks to its red-hued sand and the fact that “it’s pretty out there”—she made a “chunk bench” out of blocks of cypress that invite long talks by the fire pit and boisterous play.
And while there are always things clients require in their gardens— a place to sit , a heating element, a dining space —Sedlacek needs them to hand over the garden keys, metaphorically and often literally, so she can create a landscape of found materials that possess a magical sensibility. “My designs don’t work unless there’s a story to be told about materials, space, how the client plans to use their home, and their dreams for the future,” Sedlacek says. “As soon as that story is clear for the client, that’s when the trust unlocks.”