Scape Shifting

Fire pits, native botanicals and dense hardwoods are just a few options when it comes to sprucing up your outdoor space.

If there is one word that describes Brian Cordero, it’s exuberant. He is as alive and vibrant as the plants and flowers he brings into his landscaping and outdoor living areas through his company, LanaiScapes.

Sit with Cordero for just a few moments and watch his enthusiasm for what he does rise to the surface. Ebullient might be a better word, because whenever he speaks about a project he’s worked on, his words bubble forth with enthusiasm and energy.

“I’m not a typical landscaper,” Cordero explains, “but a landscape designer who specializes in outdoor living spaces. I keep everything my client says in mind … take everything to heart.”

At the heart of Cordero’s designs is an innate love for the outdoors and the way things grow. Cordero grew up on a 3,000-acre farm in Central California, where his father grew walnuts, barley, cotton and corn. He even attended a high school that specialized in agriculture.

The element that called Cordero to Hawaiʻi was love.

He remarks, “HawaiÊ»i is special. The way we live, the family dynamic, the type of materials we have here—because of all this, our island trends are more unique than anywhere else in the world.”

For example, the typical fireplace on the mainland is made of brick. “Here, in HawaiÊ»i, I can create a custom fireplace—a gathering place—with lava stone.” And Cordero often includes such fireplaces in his exclusive outdoor living areas.


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Brian Cordero of LanaiScapes is especially fond of incorporating HawaiÊ»i botanicals into his landscape designs. "Philodendrons, orchids, gingers—I love working these plants into what already exists within a client's yard." (photos by Twain Newhart)

“The lava and the basalt stone look is trending right now—pavers, planters, flooring. So are fire pits,” he notes.

More than anything else, functionality is key for Cordero. So around these fireplaces and fire pits he creates seating to fit each family’s needs.

In an exterior pavilion, he’ll consider how many people will be entertained at any given event and he’ll create custom furniture. Whether built-in concrete benches overlaid with ceramic tile, or moveable box seating upholstered with

fabric that withstands HawaiÊ»i’s sun and rain, Cordero understands the Islands and works with components that complement the greenery within his exterior designs.

“In addition,” he explains, “I look at the architecture of the home and see my land as an accessory. Whether the design is modern, postmodern or contemporary, I know what plants to use.”

Cordero collects books on agricultural botany that feature hand-drawn pictures of flowers and plants spanning the decades. “Then, I assess the architecture of the specific home and what was in the gardens of the time, and I copy the style in the design I create for my client.”

He’s especially fond of incorporating HawaiÊ»i botanicals within his creations. “Philodendrons, orchids, gingers—I love working these plants into what already exists within a client’s yard.”

The grounds of one home in Kahala, on which Cordero recently worked, already had amazing coral caves as part of the landscape. He imagined installing seating and lighting within them. But, upon further consultation with his client, he opted for anthuriums, placed the plants inside the caves’ nooks and laced the caves with ferns.

Cordero treasures his clients and prides himself on working within a client’s budget. “I like when the client has a fingerprint on the project, so the collaboration is important.”

He and his team charge a design fee and establish a budget. Th en, he takes that budget, draws it out and creates a design packet. What makes LanaiScapes’ approach unmatched is that the design packet not only is in color, but also is presented as pages of overlays. Cordero explains that such a presentation allows clients to imagine the eventual look with accuracy.

Cordero then works with high-end contractors and master carpenters to create ideal designs. He remarks that ipe wood, sometimes called Brazilian walnut, is trending right now. “It’s a particularly dense hardwood—three times harder than cedar—that’s ideal for custom outdoor kitchens, buffets and barbecues.”

Sleek looks are in—whether that means Torrazzo flooring or polished concrete pavers surrounded by crushed blue gravel or rounded river rocks. Cordero greatly appreciates the work of architect Vladimir Ossipoff and his design legacy within the Hawaiian Islands. The work of Ossipoff, “the master of HawaiÊ»i modern architecture” and the individual largely credited as the definer of classic kamaÊ»aina style, can be seen in island homes, churches and office buildings.

Ossipoff was known for understanding his environment. His designs exist as a seamless integration of building with landscape. Cordero maintains this same ability to envision a mixture of natural materials with the structure they are meant to complement.

“Depending on the house’s personality, I can imagine and then design a lanai and garden with that in mind.”

Cordero reflects, “My dad used to say … still does … that every job has a purpose—everybody’s job matters. I believe every yard has a purpose, whether that be garden parties, first birthdays or everyday get-togethers. It’s my job create a design that brings it to life.”

All photos courtesy LanaiScapes

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