Dubbed “one of the most influential landscape designers in America” by Elle Décor, Fernando Wong has quickly cemented a reputation as the in-demand name when it comes to gardens (or, as Architectural Digest calls him, “the creative mind behind Miami’s lushest landscapes”). Glowing praise aside, his firm, Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, has been responsible for some of the most jaw-dropping green spaces of the moment, including hospitality projects with the Four Seasons throughout South Florida and stunning private homes around the U.S.

We spoke with Fernando to get a sense of the inspirations that drive his work—and how his interiors often differ from the lush exteriors he creates. Read on to see what he had to say, and be sure to shop his curation of hand-selected Chairish favorites to bring some of his green thumb-approved pieces home with you.

Fernando Wong
Fernando Wong. Photo: Nesty Mendoza.

What jump started your passion for landscape architecture and garden design? How did you get underway in the industry?

I fell in love with design through books and magazines when I was growing up in Panama, before studying interior design and architecture at the University of Panama. When I came to the United States 20 years ago, I made a living by doing faux painting and freehand sketches for interior designers. I also drove a truck for a landscape company and would draw gardens for fun on my lunch break. One day, the owner of the company saw one of my drawings and I was moved into the office and a career was born.

You founded your firm in Miami Beach, but have since set up offices in Palm Beach and Southampton and done work around the world. Geography obviously has a profound effect on garden design, but how does it affect taste and aesthetics? What are some of the differences between design “wants” in different places, and what are some common themes?

I use classical architectural principles in all my designs no matter what part of the world. This means using axis, symmetry, and balance to create clean, elegant, and harmonious gardens. The thing that differs the most is the plant material. I try to use plants that are native to the area we are working in because they need less fertilizer and fewer pesticides and they promote butterflies, bees, and birds.

One of my favorite projects was for a couple in Palm Beach that wanted to live in the South of France. We used plant material that mimicked plants that looked like they were from Provence but would grow in Florida.

Fernando Wong
The Four Seasons at the Surf Club. Photo: Carmel Brantley.

Your firm has worked on many hospitality projects, including the Four Seasons at the Surf Club in Miami, as well as their properties in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, and a Starwood Hotel in Savannah. What are some of the commonalities between hospitality and residential design, and do you have a preference between the two?

I try to design the commercial gardens so that they feel like you are at an estate rather than at a hotel. One of the ways to do this is to create outdoor rooms that break up the space. I also like to use multiple shades of green. We joke that we have a very limited color palette of only two colors and one of those is always green.  

You’re often called upon to do the heavy work (quite literally) of moving enormous trees to create designs. How do you accomplish that? And what was the biggest?

The biggest tree we ever moved was a 90-foot-tall Kapok tree for the Surf Club at the Four Seasons in Miami. The key is root pruning weeks and sometimes months before we move the tree. We cut the roots and water the tree so we can create a root ball to move it. The most satisfying thing about moving big trees is that many of them were about to be cut down before we saved them.

Photo: Nickolas Sargent Photography

Tell us about one or two of the garden follies you’ve designed over the years—what’s it like creating those?

My favorite was a party pavilion we did for a house on the ocean in the Lyford Cay Club. It was inspired by a Chinese folly that I found in a wonderful book called Dragons & Pagodas: A Celebration of Chinoiserie by the very charming and talented Aldous Bertram.

 You created the landscape for one of the few Platinum LEED-certified homes in the United States; tell us a bit about that. How does sustainable design factor into your work?

Getting a Platinum LED certification was a fun but complicated process. A big part of that is using the appropriate plant material. I always try to use as many native plants as possible on all projects. Doing that is crucial on LEED designs.

 When it comes to your own sense of design, how do you incorporate your work into your own spaces? Is there anything that might surprise people about how you decorate at home, both indoors and out?

Unlike my landscapes, I use a lot of color inside my own homes. I also love textured wallpaper from Meg Braff and Phillip Jeffries. In both my landscapes and my interiors, I always mix new pieces with vintage. This is why I am obsessed with Charish! 

Photo: Carmel Brantley

On Vintage Shopping & Chairish…

What do you find most compelling about Chairish?

I love shopping on Chairish for antiques and vintage pieces. My favorite thing about it is the curated collections. My go-to at the moment is the one that Mark Sikes put together. He is such a great guy and is so incredibly talented. I love everything he chose.

How does sustainability factor into your design choices?

The fact that Chairish is vintage means that pieces are sustainable because you are not creating new things; you are reusing beautiful things. I always think about sustainability but with whatever I choose, it has to be visually stunning first and foremost.

Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?

A vintage set of Bonacina rattan furniture. It has been around since 1889 and is the best rattan in the world.

What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?

I love this Andy Warhol “Flowers” screen print; this Vintage Brighton Pavilion Chair from the Mark D. Sikes collection; and this undulating ‘Méandre Outdoor Dinning/Lounge Patio Set by Walter Lamb for Pacific Iron.

2018 © Nickolas Sargent Photography

Some Design Favorites…

Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a space:

Huge glass vases with giant elephant ear leaves

Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”

Vintage wallpaper

Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:

I am enamored of anything by Mies van der Rohe

Favorite paint color:

Pratt & Lambert Gingham Blue 

Favorite piece of decor in your home:

A vintage Saarinen dining table with contemporary teak and canvas folding chairs designed for yachts by Summit Furniture 

Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:

I collect art from two Venezuelan artists—Carlos Cruz Diez and Jesus Rafael Soto.

Favorite style icon:

Coco Chanel and Peter Marino 

Design destination every creative should visit at least once:

Villa Kerylos—it is the holy grail for classical architectural design. It is at the Baie des Fourmis in Beaulieu-sur-Mer behind the monumental cliffs of Eze. It is an original reconstruction of an ancient Greek dwelling.

Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:

Never complain; never explain.

Fernando Wong
Photo: Carmel Brantley

Some Lifestyle Favorites…

Favorite vacation destination:

Any Aman in Bali (there are three).

Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:

The Hotel du Cap in the South of France or the Casa Cipriani in New York 

Favorite restaurant:

Mandolin Aegean Bistro in Miami 

Favorite small museum:

Peter Marino Museum in Southampton, NY

Favorite podcast:

The Futur Podcast with Chris Do

Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:

Cathy Graham; Amanda Lindroth; David Netto; Martha Stewart

Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:

I have a private label Fernando Wong dark roast coffee that is always a hit.

Favorite flower:

Lilacs that I cut from Martha Stewart’s farm in Bedford 

Favorite adult beverage:

Beluga Vodka and club soda 

Lead photo by Carmel Brantley

July 6, 2022

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.