Humphry Repton – His Life and Work

Humphry Repton was a landscape architect of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who can teach us how to visualize changes to our gardens.

Repton believed the best gardens complement the architecture of the house. A garden should be in harmony with the surrounding landscape. He wanted to connect the house and garden. A design concept still very much in style today.

Repton used a unique “before and after” technique to present landscape designs to his clients. He did this using clever watercolor overlays and detailed written descriptions that he incorporated into his design proposals.

Repton’s design briefs helped clients understand how to enhance their landscape with changes. He included detailed water color sketches, helping his clients visualize the final design.

The design proposals incorporated tabbed illustrations with flaps that slid into place. These illustrations revealed the final landscape plan, helping clients visualize the final design. This especially helped clients that couldn’t see a design by looking at a map.

Repton’s work had a profound impact on the development of the English landscape style. He is one of three landscape architects who inspired Frederick Law Olmstead.

Repton’s Unique Client Proposals – The Red Books

Humphry Repton struggled with how to best share his artist vision with clients. Maps didn’t allow clients to imagine the landscape in its maturity. His solution to this problem was brilliant.

He created illustrated design proposals for his clients. The books, called Red Books, were bound in a red Moroccan leather binding. They were revolutionary to Repton’s practice. His intention was to read the books aloud to clients. This provided a clear understanding of the finished landscape design.

Not only did the books contain images, they also included detailed written descriptions appealing to the client’s ego. The client books appealed to the “eye and the heart” which became a powerful “selling” technique.

..assume all the importance which the style and character of the mansion requires. It would be changed from a large red house by the side of a high road, to a Gentleman-like residence in the midst of a park.”

— Repton’s concluding text from hatchland’s red book

Repton’s first Red Book was published in 1792, and he continued to produce them until his death in 1818. The books significantly influenced landscape architecture’s development in the 19th century.

They were read and copied, and helped spread Repton’s ideas about Picturesque landscapes and the idea of the connection between house and garden.

Repton claimed to make over 400 Red books, and many of his original Red Books are now held in museums and libraries. Historians and landscape architects still study his designs.

If you want to learn about cool gardeners from the past, you can find additional articles here.

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