Hi and welcome to the creative mind of Brooklyn-based interior design firm, Ishka Designs.
This blog allows you to peek behind the scenes of our design process; see the images, products, and events that inspire and motivate us. We are happily biased towards interior design topics with a sustainable undertone. With our international backgrounds, we definitely embrace a global perspective and influence. We hope you are inspired and sometimes provoked by our postings and we look forward to reading and responding to your comments!

One love, idi


3 years and counting...a labour of love.

Backyard Project #2 2010

The past 3 years has seen sacrifice like no other. Can you imagine shifting careers completely or giving up 75% of your wardrobe (including shoes), 50% of your living space, and countless vacation opportunities?  Well to start, that's what is has been like.  And the project highlighted below kinda encapsulates the effort, the drive, the starry eyed moments, the countless arguments, the bitter-sweet results, and the truly gratifying goal-driven determination that has led Ishka Designs to where it stands today.
the backyard a year and a half ago (a mish mash of furniture and weeds)
For two and a half weeks this summer, NB and I committed to little else but a 484 sf. space in Brooklyn. The project was a true testament to an odd combination of OCD and love. Love for the outdoors, design, and determination, manifesting as behaviour hell-bent on perfection and completion.
a not so pleasant view out the kitchen window a few weeks ago 
In this backyard space, we did all the laborious tasks ourselves including bag sand, lift sand, dig trenches, break bricks, displace dirt, haul pavers, lay pavers, dodge mosquitos, kill mosquitos.  We got intermittent help on the weekends and a couple of weekdays but it was definitely a Bascom-led learn-as-you-go affair with micro-detail and said OCD behaviour left up to moi.  We shall not get into the muscle-building activities, killer tan detail, achy bodies, torn body parts, and days of unwelcomed mud that kept the house and yard more than attractive.
AC helped with the digging a tad, but it really was all NB
weed and grass removal best left to typical artist "ocd" personality
NB handy work again
all covered up and ready for the ton of sand &...
pavers &...
an obssessive stone layer
At the end of the day we lost sneakers, exercise clothes, and part of our sanity. Not to mention the gazebo idea, the seat height stone walls, and the soothing water feature ;)  But what emerged is a very serene, relaxing space where tongues have loosened up, hearts have opened up, and where nothing else on the property matters as much as this newly re-defined space.  And in a sense, that's how Ishka Designs has developed - through back-breaking work, tons of ideas, on the fly decisions, sharing, caring, lofty dreams and rude awakenings.  And what we are left with to date is an ENORMOUS sense of accomplishment with more beauty, continued commitment and further growth to look forward to.

backyard project #2 complete with a better view from the kitchen :)
All photos by NiyaBas.com

Full album coming soon to ishkadesigns.com.

happy anniversary from us to you,


The Solution: An Inspired Rock Garden

at dusk.
"rock garden | flexible/multiple seating | sophisticated entertaining"

Achieved.  Well, we've been dying to get to this final post.  Hope you've been too.  Please, take a "journey" through our first backyard project of the summer finished (in 3 days) in time to start those dog days off with a bang.

All photos by NiyaBas.com Photography
For the full album and greater detail click here.

Well we've been over to the space as guests (and designers too) several times since this installation and its working like a charm.  From what we've been told, even with all the seating options provided, our clients still needed to haul out the reserves on one occasion :) But besides that, our "extreme-entertainers/low-maintenance" clients appear quite content with their newly designed backyard.

Thanks for tagging along on our first outdoor adventure for the summer. Click on phase 1, phase 2, and phase 3 to see how we got here.



Phase 3 - heavy lifting and a killer tan

Sneak Peek 1

One of our rock garden inspiration boards
In phase 3, the project progressed with some crazy muscle building activity.  Loading and unloading 50lb bags of sand, stone and soil = to over a ton was at first a deed worthy of self praise.  But then, after the second and then the third trip, no one cared what we did or how we accomplished it, we just needed to get it over and done with asap. All this during World Cup season made for a very unhappy designer and photographer.  But alas, there was enough excitement to keep it moving :)
just some of the load
more load
We dropped the ball in phase 2 - surprise, surprise! by mentioning a certain moving of the concrete slabs.  Well we weren't joking.  For reasons, both aesthetic and budgetary, but definitely not based on efficiency, we decided our best solution was to relocate two concrete slabs.  Four strong ass men and 6 hours later, we accomplished our mission, shored up the right side of the yard a bit, and got rid of our "L".  We even had time left to demo the 3rd slab and reuse the pieces to create a natural drainage in the back bed (something like a french drain) to slow down the potential sinkage on the right side that may re-occur.

Again, the clearing and demolition uncovered even more secrets of this backyard garden.  It would appear that somewhere along the way, maybe 5 years ago, maybe 15, the previous owners decided that a brick and slate paved backyard with beautiful shaded trees (remember unearthed massive dead root in center bed) was not an ideal or beautiful solution.  So instead they decided to drop concrete slabs down and give us an off-center bed and an "L" shaped back bed to work with.  Good going guys!


With little time to mourn the passing of what could've been a fantastic garden, we soon realized the upside to this discovery.  We dug up quite a bit of brownstones that we used for footing/foundation for our small brick wall in the newly formed bed along the right side.  And we found the most gorgeous and perfectly shaped slab of slate stuck to the underside of one of the concrete slabs that came in handy as a cutting stone and eventually as a beautiful focal point in the back bed, perfect for staging seasonal flowering, etc.
Sneak Peek 2

Speaking of flowering, at this point we were still considering these for our plantings: bamboo, adam's needle, pennisetum alope, japanese red maple, fountain grass, and flame grass.

The grand solution up next.
Sneak Peek 3


Phase 2 - Surprise Surprise!

Sneak Peek
With the clients satisfied with the design solution, we were onto phase 2 - the implementation phase.  Our first stop was to clear the backyard and get that bare canvas we designers love.  Aside from the organic, we found some other interesting elements that had to go, including fake flowers and plastic chairs.
knotweeds begone!
interior demolition is usually the easy back-breaking part...
but apparently backyard demo is the heart-breaking kind! 
In our opinion, the hardest part about landscape design is clearing the space.  If you love nature then you understand. We felt like we were massacring the earth, so much so that I kept apologizing to the displaced earthworms and snails and making sure that they were relocated to safer pastures, kinda like the movie 7 Years in Tibet.
so cute
But some of the stuff had to go as some crazy roots were causing damage to the existing concrete slabs. Sounds odd even as I type it...maybe what needed to go was the concrete slabs (but that story is for the next phase)!  Our interesting discovery in the centre bed was a massive root of a long dead tree sitting just below the surface...
only a part of a root
never-ending roots
like I said...never-ending
Then came the real surprise!  With all the dense growth and junky stuff to hide the existing layout, we now discover that the back bed had a different shape than originally thought.  An "L". Interesting. And to make this discovery more surprising, there was a drastic sloping by the short end of the "L", where we needed some of our lounge seating to go.  With a restricted budget, our thoughts were to redesign the layout around these issues.  But with a bit of dialogue the clients decided to keep the design solution and allow us to resolve the issues - a.k.a., shore up the slope (we learnt later that we still needed to keep some sloping for drainage) and get rid of the short stem on our "L".
look ma, we found the rose bush!!!...and an "L"?
sad to say the hydrangeas did not make it :(
an empty middle bed (...or so we thought)
finally our blank canvas.

Next post: phase 3 - heavy lifting and a killer tan.



Phase 1 - figuring out the backyard!

Residing in a multi-unit apartment building in Brooklyn, one would ask "What do you know about backyard design?".  From the wonderful sales people at the various nurseries to the landscaper who assisted with the heavy lifting and sourcing, this was a question we heard several times on our quest to redesign our client's backyard.  For me, other than the occasional backyard party in a Brooklyn brownstone, a glimpse into the extremely fortunate lives of my Lefferts Garden's neighbours, and a distant memory of planting sunflowers in my "early years" in Kingston, I would've answered "not a whole lot".  Our favorite photographer would probably answer "a bit more than her" with his Brooklyn Botanical Gardens experience and claim to his own backyard.

Today however, the answer has changed drastically.  Concept, layout, plantings, sun exposure, roots, concrete, stone walls, annuals, perennials, and a ton of sunblock...the list does goes on.  Anywho, here are a few images of the existing property, pre-clearing, and our conceptual solution for our non-gardening clients who had very little desire for backyard maintenance.

view from mudroom
not much of a view of anything but knotweed
in the back bed looking at west fence
looking at back fence from stairs
under stairs
above (all photos by NiyaBas.com)

With little guidance other than direction on usage and a "please do not touch my rose bush!" (there's a rose bush in there???), we were determined to provide the perfect backdrop for our constantly entertaining clients and their extremely low-maintenance lifestyle.  We knew a lot of style was required to coordinate well with the interior of the home while the idea of a rock garden was our solution to low-maintenance.

The Concept Descriptors -
"rock garden | flexible/multiple seating | sophisticated"

- were the three terms we kept running in our heads.

Below is a sketch of the plan the clients selected, which included building a stone wall on the right hand side of the yard for level variation and seating.  But alas, the budget would not allow.
sketch of initial idea
with stone wall idea out the window, we started conceiving of alternatives for the right side of the yard
in the meantime, we loved the japanese maple as focal point in center of garden

final sketch
As the bushes cleared and we studied the landscape in greater detail, our plans got modified to give it a more modern feel.  In-progress shots coming up in Phase 2 - Surprise, Surprise!

A quick sneak peek of things to come...

the idi team