Matthew Cunningham has quickly established himself in New England’s design community as an award-winning landscape architect, reflecting his passion for the landscapes of the region and from his rural roots in the verdant, rocky coast of Maine. He combines 25 years of plant expertise with a deep appreciation for local history.
Cunningham’s Boston-based design firm is known for creating lush, balanced landscapes for high-end residential clientele throughout the Northeast. “Our environmentally distinctive approach results from a unique understanding of what it means to live in seasonal New England,” he says. “We combine traditional Yankee building techniques with high design. Our plant-centric projects strengthen the connections between interior and exterior spaces, bridge indoor and outdoor lifestyles and grasp the dynamic rhythms of everyday life.”
Cunningham holds degrees in landscape architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Prior to starting his practice in 2004, he worked for the renowned firm Reed Hilderbrand Associates where he contributed to dozens of institutional and residential design projects.
Cunningham’s gardens have been widely published in New England Home, Design New England, Architectural Digest, The Designer, Design Bureau and Garden Design magazines.
Throughout the years, he has been plied with a multitude of prestigious certifications and awards, including an American Society of Landscape Architects honor award, six Association of Professional Landscape Designers gold awards, four Best of Houzz awards, and two Best of Boston Home awards. He was also named one of “5 Under 40” by New England Home magazine.
Cunningham recently moved his landscape design operations into a new permanent home in the Boston suburb of Stoneham with many state-of-the-art amenities.
Proudest moment in the landscape business: Some of my proudest moments in my design business have come from the incredible sense of accomplishment from seeing our projects mature and evolve over time. It means a lot to see our client’s settle into their gardens. I love the way it feels to be able to revisit these properties throughout the seasons, to watch how various plants perform or how masonry elements wear and weather.
Biggest business challenge: One of the most difficult issues with my business is trying to keep up with the demands of new project inquiries and learning that it’s OK not to take on every client that calls for help. As we’ve grown, we’ve become much better at figuring out what we are best at doing and who we are best at doing it for.
Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: Travel is one of the most amazing ways to gain inspiration. I’m a hobbyist photographer, too, and I love exploring my surroundings through the lens of my camera.
Favorite plant or plant combination: Right now I’m loving bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). You wouldn’t necessarily ever find these two growing together in a natural condition, but the combination of their forms, textures and general character are pretty awesome — especially in the fall.
Monday morning motivation: I don’t mind Monday mornings. It’s Sunday nights that get me stuck. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with things, especially in the busy season.
Business worry that keeps you up at night: Believe it or not, I worry most about my clients and keeping them happy. I also worry about my employees and keeping them happy. At the end of the day, I just hope everyone knows I have their best interests at heart — and that’s really all that matters.
Landscape design/install mentor: I have a deep appreciation for my rural roots in Maine and am so grateful to have learned my horticultural knowledge from experienced, pragmatic, hands-on people who gardened with common sense in mind. I have never been a huge fan of celebrities, but, I would have to say, there are many landscape architects and designers in the world who do incredible work. I’m always amazed at how expressive every single garden can be and how much it can reflect the designer’s personality.
Landscape project that makes you smile every time you drive past it: I have one specific project on the coast of Maine that has won an American Society of Landscape Architects honor award, Boston Society of Landscape Architects merit award and Association of Professional Landscape Designers gold award. That project will forever be a part of my soul. It’s nestled into the deep, dark woods on the edge of Acadia National Park. Building it was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have ever had. Between the context, challenge and design palette, it was pretty much a dream scenario.
Describe your business in five years: In five years I hope to be doing exactly what I am doing now. I’m a young guy and hopefully have many decades left in my career. I try not to get too stuck in wondering what I’ll be doing in the future. Instead I try to focus on what I have ahead of me right now.