Katherine Aul comes from a long line of master gardeners, so when Dr. Peter Schmunk, professor of art history, pulled up a slide on Versailles, she leaned just a little closer and slid forward in her seat.
“Landscape architecture hit something in my DNA,” says Aul, who now designs urban gardens in New York City — from rooftops in Manhattan to backyards in Brooklyn. “Dr. Schmunk and Dr. (Karen) Goodchild (professor of art history) were incredible. They became mentors. Dr. Schmunk would bring me clippings from incredible gardens in New York, and he encouraged me to take French so I could understand garden terms.”
After graduation Aul taught English in Japan while applying to master’s degree programs in landscape design. She was accepted into Columbia University and moved to New York equipped with her family influences, Wofford art history training and an admiration for Japanese natural spaces and architecture.
Four years ago, Aul founded Staghorn NYC. “I live and breathe it,” she says, referring to the nonstop demands of owning her business based in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. “People say when you love what you do, it’s not work. That’s B.S. I absolutely love it, but it’s work — extremely hard work — but it’s exactly what I want to be doing, and I’m excited about the direction it’s all going.”
The work fulfills both Aul’s creative side and her affinity for organization. She loves the parts of the job that involve science and engineering just as much as the parts that involve art. Her favorite clients are families who want to use and enjoy the spaces she designs.
“We have several goals for each project: Is it sustainable? Is it beautiful? Is it functional? We really like working with people who want to hang out in their yard. They want to store toys in the furniture and invite friends over for barbecues,” she says. “I love to think about people making family memories in the spaces we’ve created for them.”
Aul and Staghorn NYC have been featured in several magazines — Elle Décor and Dwell, for example. She and her team of seven are booked solid, and the projects continue to get bigger and more involved. That’s just what Aul had in mind when she followed her dreams to New York.
“I’m really ambitious, and the people who come here are ambitious as well,” she says. “They move here because they want to work. They want to be the best in their field and around the best in the field. There’s a world of opportunity and creative energy in New York, but you always have to be willing to raise your game. I love that challenge and being around that kind of energy. It keeps me growing.”
By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89