When he relocated to Palm Beach from his Bloomfield Hills hometown, Keith Williams had not anticipated crossing paths with other metro Detroit natives in the affluent Florida town. Today, he and his business partner at Nievera Williams landscape architecture firm have amassed a clientele of Palm Beach’s most prominent individuals — including a handful of Michigan notables, too.
“It surprises me how many people I meet from Bloomfield Hills,” says Williams, who has designed landscapes for leaders in metro Detroit’s auto industry and beyond. He adds that many Detroiters own homes in Palm Beach to escape the Midwest during its cooler months. “It’s right on the beach, it’s got tall green hedges, big beautiful trees, the weather’s great. I’m lucky because my clients in Palm Beach really focus on the exterior of their homes. That’s ultimately where they want to be when they come down here — outside.”
With a background in graphic design, the former Kalamazoo College student accepted a job in the advertising department at the Palm Beach Post where he worked his way up to a management role over the next nine years. But it was his passion for art that led him to the landscaping field.
Williams spent his days off painting and selling his work. Landscape designer Mario Nievera, then a friend and buyer of his artwork, spotted Williams’ knack for plant life when he naturally oriented an arrangement during a visit to his office.
“I didn’t know too much about landscaping (although my mother’s a master gardener and always had me doing yardwork), but it just came natural to me,” Williams says.
Nievera, who had recently started his own business, took a chance on Williams and the rest, as the saying goes, was history.
“Painting was an artistic release for me and this job ended up substituting that,” Williams says.
As a newcomer to the industry, Williams found himself working on the estates of Leonard and Ronald Lauder, heirs to cosmetics conglomerate, Estée Lauder Companies. “That was an awakening for me because it got real — real quick.” From there, Williams developed relationships, gained referrals, and eventually, his name was on the door as a partner at Nievera Williams landscape architecture firm.
“I get to meet some of the most amazing people,” says Williams who describes his signature design style as clean and organized. “Not just celebrities, but people who have done some amazing things in their lives, whether they’re philanthropists or they’ve invented something or they’re hedge-fund people — and a few celebrities doesn’t hurt.”
Williams on Cool Clients:
“David and Jennifer Fischer are from Bloomfield Hills. Their winter home caught fire so they did a complete renovation. We came up with a modern design and played around with a lot of things that most people wouldn’t pick up. For instance, there’s a stone terrace that we made look like it’s floating. At night, it’s lit with fiber optic lighting, and at the front of the house, you have to walk over a water feature to get into the front door. It was a fun project.”
On Design Staples:
“I like to use items from Detroit Garden Works whenever possible,” Williams says of the Pontiac garden shop. “They have great containers and planters and these really cool fountains that I use. They also have a lot of other unique accessories.”
On Trend Forecasts:
“I’ve noticed that most of our clients are becoming more conscious about how much waste it takes to take care of large properties. Rather than purchasing big lots, they’re downsizing because of maintenance and sustainability, which is nice. You appreciate [small spaces] more. They’re a lot more personal and design elements don’t get lost.”