Forty years ago, Michael Shawn Kelly stepped out of his El Camino dressed in gym shorts and a tank top. He’d just graduated from Texas A&M with two degrees and started his own landscaping company. As a one-man-band, Shawn did everything from designing structures to shoveling dirt, but when he showed up to clients’ homes he was often met with shock.
They’d say, "where’s your crew?" And I’d say, "unless you grab a shovel, you’re looking at it, I’m your crew."
Since then, Shawn has picked up a highly skilled crew, completed countless jobs, and established an award-winning landscape-design firm called Mirror Lake Designs. The company specializes in creating livable, outdoor spaces that are both aesthetically pleasing and practical. Standing at 6-foot-4 with thick silvery hair, he tours his show gardens on a balmy afternoon and tells stories about how it all started.
Shawn – who has dual Texas A&M degrees in horticulture and landscape architecture – fuses his architectural mind and understanding of plant life to create masterful gardens, eye-catching pools, and lavish outdoor kitchens.
“Most horticulturalists are not really great at design and most landscape architects don’t really know plants,” Shawn says. “I ended up with both.”
This spring, Shawn and his wife, Belinda, celebrate Mirror Lake’s fortieth year in business. Through economic downturns, big jobs and small jobs – and most recently a reduction of business due to COVID-19 – passion keeps them going. That and a crew of loyal craftsmen, some of whom have worked with Shawn for more than 25 years.
“It’s not just a vocation, it's an advocation,” Shawn says. “We love it. When I’m on vacation, I’m looking at fountains. I'm looking at pools thinking ‘that’s interesting. How do they do that?’ It never goes away, but I love doing it.”
Shawn’s headquarters is a six-acre property of intricate show gardens, gurgling streams, and soothing ponds. Clients can stroll the pathways and choose structures or plants they enjoy. Shawn gets to know his client’s wants and helps them create a space where they can talk, cook and appreciate human connections. With more people quarantining at home, Shawn believes many have changed their perspective.
“A lot of people are prioritizing what’s important to them,” he says. “They miss the face-to-face, real conversations where you’re talking or hugging...You can’t replace that. They want to build places that will help enhance that experience and allow that to happen.”
Shawn is an equal part builder and artist. His office is adorned with abstract paintings and plant books. He drafts up landscaping designs often accompanied by libations and Jimmy Buffet tunes. And when it comes to Mirror Lake’s future, he’s nowhere near done building.