Under Renovation

This charming and architecturally distinctive house was in search of a landscape; this much my client knew.  A member of the design community herself, she had spent a lot of time renovating the interior. She was ready to renovate the outdoor spaces.   A designer always needs to pay careful attention to the architecture; this is a given.  But this house had certain unique and compelling features.


The Spanish style of this house came with a beautiful and intact tile roof, and old concrete stucco painted white. The brick terrace was in considerable disrepair, but the brick itself was old and good.  The remains of a previous landscape seemed neither here nor there. Some poorly performing rhododendrons and azaleas struggled in the blazing sun and no doubt highly alkaline soil.   Add to this a noticeable slope from the house to the center of the rear yard, and more importantly, my client’s interest in strong clean modern lines; I had plenty to think about.  Small urban properties make their own demands.  Not the least of these is that every gesture needs to be right.  Small spaces are unforgiving of mistakes, or leftover unresolved areas.  The mistakes made in small spaces seem to be so much larger than those made in big spaces.  No room for error, as they say.

So we piled up the good brick, and ripped out all the ailing plants.  In the meantime I was looking for a graceful expression that also felt strong and simple.  I had my answer in the wall.


I was completely enamored of the white stucco wall that completely enclosed the rear yard. Completely overrun with trumpet vine, and various other weedy plants, that wall was still so architecturally strong and interesting I could not help but make it central to the design. My client carefully and completely repaired all the shaling stucco, and repainted it-the transformation to the entire space was striking.

This old wall was certainly deserving of attention.  Infilled in 2 spots with old iron grilles, it was completely unique and unusual in its design.  Surely the hand of a particular person, I have never seen a wall designed like this.  While walls make beautiful landscape features, whatever their height or material; I had considerable excitement about this wall.  Though quite old, it had strong and unusual lines that could be interpreted in a number of ways.

Cleaning out a space takes plenty of time, as does proper grading.  I planned to enlarge the existing terrace to fill the entire space off the rear door and French doors.  As the original U-shaped brick terrace had a unfriendly slope to it,  I decided to create a step off, into the yard.  The best move: a new stucco wall, built at seat height, to set the terrace apart from the rear yard space, that could also provide casual seating for guests. This new wall would integrate the new landscape into the old; it seemed  natural to repeat that stucco feature.


The happy result are two distinct and level spaces.  The terrace and a rectangular grass space friendly to the dogs, and in distinct contrast to the terrace surfaces.


To come, a U-shape of columnar carpinus, mulched in gravel, which would answer the brick shape on the terrace; the center of the terrace we did in gravel.

A terrace entirely of brick would have overwhelmed the space.  Sometimes switching materials can make a big space read read in a more friendly way.  No home needs a parking lot for a terrace, even though a big terrace is great for furniture, dining and entertaining. We are at a good stage here.  Two rectangles at right angles to each other are ready for the finishing touches.

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