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Small wonders.

1

A PATIO THAT APPEARS TO FLOAT

2

OUTDOOR ROOMS INSPIRED BY A BENTO BOX

3

A GARDEN THAT CLIMBS THE WALLS

DESIGNERS IN VENICE, CALIFORNIA, ARE USING THESE TRICKS (AND MORE) TO MAKE COMPACT YARDS LIVE LARGE.

A few blocks from the beach in Venice, bungalows crowd along streets barely wide enough to tote a surfboard sideways. "Housing is so dense here that we need gardens to escape to," says architect John Frane. "The smallest yard is precious, and we do all we can with every inch."

And each spring, thousands of people flock to the city's home-and-garden tour to see exactly what residents are doing on those tiny plots. "There are more design professionals per square foot living in Venice than just about anywhere else," says Barbara Baumann, the event's producer. "Trends start here." On these pages, we showcase three of the most inventive little gardens in the city--all jam-packed with ideas to try in your own backyard.

DOUBLE-DUTY RETREAT A GARDEN WHERE EVERY ELEMENT LOOKS GOOD AND WORKS HARD

Like many homes in Venice, architect Steven Shortridge's place had almost no front yard--guests walked practically from the street into his bedroom. So he moved his front door and gate to an adjacent alley and added an entry patio. "I like that people come through an outdoor living room before entering the house," he says.

To make that outdoor area look larger than it is, he built a concrete patio 18 inches above ground level so it appears to float between the planting beds, and used low furnishings, not walls, to define dining and lounge areas.

Working with landscape architects Jay Griffith and Russ Cletta, he planted queen palms, ferns, clumping bamboo, and purple plum trees around the perimeter for privacy. But Shortridge's project didn't stop with his own yard. Along the alley, as well as on neighboring lots, he planted (with permission) many of the same trees and grasses that edge his own property.

"Neighbors were more than happy to let me do it," he says. Locals, out for a stroll, love the greenery. And of course, Shortridge reaps the benefit of these distant plantings from his own yard as well: "Now I look out through the veils of green."

DESIGN Jay Griffith; jaygriffith.com. Russ Cletta; russcletta.com.

HOUSE 750 square feet

GARDEN 320 square feet

SPACE SAVERS

[1]

A sunscreen and light fixture are supported by a pole (wiring runs through it) set directly into the dining table (also on page 68).

[2]

Louvered windows add texture and, from indoors, frame the yard.

[3]

Wide wooden stairs up to the front door serve as bonus seating for parties.

[4]

A hot tub is hidden away in a corner behind Australian brushwood fencing.

[5]

The steel firewall backing a gasfed firepit reflects heat and hides the parking area.

"My goal was to make the outside part of the house, not just add more doors to connect the two."

--STEVEN SHORTRIDGE

BENTO BOX

ON A LONG, NARROW LOT, COMPARTMENTS FOR EVERYTHING

Squeezed between two big apartment buildings, this backyard was just a slab of concrete when owner John Frane, an architect, moved in. His challenge: creating discrete spots for relaxing, dining, and more without visually chopping up the yard. "I could have used hedges to divide the space," he says, "but they take up too much room."

Instead, he built a lounging platform of boardformed concrete along one side of the yard--raising it a few steps above the dining area and bocce court so its side-by-side firepit, soaking tub, and fountain feel like "upstairs" destinations. The result is a garden that's as compartmentalized as the traditional Japanese lunch box, but unified by design details such as redwood steps and clusters of succulents.

When Frane talks about his garden now, it sounds as if he's describing a much larger yard: "I love being in the water, enjoying the fire, or lounging on cushions with friends--everyone together on a summer evening."

DESIGN John Frane; predockfrane.com.

HOUSE 1,100 square feet

GARDEN 2,000 square feet

SPACE SAVERS

[1]

Decomposed granite and pebbly Lodi gravel keep the space from looking cluttered.

[2]

Agaves, aloes, and other succulents connect the various "rooms."

[3]

As they grow, olive trees will spread their canopies, providing extra privacy.

[4]

Shade sails are an inexpensive alternative to fixed trellises.

[5]

A trickling fountain masks ambient noise.

"If you think in terms of architectural spaces rather than traditional landscape, it's easier to make a garden you will use."

--JOHN FRANE

OUTDOORS IN BANISHING BOUNDARIES WITH GREEN WALLS AND DISAPPEARING DOORS

Paul and Cicek Bricault lost backyard square footage when they built an addition onto their home, but they wanted to make the most of the open space that remained. "We envisioned a serene sanctuary from the city," says Cicek. Enter landscape designer Richard Grigsby and designer Marc Bricault, Paul's brother. Together, they built a patio that feels like an extension of the family room, thanks to a series of pivoting doors. To create a sense of lush enclosure and block views of a parking lot next door, they lined the fence with tall plants such as angel's trumpet and princess flower.

Then they kept planting. Marc came up with the radical idea to create a garden in the sky, covering the walls and one rooftop in waterproof vinyl, and attaching a series of modular cells containing rooted succulents and, on the roof, grasses, yarrow, lantana, and ice plant. The experiment gave the couple back the greenery they'd lost--and then some.

DESIGN Richard Grigsby; great outdoorslandscapedesigns.com. Marc Bricault; bricault.ca.

HOUSE 3,650 square feet

GARDEN 475 square feet plus 515 on roof

SPACE SAVERS

[1]

Family room doors pivot open for easy access to the patio.

[2]

The carpet's grass-like texture and hue help unify indoors and out.

[3]

Sedums fill modular cells for a living outdoor wall (taww.elt livitigvialls.com).

[4]

A vine covered fence makes a leafy backdrop for a phormium and hides the carport.

[5]

Flagstone complements the color of the home's Douglas fir detailing; its jagged edges create the illusion of depth.

"The courtyard is a flexible space where we can pull a table out by the fire. From the rooftop, we watch the sun set and hear the early-morning surf."

--CICEK BRICAULT

Take the Venice Garden & Home tour May 3. Blipp this page to buy tickets online or go to venicegardentour.org.
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Author:Heeger, Susan
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2014
Words:1074
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