Published on April 17, 2020

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Photography by Shade Degges

It started with a 5,000-pound owl. As soon as Jenn D’Cunha, an Apple Music executive who was moving back to Los Angeles after a stint in Mexico City, tapped designer Roberto Sosa to revamp her new place, he knew that her former hometown would influence the whole project—and one of its trademarks is a number of exuberant birds, plants, and colors. “We found this carved stone owl at an old house-turned-store; it was just there, waiting for us,” says Sosa. “The storekeeper could not believe we were actually taking it.” 

Nowhere is the lush, leafy vibe of Mexico City that D’Cunha loves so much more evident than in the outdoor space. Terracotta planters from the famous Trinitate boutique in Polanco dot the patio, handwoven chairs invite you to lounge away the afternoon, clay pottery made by a mix of traditional and contemporary Mexican artists brings an earthy touch. The goal, in three words, was “secret, exotic, and transportative”. With the decor in place, Sosa turned to the final layer—plants. 

“It was pretty much a blank canvas,” he remembers. He worked with The Tropics, a nursery in L.A., to deck out each of the exterior spaces in head-to-toe green. Nothing is terribly high maintenance, though he made sure to keep needier greenery in smaller pots that are more accessible. “The pleasure of having a garden is that you get to know it well, making updates as needed—and replacing some plants when you want a new hot pepper for that salsa recipe,” he says. 

It’s no surprise that the backyard ended up being one of D’Cunha’s favorite parts of the whole house. “I love to play music over the speakers and sit outside with a cup of coffee in the morning while catching up with email or reading the paper,” she explains. “I feel an absolute sense of peace.” Expertly crafted to make both D’Cunha and visiting wildlife happy—she’s an avid bird-watcher, beyond vintage owls—the outdoor oasis is verdant design done right.  

The Alfresco Kitchen 

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Photography by Shade Degges

D’Cunha frequently plays host to friends and family, so having somewhere that would allow her to socialize while grilling was crucial. “I had this romantic picture in my head of Old Hollywood garden entertaining,” says Sosa. It certainly has all the fixings: There’s a built-in grill with storage niches, a stereo hidden behind a brick wall (she does work for Apple Music, after all), and an herb shelf nestled over the top. “I wanted it to feel like cooking in the jungle—plus this way, she can have her ingredients on hand,” continues the designer. 

The key lies in picking weatherproof materials. Indestructible quartzite is made to withstand everything from rain to vigorous chopping; as for the wood, Sosa chose a teak that will age gracefully. 

The Upstairs Space

Right off the master bedroom, the joint balcony and cabana provide a zen spot to both start the day and wind down with a glass of wine. Sosa incorporated furniture that’s meant to be reclined in—such as a cushy daybed, perfect for solo reading time. “I love waking up and tending to those plants,” says D’Cunha. “It’s an opportunity to connect with nature for a few minutes at the beginning of the day.” Between potted greens and the wisteria and jasmine that creep up the wall, it’s like a greenhouse in the sky. 

The Sitting Area

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Photography by Roberto Sosa

For inspiration, Sosa looked indoors. “I always design gardens in a very similar way to houses. There has to be structure and logic,” he says. Here, that takes the form of little vignettes, like the separate dining and living “rooms.” Compact teak furniture in soft colors fill but don’t overwhelm the patio, where D’Cunha hangs out with dinner party guests. The final touch is a custom-made retractable fabric canopy that keeps out both bright direct sunlight and potential prying eyes. Everyone knows the number-one perk of having a secret garden is getting to enjoy it in peace, right? 

See more outdoor spaces inspiring us:
Why Sarah Sherman Samuel Built Her Office in the Middle of a Forest
We Used Scrap Wood to Build a Greenhouse in Our Backyard
While We Wait for Summer to Arrive, We’re Staring at These Porches

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