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Most people who visit Tulum come home with a tan and a relaxed mindset, but when designer and real-estate agent Shirley Slee visited Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, she returned with a bright idea for her renovations: 1-by-1-inch pieces of wood. “I noticed them everywhere,” she recalls. “Vertical ones, horizontal; they were just so cool.” So she incorporated them into her latest project in Oceanside, California, building a fence, outdoor shower, and (five!) pergolas out of the thin slats. It only looks like Slee made the shack bigger, but the new exterior features really just add some much-needed dimension. “It makes it seem a lot grander,” she says. 

Slee scored her exterior material at local San Diego lumber center Dixie Line, opting for true 1-by-1s in Douglas fir. (Psst: If you want to save some money, it’s more affordable to purchase readily available 2-by-2s and have them cut to size.) All it took was a bit of sanding before staining them a blond tone that would warm up the high-contrast white stucco siding and new black windows. Slee even went so far as to have the electrical gate clad in the zen-looking wood so the fence appears continuous when it’s closed. “You’ll be inside and just hear someone slam on their brakes and drive by super-slow,” she says. “I didn’t leave anything undone.” Here are some other details from the project that are cause for a second take.

Zones for Different Moods

Slee believes that homeowners today don’t care as much about the size of the yard but rather how usable it is. So she invests as much in planting lush grass as she does in hardscaping. To start, there’s now a concrete front porch, complete with benches. Then there are two wood decks on either side of the house that are prime for entertaining (bifold doors offer easy access to the interior).

Finally, there’s a smaller platform framed by French doors, peppered with woven lounge chairs so you can read under the olive trees or listen to the trickling of the nearby water fountain. “I gave a little ambience to each section,” she explains. 

A Place in the Shade

The wood pergolas that project from the exterior do three things: They protect from full sun exposure, serve as a base for string lights, and create a support system for swing-style seating. (There are steel brackets inside the walls that hold the weight.)

“Before, the house was a straight up-and-down box,” says Slee. To really drive home the new dynamic look, she even incorporated the 1-by-1s on the garage-turned-guesthouse (the “addition” brought another 300 livable square feet to the property).

Curb Appeal That’ll Thrive

Because she wanted to avoid tropical greenery that might succumb to the California heat, Slee brought in agave, olive trees, and of course two larger-than-life palms, which she got delivered from Palm Springs via flatbed truck and were plopped into pre–dug holes. “The Mediterranean-style landscaping is always where I lean,” she notes. A heavy dose of crushed California gold gravel completes the desert-meets-beach look—plus what home buyer doesn’t love a low-maintenance yard?

Photography by Dulcet Creative