55-Foot Ficus Tree Swings and a Pond-Inspired Pool Make for Backyard Bliss
Nature guided every aspect of the landscape design.
Published May 15, 2021 1:00 AM
When Armadillo cofounder Jodie Fried and her husband, cinematographer Greig Fraser, designed their 3,000-square-foot home in Venice, California, they dreamed of filling it with details that reminded them of interiors typical of their native Australia: soaring ceilings, wood window frames, and generous sliding doors that bring the outside in (and let their three kids, ages 5 to 9, out). With the help of Sydney-based architect Hannah Tribe, the couple achieved the Down Under look they were after—but when it came to the home’s sun-dappled backyard, they didn’t have to search nearly as far for inspiration.
Taking cues from the landscape and their own active L.A. lifestyle, the team conjured a meandering oasis that is an extension of the family-focused interiors. Below, a look inside the design process for a space that both celebrates and supports the natural world beyond its walls.
Get to Know the Locals
The local flora, that is. In the project’s planning stages, Fried studied up on native California plants before combing nurseries near and far for species that would complement the garden and thrive in its warm, beachy climate. (Sustainability was a factor, too, with cacti, grasses, and succulents chosen for their low-water needs.) “I drove from Ojai to Palm Springs to San Diego,” she says. “The entire process was a complete apprenticeship. I didn’t know anything about plants before, just that I loved them.”
Think Like an Artist
“There’s something to be said for considering seasons, colors, and tones,” says Fried, who drew inspiration from Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf’s painterly approach to gardening. Because she wanted to stay true to the home’s subdued scheme, Fried eschewed vivid greenery in favor of cooler shades, opting for silvery grasses, purple phormium tenax, and Icee Blue podocarpus. “Once I pulled that palette together, I moved everything around—this here, that there—and built the garden the way an artist or a sculptor would, but with living plants,” she explains.
Let Nature Take Center Stage
The house’s black exterior allows plant life to pop; likewise, hand-glazed navy tiles and a gray plaster interior help the pool blend into its soft surroundings rather than become a glaring blue focal point. “We wanted it to look almost like a pond,” says Fried. As a result, the yard’s true centerpiece is a 55-foot ficus that came with the property, around which the couple installed decking and Peg & Awl swings for the little ones. “We had a tree doctor come to make sure we didn’t disturb the roots,” she recalls. “I was worried, but the tree is so happy and the kids just love it. They play out there for hours.”
Blur the Lines Between In and Out
Large glass doors and windows (including a square one in the main bedroom, placed to frame nearby foliage like a piece of art) make it easy to access and appreciate what’s outside even from indoors. An added design bonus: On warm days, the family can leave those doors and windows open—the home’s architecture encourages airflow that often negates the need for AC.
Trust Your Gut
Ultimately, Fried describes the experience as an exercise in intuitive decision-making, from tile choice to plant placement to the look and feel of door handles and the decking underfoot. “We were just responding to what we had on hand—how it looked, how it made us feel,” she says. “We observed how the kids lived with the space and how we lived with it. We didn’t come to this with a wealth of experience, but we did it with a lot of instinct and creativity.”