The Garden Beds in This L.A. Backyard Were Built From a “Stairway to Nowhere”
Touring the urban farm of a restaurateur’s dreams.
Published Mar 2, 2023 11:08 AM
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Since she was a child, West~bourne founder Camilla Marcus dreamed of living on an urban farm, but as a New York City dweller, her reality was an apartment in SoHo near the restaurant she opened five years ago. Then when the pandemic hit, the second-generation Angeleno decided to head back to her stomping grounds to look for property in August 2020. “So many people were overbuilding and wanted these mega-homes, and we were sort of the opposite,” Marcus says. “We knew we wanted land and to have a garden for our three kids, two dogs, and four chickens.” After a year of searching, she and her husband found the perfect place—a mid-century bungalow on an acre of green space in West Los Angeles—through a friend of a friend.
The previous owner had the place primed for Marcus to fulfill her childhood fantasies. “She had put a lot of thought and effort into making the outside this incredible oasis,” Marcus says. “It really feels more like you’re in Montecito, not L.A. County.” There was already a small garden, paved pathways throughout, and a concrete patio. Marcus worked closely with local nursery Rolling Greens and Olive Ateliers to bring in more of her personality. That meant pollinator-friendly flowers and potted plants scattered throughout to amplify the family’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle. They also expanded the garden and created space for a chicken coop. “We tried to make way for more animals and have a space that our kids can sort of get lost in,” she shares.
Building up the garden involved some creative reimagining of the existing brick “stairway to nowhere” on the side of the property. “We wanted to use materials that already existed and for it to look like a natural extension of the house,” Marcus says. So she used them to make raised beds that are now home to seasonal crops, from shishito peppers and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes in the spring to baby bok choy and black radishes in the fall.
From the garden, which is right off of the home’s kitchen, there’s an elevated walkway over a dry creek that leads to an outdoor dining table where the family entertains—for now. Phase two of their backyard reno involves building a whole outdoor kitchen in that garden area, where most guests mingle during drinks anyway.
Also near the garden is where the family’s four feathered friends—one Showgirl and three Naked Neck Silkies—live in a coop designed by Marcus’s general contractor to complement the house. “We wanted them to have good style, too,” she notes. Overall, designing the pinewood structure was simple, but engineering it to block out predators is where it got more complicated. “You want a slanted roof, you want things (acorns, animals) to be able to slide off, and you need a very fine mesh,” Marcus explains. She says most traditional chicken wire can be bitten through by raccoons and coyotes, so they doubled up on the material, cross-hatching the panels across each other to create a double-layer barrier. “We hope it’s Fort Knox,” she says.
Though Marcus and her husband had built out several restaurants during the course of their careers, it was their first time building a coop, and everything was a little trial and error. One important element she was glad to learn before it was too late: build it big enough for humans, too. “You create this for the chickens, but you forget you’re cleaning it and collecting the eggs every day,” she explains. Their 8-by-10-by-10 cube is “bright and airy,” filled with dirt for the birds to roll in, different levels for them to climb on, and buckets where they’re supposed to lay their eggs (though the Silkies haven’t quite caught on to that yet). “It’s been so much fun learning where they like to hang out and what they like to do,” Marcus says. While they’re all still figuring it out to some degree, everyone on the urban farm, including the hens, seems to be living the dream.