This L.A. Couple Lost Their Long Driveway But Gained a Zen Side Yard
The deck swerves and curves to make way for plants.
Published Jun 8, 2023 1:45 AM
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When friends of Bay Area–based architect Anand Sheth moved to Los Angeles from Oakland and asked him if he’d transform their outdoor space, he became overwhelmed with memories—all good—of growing up in L.A. As a teenager, he recalled traversing through and hanging out in friends’ backyards. “It was that end-of-high-school period where you sort of feel like you run the city,” says Sheth, who has lived in Northern California for the past 17 years. “I spent a lot of time outdoors. It reminded me of the magic that can happen outside of a building—the messiness, the sandiness, the sweatiness that comes from life in L.A.”
Of course, Sheth’s vision for his clients’ space was a lot more sophisticated than lawn chairs and a beer-pong table. The avid hosts wanted a place where they could entertain on all levels, be it with a large group, one friend, or even just themselves. Sheth’s extensive background in hospitality design was a draw. “My spaces tend to be ones for gathering; they tend to be destinations,” he says. Previously all of the home’s side and back doors opened up to the same exact thing: concrete. Once Sheth learned that the first-time homeowners only had one car and wouldn’t be needing the extensive driveway leading to the garage (which they now use as a home gym), he called on landscape architect Anooshey Rahim, principal of Dune Hai, to help turn the long stretch of land into a plant-filled retreat with dining and lounging zones, to boot.
Work With Greenery, Not Against It
Were it not for Rahim’s input, Sheth admits that he would have approached the landscape refresh from a typical architect’s point of view and used the plants simply as buffers and boundaries. “Anooshey was like, what if the planters were bigger? What if there were ‘rooms’ for the plants and for the people?” Sheth recalls. This new perspective opened them up to using different sizes of plants as well as a variety of maturities, from fan palms to monkey flower to silver feather grass.
To really make it clear that there isn’t a hierarchy between the human and the plant spaces, they carved out exaggerated curves into the cedar decking, allowing the greenery to take up more space. The decision was also partly inspired by the forms of the iconic rooftop gardens in Brazil designed by Roberto Burle Marx.
Create Consistency With Slatted Wood
While it’s impossible to take in the entire outdoor space in a single glance, Sheth opted for a familiar visual language to make it feel cohesive from the moment you pull up to the driveway. The gate, mailbox, steps, and fence are all made out of slatted cedar wood, executed by local landscape contractor Matthew Gray. Another perk: “It has this warmth that we could rely on, because our plant palette was a bit on the cooler side,” he says.
Party On, Sunburn-Free
Recalling his SoCal upbringing, Sheth couldn’t ignore the fact that the L.A. sun is strong. Cue the shade sails. The triangular panels provide much-needed coverage over the dining table and sofa during the daytime. Aside from ripping up the old concrete driveway, Sheth considered the woven ottomans by Shore one of their biggest splurges. The performance silicone cord is UV resistant, heatproof, waterproof, and easy to clean.
Ward Off Accidents With Graphic Tile
The only sliver of concrete that remains is the small patio off the couple’s primary bedroom, which is now swathed in tiles from Southern California–based company Concrete Collaborative. The squares are laid out to create a striped motif with U-turns. “We didn’t want to put an outdoor rug out there that would become a dust trap,” says Sheth. “This pattern anchors the space in a way a rug would without creating a tripping hazard.”
Figure Out What Your Neighborhood Needs From You
After an hour-long stroll through the neighborhood, Sheth realized there were a number of homes that had been recently renovated in the area—and of those revamped houses, most of them were painted black. While they certainly gave off a sense of newness compared to the many older homes on the street that featured lighter pastels, the dark facades weren’t all that inviting. Ultimately Sheth steered his clients toward a creamy white color, and they chose a sage green door that felt friendly and not in stark contrast to the community.
Still, the designers went beyond simply blending in. By tearing down the cinder block divider along the sidewalk and pushing the new fence back to where the front door is, Sheth and Rahim opened up the front yard to passersby (namely students making their way to the high school around the block). They even added plants to the little plot on the opposite side of the path to liven it up. “It offers this free garden experience that people get to enjoy and be surprised by,” says Sheth. His former teenage self would have appreciated that.