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Contemporary Spanish Retreat

A donde el corazón se inclina…

About the Project

A common request we receive is to transform the outdated landscapes of small Spanish bungalows—to provide privacy and make usable space for more “real estate.” The new design for this project developed into a walled front courtyard with romantic lighting in a garden setting.

Enter the antique rosewood door, and you are invited to descend into a sunken living room garden with octagonal fire pit. Layered shades of green foliage and bold textures create a planting so lush you don’t miss a traditional lawn. Instead, beautiful Malibu tiles studded with colorful accents carpet the patio, and green stucco everywhere echos nature.

With form and fluidity, the space flows—and so does the water from a custom fountain bubbling from a chartreuse Bauer oil jar. All hard surfaces collect runoff to an infiltration pit, where the native Prunus lyonii hedge and a pomegranate tree can drink it up. Other plant choices include aloes, velvety rosemary, and a variety of succulents for texture.

The key to success with small landscapes like this is making sure that they are well proportioned and beautifully appointed to give the visitor a sense of luxury. Green canvas and blue velvet outdoor upholstery feel sumptuous in this intimate space.

The back yard was dominated by a new pool, and the hardscape felt heavy with concrete slab and gravel. The design goal here was to bring back some green, and add some WOW. We achieved this with color and custom art projects that define each functional space. Now, a turquoise-and-gray striped wall reflects into the pool, and bold tilework leads the eye to dining and lounging areas.

A large area of uncomfortable gray gravel was removed and replaced with a creamy, warm flagstone patio. A soft meadow effect is achieved by cushiony plant material in the available grooves. Dramatic Australian leucodendrons play well in front of the walls. The space has a private resort feel now—the kind of place you would just want to hang out in, day or night.

Overall, we have improved soil fertility and permeability, and increased infiltration areas for stormwater throughout the property—one of the prime objectives of the watershed approach to landscaping. The new planting plan includes predominantly low-water-use California and Mediterranean varieties that require no fertilizers or pesticides. This further reduces unnecessary maintenance. Irrigation is by subterranean drip, and we keep up the mulch to reduce evaporation.

And the best part? Both property value and client joy quotient are vastly increased!

(NOTE: All work was performed by licensed landscape contractors.)

A new lighting scheme enhances the texture and shapes of the plant material as well as adding drama. The addition of luxury upholstery on weathered teak furniture and a custom tiled dining table recalls the spirit of the Spanish revival period.

— Laura Morton

The key to success with small landscapes like this is making sure they are well proportioned and beautifully appointed.