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Silver Lake’s chandelier tree spreads its light

Silver Lake’s chandelier tree spreads its light
Matt and Amy Fuccile with daughter Charlie beneath one of Rancho Mission Viejo's chandelier trees. (Rancho Mission Viejo)

Silver Lake’s chandelier tree — a century-old camphor hung with 34 vintage fixtures, which became a neighborhood delight and Instagram hit — has propagated its light to Orange County.

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In April, the master-planned community Rancho Mission Viejo unveiled three mature oak trees, strung with a total of 56 chandeliers, inside its 890-acre Esencia village. Their predecessor was the artistic conception of Adam Tenenbaum, who in 2010 began arranging classic light fixtures in the frontyard tree of his 1920s Silver Lake home.

Tenenbaum’s tree quickly became a social-media luminary, as have the Orange County versions. A landscape architect working on Rancho Mission Viejo used a photo of Tenenbaum’s tree while brainstorming plans, and developers asked him to replicate his singular wonder.

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“It’s a little bit of magic and whimsy, meant to inspire. A place to think and dream,” Tenenbaum said. Anchoring an outdoor space called the Hangout, the illuminated trees canopy a Y-shaped communal table that seats 40 alongside grills, fire pits, a bar, pond, picnic tables and Adirondack chairs.

Paul Johnson, senior vice president of community development for Rancho Mission Viejo, said the idea was for Tenenbaum to help create a vibe to attract millennials to NorthWalk, an Esencia neighborhood.

What better lure, thought designers, than radiant trees that seem ready set-pieces for a Wes Anderson film?

“Millennials are drawn to authentic spaces that are not contrived,” Johnson said. “Yes, the space is man-made, but the trees are real. And strung with chandeliers, they really are a piece of art.”

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Rancho Mission Viejo’s communal space includes three chandelier trees, grills, fire pits, a bar, pond, picnic tables and Adirondack chairs.
Rancho Mission Viejo’s communal space includes three chandelier trees, grills, fire pits, a bar, pond, picnic tables and Adirondack chairs. (Rancho Mission Viejo)

Esencia will be built out to 2,485 residences, with 628 of those within NorthWalk, whose smaller homes and greater density are geared toward a younger demographic. Other neighborhoods in Rancho Mission Viejo, commonly called the Ranch, are marketed to an intergenerational demographic that includes empty nesters.

Up to 14,000 homes are planned for the entire development, which sits within the 23,000-acre family owned farm and cattle ranch. At 136 years old, it's the last working ranch in Orange County, according to the company’s website.

The candescent trees enveloping the Hangout put mere party-light strings to shame. The trio of oaks seem to bewitch, emitting a kind of communal magnetism that warms and cheers gatherings.

“They’re just gorgeous, the topic of conversation that night,” said Ranch resident Amy Fuccile, 35. She and her husband Matt, 34, attended a farm-to-table dinner party with other couples beneath the trees five months ago. “It provided the most incredible ambience.”

All three coast live oak trees were planted in 2017. Two were sourced from a Sunland nursery; the largest — about 80 years old — had been dug up on the Ranch and boxed a few years ago, awaiting optimal placement. The Ranch, which first opened in 2013, routinely relocates mature oaks as it grades land for development.

Fixtures in the Ranch trees are less funky and stylish than Tenenbaum’s home versions, which drip with hundreds of glittering crystals. Code requirements necessitated modern lights rated for exterior use, although Tenenbaum methodically rewires and weatherproofs his own chandeliers.

The Ranch’s fixtures, sourced from the website Houzz as well as Lowe’s, have black, bronze or pewter finishes with up to eight bulbs each.

A crew of five electricians trenched wires and then hung the chandeliers, controlled by dimmers that dial each fixture up to 100 watts. Timers turn the display on at dusk and off at 10 p.m.

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The entire effect acts as an “accent light to set a mood,” said Tenenbaum, who works as an airbrush makeup artist. “It’s not a functional light.”

A Y-shaped communal table that seats 40 is set beneath the three chandelier trees that light up at dusk.
A Y-shaped communal table that seats 40 is set beneath the three chandelier trees that light up at dusk. (Rancho Mission Viejo)

When transforming his own tree, he had help from his nimble roommate, an aerialist. For the Hangout project, Tenenbaum remained on the ground, directing electricians to arrange the fixtures among gaps, where leaves catch light from the scores of bulbs.

“I was like a conductor in an orchestra,” he said. Draping and placement took five days, “which is beyond light-speed with how it normally goes.”

Once everything was finally settled, and after adjusting wattage and various tests, Tenenbaum watched the gathering glow in the trees, as dusk faded to night.

“I had the grand opening by myself,” he said. “Just me there, shedding a few tears and smiling.”

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