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Before & After: See the dramatic 'jewel box' garden makeover

As the creator and executive producer of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” David Collins is well versed in Cinderella-inspired makeovers.

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And like the men in his popular reality show, which is scheduled to receive a reboot on Netflix this year, his 1926 Spanish bungalow and garden in Atwater Village was in desperate need of a makeover.

He originally bought the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house with the intention of flipping it for a profit.

After he took it down to the studs and gave it a “soup to nuts” makeover courtesy of architects Cynthia Phakos and Adrian Koffka, however, he began to feel different about the corner property. The more he worked on the house, the more he fell in love with it, and the neighborhood.

“It was a new beginning,” Collins says. “I wanted to create a jewel box to maximize what I had.”

After a family-packed Halloween spent in the neighborhood with twin daughters Olive and Ella, 8, Collins knew he had found a home.

The front yard originally featured a traditional landscape consisting of lawn, overgrown rose bushes, succulents and hibiscus trees.

Collins wanted the gardens to be minimal, like the newly remodeled interiors: “beautiful, simple, classy, modern and clean,” he says.

Working with landscape architect Lisa Gimmy, Collins replaced all the plants and hardscape, creating a drought-tolerant replacement composed of a limited plant palette.

Here’s how Gimmy created the sophisticated gardens that Collins wanted:

The house and garden before...
The house and garden before... ((Courtesy of Coldwell Banker ))
The front yard before …

Featured grass, ivy, roses and assorted trees and bushes. Today, the garden features low-to-moderate water-use plants and includes storm-water retention basins and low-flow irrigation.

A new courtyard embraces the Atwater Village neighborhood.
A new courtyard embraces the Atwater Village neighborhood. ((Mariah Tauger/For The Times))
… and after

Gimmy designed a front courtyard to embrace the Atwater Village neighborhood, something that was important to Collins, the father of Olive, left and Ella. “I can’t tell you how many neighbors have taped notes to my mailbox telling me how much they like my garden,” he says.

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David Collins, left, his daughters Olive and Ella, and David's partner, Joseph Rivas, sit between potted succulents on either side of the front door, which welcome guests in dramatic fashion.
David Collins, left, his daughters Olive and Ella, and David's partner, Joseph Rivas, sit between potted succulents on either side of the front door, which welcome guests in dramatic fashion. ((Mariah Tauger/For The Times))
Let plants be the jewels

Two large planters filled with kalanchoe beharensis and draping sedum morganianum on either side of the front door make a statement. Collins found the rusty metal planters in the trash at Rolling Greens Nursery in Culver City. “It’s about simplicity,” he says. “I wanted the gardens to feel timeless.”

A Moroccan-inspired water fountain adds character to the small courtyard in front.
A Moroccan-inspired water fountain adds character to the small courtyard in front. ((Mariah Tauger /For The Times))
Add water features in front ...

A crisp board-formed concrete water fountain is more than just a water feature. It also serves as a place to sit and relax. “It’s a minimal expression of an ancient idea,” says Gimmy. The shape of the inside of the front fountain and the shapes cut into the front gates are also a classic eight-pointed Moorish star pattern created from intersecting geometries.

The backyard before.
The backyard before. ((Courtesy of Coldwell Banker ))
And after: Ella and Olive Collins play in their backyard.
And after: Ella and Olive Collins play in their backyard. ((Mariah Tauger /For The Times))
… and back

The backyard features what Collins likes to call a “spool” — a spa and pool that double as a formal water feature. The fountain can be turned on and off with the help of a smartphone. And in a bit of Hollywood lore, Collins says the home’s previous owner — Shirley Temple’s stand-in — died poolside with a cocktail in hand.

The family room opens to an outdoor dining room.
The family room opens to an outdoor dining room. ((Mariah Tauger /For The Times ))
Create outdoor rooms for entertaining ...

The backyard features an outdoor dining area, barbecue and cooking area. Jasmine climbs on the awning over the dining table, offering a sweet-scented escape from the heat.

Olive, left, and Ella Collins ride their bikes around the fountain in the front courtyard.
Olive, left, and Ella Collins ride their bikes around the fountain in the front courtyard. ((Mariah Tauger /For The Times))
… and play

The front courtyard now serves as an extension of the home where the family can relax and play. For an immediate impact, four olive trees were planted in the courtyard.

A new perforated gate creates an inclusive feel.
A new perforated gate creates an inclusive feel. ((Mariah Tauger / Mariah Tauger))
Balance public and private areas

Gimmy installed a low laser-cut metal gate that adds privacy without being antisocial. It also complements the home’s Spanish architecture. “‘The height of the wall is limited,” says Collins. “It demarcates the property, but it is still open to the neighborhood. It’s small but strong.”

The breakfast nook before ...
The breakfast nook before ... ((Courtesy of Coldwell Banker ))
And after: The front garden can be viewed from the kitchen where David Collins and partner Joseph Rivas play cards with Ella and Olive.
And after: The front garden can be viewed from the kitchen where David Collins and partner Joseph Rivas play cards with Ella and Olive. ((Mariah Tauger / For The Times))
Bring the garden indoors

To bring the gardens inside the home, Gimmy planted espalier magnolias outside the kitchen windows. In the breakfast room, above, olive trees, agave and the sidewalk can be viewed through a large picture window, further connecting the home to the street and neighborhood.

The backyard before the remodel ...
The backyard before the remodel ... ((Courtesy of Coldwell Banker ))
... and after: Decorative tile from Ann Sacks adds a bit of drama.
... and after: Decorative tile from Ann Sacks adds a bit of drama. ((Mariah Tauger /For The Times.))
Accessorize with tile

Moroccan-meets-Mediterranean custom tile from Ann Sacks adds a decorative touch to the water fountain in front and the pool and fountain in the backyard.

Collins refers to his Spanish bungalow as the "50 shades of gray house."
Collins refers to his Spanish bungalow as the "50 shades of gray house." ((Mariah Tauger / For The Times))
Consider color

Because Collins wanted a gray and green color scheme, Gimmy used a limited plant palette. She also installed blue stone flooring in both front and back and painted the front door a dark gray color from Farrow & Ball called “Down Pipe.” Collins refers to his house as “the 50 shades of gray house,” with a laugh. A moss green roof and awning tie everything together.

The front yard before.
The front yard before. ((Courtesy of Coldwell Banker ))
The house illuminated at dusk.
The house illuminated at dusk. ((John Ellis))
Let there be light

At night, the four olive trees are illuminated with LED lights, giving the house a warm, romantic glow from the street.

LOS ANGELES, CA- April 15, 2017: Hard and soft line the street side of David Collins and his partner Joseph Rivas backyard. (Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
LOS ANGELES, CA- April 15, 2017: Hard and soft line the street side of David Collins and his partner Joseph Rivas backyard. (Mariah Tauger / For The Times) ((Mariah Tauger /For The Times))
Make the walls a part of the landscape

Creeping fig adds texture to an exterior wall surrounding the backyard. Iron detailing at the top of the fence complements the style of the low-slung gate in front.

Trees
  • Cedrus deodara — Deodar cedar

  • Dypsis lanceolata — palm

  • Olea europaea — olive

  • Podocarpus gracilior — fern pine

  • Trachycarpus fortunei — Mediterranean fan palm

  • Tristania conferta — Brisbane box

  • Wodveitchia 'Soledad' — foxtail palm

  • Ground cover:

  • Aspidistra elatior — cast iron plant

  • Davallia trichomanoides — squirrel’s foot fern

  • Juncus effusus — soft rush

  • Liriope gigantea — giant lily turf

  • Succulents/cactuses

  • Aeonium atropurpureum 'Schwarzkopf’

  • Aeonium undulatum

  • Agave 'Blue Glow'

Cedrus deodara — Deodar cedar

Dypsis lanceolata — palm

Olea europaea — olive

Podocarpus gracilior — fern pine

Trachycarpus fortunei — Mediterranean fan palm

Tristania conferta — Brisbane box

Wodveitchia 'Soledad' — foxtail palm

Ground cover:

Aspidistra elatior — cast iron plant

Davallia trichomanoides — squirrel’s foot fern

Juncus effusus — soft rush

Liriope gigantea — giant lily turf

Succulents/cactuses

Aeonium atropurpureum 'Schwarzkopf’

Aeonium undulatum

Agave 'Blue Glow'

  • Euphorbia characias wulfenii — Mediterranean spurge

  • Ligustrum japonicum 'Texanum' — Texas privet

  • Rosmarinus officinalis 'Ingramii' — rosemary

  • Strelitzia reginae — bird of paradise

  • Vines/espalliers

  • Citrus — lemon

  • Ficus repens — creeping fig

  • Stephanotis floribunda — Madagascar jasmine

  • Trachelospermum jasminoides — star jasmine

  • Turf:

  • Marathon 2

Euphorbia characias wulfenii — Mediterranean spurge

Ligustrum japonicum 'Texanum' — Texas privet

Rosmarinus officinalis 'Ingramii' — rosemary

Strelitzia reginae — bird of paradise

Vines/espalliers

Citrus — lemon

Ficus repens — creeping fig

Stephanotis floribunda — Madagascar jasmine

Trachelospermum jasminoides — star jasmine

Turf:

Marathon 2

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Getting your pots ready for spring planting.
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