Somewhere between DIY and hiring a contractor to do all the work is a home improvement sweet spot for those who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty but respect the skill of professionals and know when to call in the cavalry.
It's a middle ground where Long Beach homeowners Wendy Manasse Wiese and David Wiese felt at home.
With the goal of transforming the long, uninspired lawn in front of their classic 1934 Streamline Moderne home into something with more style and less maintenance, the creative couple embarked on a journey of renovation defined by informed choices and personal style.
Their high-concept landscape design and the process behind it are inspiring and imitable. Here's how:
The big idea
From the start, the couple knew what they didn't want: thirsty plants, yardwork or the traditional look of a drought-tolerant succulent garden.
"We thought it would be fun to do something different," said Manasse Wiese, who walked us through the process, step by step.
Instead of going directly to a landscape designer, the couple took on the role of research and development themselves.
"There's a lot of upfront costs in developing an idea for a project," she said. "When you go back and forth with a designer, time is money."
To identify the style and feel they wanted, the former fashion designer scoured magazines and online sites — such as Houzz and Pinterest — and attended Modernism Week in Palm Springs for inspiration. She took photos, gathered clippings and compiled a file.
Show and tell
Then they "jelled" on it, allowed ideas to simmer, and considered their options.
They decided on a bold, geometric landscape designed with contrasting circles of stones and synthetic turf that complemented the home's sleek lines and the creative couple's whimsical sense of style. In front, circles of synthetic lawn are framed by a sea of small Del Rio stones. On the other side of the driveway, the pattern is reversed.
They decided a unique design of large, pebble-filled circles on an expansive synthetic lawn meshed best with the home's sleek geometry and their own whimsical sense of style.
Their daughter, Alexa, used Google Sketchup's free online modeling software to draw up initial plans.
The visual examples made it easier to communicate their vision to suppliers and, ultimately, installers, Manasse Wiese said.
"The person on the other end of the conversation is not going to know what you're thinking," she said, "and it could end up being more about the type of work they do than about what you want — unless you have something that shows, 'This is our style and this is what we want.'"
Do your homework
Next came researching materials.
"We started Googling artificial grass and were blown away by how many types there are. There are green roots with green grass, and brown roots with green grass that looks more authentic. We visited [retailers], got samples … we touched a lot of grass.
"It didn't take us long to realize that this is not like laying down a rug."
To find stones for the circle details, the couple got an education in the world of rock. They went on research trips, learned the difference between Arizona Gold stones and Mexican Pebbles, amassed yet another collection of samples and measured how much they would need. Answer: about 16 tons, or enough to fill a semi.
Finally, it was time to bring in the pros.
Pick your partner
"We knew exactly what we wanted, so we didn't need the design, per se," she said, "we needed somebody who could tell us how to do it best."
They met with a landscape sales associate and discussed their plan.
"He threw out a lot of ideas that refined what we had been thinking about."
"You assume a [salesperson] is going to show you the best option for your project, but that is just their opinion — or maybe what they sell the most of," she said.
"The fact that we had already talked to three or four people about the grass and stones, and narrowed down what we liked made us feel smart about the decision we made, versus just taking his word for it."
The associate also explained the finer points of installing artificial turf.
"We would have been out there for 40 years trying to lay it ourselves, and who knows what it would have looked like."
Instead, 13 workers arrived to execute the project, and they finished in just two days.
Be a savvy spender
"It was an investment," she said of the project's $32,000 price tag, "but we knew this was what we wanted to do, and that little bit of homework and running the numbers [during the preliminary research] helped us understand that it was a good number."
The bottom line: "We absolutely love it."
"It's really fun," she said, "and every time we pull up into the driveway it really sets the tone for the house and who we are, so it works."
Bonnie McCarthy contributes to the Los Angeles Times as a home and lifestyle design writer. She enjoys scouting for directional trends and reporting on what's new and next. Follow her on Twitter @ThsAmericanHome.