CALIFORNIANS have long looked to the outdoors as living space, but Joan Grabel of Park Slope Design in Studio City says the trend now encompasses not just the backyard but the front as well. More people are creating street-facing conversation areas, she says, allowing them to become more integrated with their neighborhoods. See children play, chat with dog-walkers passing by, watch birds flit from tree to tree — anybody can enjoy these little moments, she says. The key is making sure that the proportions of the design are right and the garden's appearance relates to the rest of the house.
An overall plan: An outdoor area is like "a foyer before the foyer," says Grabel, whose specialty is courtyards. "It's a nice transitional space and makes a nice sitting area." For a Sherman Oaks home (at right), Grabel removed the existing porch to give it the ambience of a courtyard. She paved the area with charcoal slate and painted the front door a vibrant turquoise. Chinese red glazed pots add a dramatic punch of color against the white backdrop.
Identify style: Grabel suggests that homeowners begin by looking at the architecture of their house. "There should be an integration between the outside and the inside," Grabel says. "That will dictate how you pick your chairs, your plants." A minimalist garden, for example, would not go with a traditional house or a Spanish hacienda.
Start with basics: The house numbers, the porch light and the mailbox should match the style of the house, Grabel says. The glass on the light should be diffused, and accent lights should shine on any spot that requires a step up.
Build the bones: You can influence the area greatly with the front door and hardscape material. Pots, such as the raspberry ones pictured here, can "give your house a whole new style and look," Grabel says. She painted the brick wall white to give the area a Caribbean feel. An overhead structure, such as the pergola here, can frame the area and should be dictated by the architecture of the house.
Pick plants: Grabel chose huge elephant ears, pandorea jasmine vines, royal purple bougainvillea, ivy geraniums, variegated vinca and dracaena in pots. "It's very lush," she says. False heather is planted en masse in front of the white brick walls. The wall delineates the area, she says, creating intimacy. Boxwood hedge can create the same effect for less money, though it's the wall, Grabel says, that creates the outdoor room.
Consider stone: "Stone is an incredible design tool," Grabel says, noting that bluestone and flagstone can be used free-form or cut in geometric patterns. Strata green slate can give the porch a more contemporary look. The shape of the stone will depend on the feel you want to give your house. Grabel uses squares and rectangles for a more contemporary feel.
Coordinate carefully: She recommends bringing a painted wood chip to the stone yard — Bourget Bros. in Santa Monica is a favorite — allowing stone samples to be placed against actual house paint. "You won't remember the colors at the stone yard," she warns. "Your paint sample will tell you which one works the best, and then you can bring the stone samples home with you." Another tip: Use potting soil that won't stain your stone or slate.
Furnish fully: The turquoise wood bench and chairs pictured here add color and enhance the tropical ambience. Both can be powder-coated — the designer is leaning toward orange for their next incarnation — allowing for easy changes.
Add accents: Pillows can be edited in or out. Garden statues can add an eclectic look. Grabel likes the Balinese wood sculptures, tribal pillows and wall hangings found at Jackalope Pottery in North Hollywood. Crafting an example for a Spanish house, she envisions "an interesting mask on the wall with a bamboo-filled exotic pot underneath."
Final tips: Wall fountains are a nice touch too, Grabel adds, especially the calming, Asian-influenced fountains at the Garden Temple on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. Another favorite: an interesting vase with bamboo sticks. Garden décor doesn't have to be live material, Grabel says. Integrating elements such as a bamboo carpet helps the area to feel like an extension of your house.
Lisa Boone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.