Before and after: Los Feliz garden’s new plantings, pool


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Joan Grabel’s recent overhaul of the landscape for a home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles is the latest installment of Pro Portfolio. The feature, posted every Monday, looks at a recently built, remodeled or redecorated home with commentary from the designer.

Project: Front, side and back yards.

Designer: Joan Grabel ofPark Slope Design. Landscape contractor: Automatic Sprinkler Controls. General contractor: JG&J Construction (hardscape), (818) 425-3433. Pool contractor: Appealing Pools, (818) 704-7525.

Designer’s description: The 1924 Spanish Colonial Revival home of writer/producer Richard and Susan Gurman was designed by renowned theater architect S. Charles Lee, known for his blend of Spanish Baroque, Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Streamline Moderne styles.


Inspired by the Gurmans’ appreciation for art and architecture, I created a design that echoed and complemented the architectural integrity of this home and provided the outdoor living elements that the Gurmans’ desired: swimming pool, dining and sitting areas, barbecue, water feature and sustainable garden. The ‘before’ photo is above right, and the ‘after’ photo is at the top. For more details and pictures of the project, keep reading ...

The arched door, tall arched windows and the rhythmic, repetitive, decorative arches under the roof’s overhang are mirrored in the undulating yet unified masses of drought-tolerant plantings. The sparse front lawn and stiff potted plants were replaced with westringia brushing against the smooth stucco façade and large, curving drifts of Mexican sage, Spanish lavender, lamb’s ear, lantana, rosemary, festuca and Senecio serpens. It all cascades along the walkway to the sidewalk for a dynamic, colorful and textural entry. A fruitless olive tree, seen in the photo at the top of the post, was added for vertical interest.
By the front door landing I placed large, cylindrical concrete pots housing a type of euphorbia called Sticks on Fire. I added a steel pergola, painted to match the stucco. The pergola needed to have a quiet presence to avoid interfering with the architecture, but remain substantial enough to support bougainvillea.

The pot is from Tournesol Siteworks and is planted with the euphorbia Sticks on Fire. The orange-yellow color complements the purple of the Mexican sage.

The side yard before the remodel, above, was a typical narrow driveway passage.

The side yard was transformed into a restful stopping place with square and round precast concrete stepping stones surrounded by pebbles. The round steps suggest the nautical porthole element found in the Streamline Moderne style that emerged from Art Deco. The benches (custom pieces by Animavi), cylindrical pots with Agave attenuata and long rectangular pots for vegetables and herbs create a flow to the backyard. The pathway becomes a destination in itself.

The back of the house before the remodel.

The backyard has two large rectangles of concrete, plus a bit of lawn. One island has a dining table; the second island, adjacent to the 11-by-25-foot pool tiled in glass mosaic, has four chaise longes.

A barbecue with a cantilevered counter has chairs for guests to sit while talking with the cook. The aim was to create a place for intimate parties as well as large gatherings. I like to think of the new landscape design as 21st century Modernist Functionalism.


The linear composition of the landscape surrounding the pool is quietly rhythmic.

A 10-foot-long custom slate water wall serves as a focal point and adds a calming rain-like sound. Slate, pebbles and glass tile provide contrasts in texture.


After: The yard was not large enough to hide the pool equipment easily. Another function of the water wall is to hide the equipment.

The backyard during construction.

And today: A backyard ready for entertaining.

-- Compiled by Lisa Boone

Pro Portfolio appears on this blog every Monday. Submit projects to


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Barren yard turned into screening room

Sustainable garden makeover

Lawn swap in Sherman Oaks

Photo credits: Joan Grabel and Richard Gurman