The living is easy

Barbara Thornburg is senior style editor at the magazine. Contact her at

Independent film producer Gail Katz longed for a place to sit outdoors by a fire--a comfortable retreat with a kitchen setup for easy meals and a small bar for blending smoothies for the kids and margaritas for her friends. But her backyard was the land that time forgot.

“There was a large pool that took up almost the entire yard,” says Katz. “We never used it; the kids didn’t hang out there. . . . Once in a while we chipped at a golf ball--and that was about it.”

The transformation began when she called in a longtime friend, Santa Monica architect David Hertz. Out went the hulking pool and the unattractive concrete slab that surrounded it, to be replaced by a sleek, 45-foot-long lap pool at the far side of the property and a border of giant timber bamboo and festuca grass. That left ample room for an area that would pull together the outdoor activities Katz and her attorney husband, Bruce Wessel, enjoy. Hertz proposed an open-air pavilion.

Anchoring his design is a vertical masonry fireplace, which creates a wall dividing the pool from the driveway and garage. An attached L-shaped seating area offers a cozy nook for warming up by the fire, while a sofa facing the pool allows friends to watch the action in the water. A slatted wood insert between the back-to-back sofas can be removed to create one large bed for sunbathing.


On the other side of the seating area, a kitchen with a small bar allows Wessel--the griller in the family--to be part of the party instead of being stuck in a corner of the yard with the barbecue. Hertz unified the space with an aluminum trellis, placed overhead, which suggests a room without actually enclosing it. “Keeping all the functions together,” Hertz says, “creates a more cohesive, functional unit.”

Today, the couple and their kids, Nora, 19, and Jacob, 16, use the backyard year-round. “My son, in particular, loves to barbecue and have parties back here. That was really one of the goals . . . to have a place for the kids to be with their friends. We know where they are,” Katz says, “and sometimes if we get lucky, we’re invited to join in.”




Dimensions: 12 feet by 12 feet.

Materials: Integral-colored, steel-troweled stucco with 2-inch-by-2-inch clear anodized aluminum; Perennials “Very Terry” outdoor fabric at David Sutherland Showroom, Los Angeles.

Cost: About $150,000.

Architect: David Hertz, Santa Monica, (310) 829-9932.


Interior Design: Hermosillo & Ross, Los Angeles, (323) 549-0102.