Whenever Ruth Wasser travels, she likes to make a beeline for the hotel garden to have coffee, read the paper and soak up the gracious outdoor setting, weather permitting. One day she asked herself: Why can’t we have that at home?
So she and husband Dennis, a divorce lawyer with a celebrity clientele, hired landscape architect Pamela Palmer of Artecho to remake the couple’s outdoor quarters at their home in Westwood. In designing a tranquil backyard getaway, Palmer applied Japanese garden concepts to stimulate the senses and draw attention to the ephemeral beauty of nature.
“The Japanese have stroll gardens and meditation gardens,” Palmer says. “This contemporary garden is the best of both.”
The remodel came about because, after living in Westwood for 30 years, the Wassers were reluctant to relocate. “Why move and remodel when I can stay and remodel?” Dennis Wasser reasoned. They wanted a place where they could not only relax alfresco but also entertain their friends and blended family of four children and six grandkids.
“I wanted it to be clean, simple lines and Zen,” says Ruth Wasser, whose interior designer, Laurie Raskin, collaborated on the project.
To create a diagonal path that would gradually reveal the garden in the best Japanese tradition, Palmer and her colleagues Catherine Burce and Sonia Brenner first reconfigured the L-shaped pool by dividing it into a rectangular one with a cover and a separate spa. This allowed the couple to dispense with unsightly pool fencing and spread out on a generous new deck furnished with a sofa in the corner.
They can read and chat there — or just watch the Chinese elm they were married under throw dappled light against the wall. At night, the space is bathed in the glow of lanterns hung from branches.
The deck, now heat- and slip-resistant white porcelain tile instead of red brick, steps down from the back door and stretches toward an arbutus tree whose flowers and fruit attract hummingbirds and swallowtails. Narrow channels planted with mondo grass let water permeate the ground, reaching the elm roots under the house.
Palmer continued the walk through the yard so that goldfish and water lilies are visible in a raised pond on the way to the dining patio’s tinted-glass table, which expands to seat 14. Side hedges of podocarpus and stylish Italian shades help block the sun during the day. The deck’s long steps span the yard and double as impromptu seating illuminated, like the lanterns and translucent Lucite fence, by LED lights on timers.
The landscape architect paved the dining area with an earthy granite cobble that extends to the ultimate destination, a pavilion where the roof’s geometric substructure calls to mind origami. Sheltered rain or shine, a sectional sofa wraps around a fire table, making for comfortable gatherings in cool weather. The pavilion’s two walls not only provide a sense of enclosure but also conceal storage, support a TV and feature an opening that frames the landscape beyond.
This outdoor living room serves as an ideal vantage point for viewing a fountain that evokes a waterfall at the far end of the pool. While the cascade masks nearby traffic, hundreds of fiber-optic filaments hand-woven into place by Palmer and electrician John Gannon shimmer in daylight and emit ethereal blue and white light after dark.
With so much for the Wassers to see and do — whether they’re alone or hosting a crowd — the garden has become indispensable. Says Palmer: “I designed it with the idea that they can be outside any time of the day or night, any time of the year.”
Ruth Wasser attests to its success: “Now I live out here.”
The front got a makeover too
Landscape architect Pamela Palmer designed the Wasser front yard as a sensory prelude to the backyard.
The entry path leads away from the outside world, up steps and around a corner hidden by layers of evergreen bamboo. Visitors grab stainless-steel handrails, a tactile sign of the unfolding modern retreat.
Then come the peaceful sounds of water spilling from a granite fountain and wind rustling through the leaves.
As hummingbirds dart among arbutus trees, the gardenias and carissa flowering beneath a jacaranda scent the air near the door.