Small and crafty makeover

A creative couple turns a nondescript front yard into a tiny oasis to match their house
Sharon Cohoon

Bungalows come in all sizes. That's what Michelle and Jeremy Walker told themselves when they first laid eyes on their future home in Ventura, California.

With less than 700 square feet to it and few distinguishing characteristics other than evidence of age, the tiny frame house wouldn't have looked promising to many buyers.

But the Walkers design for a living ― Jeremy is a contractor, Michelle a landscape designer ― and their business, Blooming Gardens, is all about transforming outdoor spaces.

So the couple knew they could do something interesting with the modest property.

"We lived near Pasadena before we moved here and loved its Craftsman-style homes and gardens," Jeremy says. Even before the couple signed escrow papers, "we knew we were going to turn this place into a mini-me bungalow."

The Walkers began by replacing the home's original siding with redwood siding on the upper half and shingles on the lower, a detail that immediately made it feel more Craftsman-like.

They also removed the old gable, which covered only the doorway, and added a more imposing one that spans the full width of the house.

Beneath the overhang, they added two widely spaced stone pillars topped with vertical wood posts and an overhead beam to create the look associated with classic bungalows.

They also poured a new concrete porch that's spacious enough for a pair of chairs and small table.

Next: 5 lessons from this makeover

 

A GARDEN TO MATCH

To make their new front-yard seating area feel less exposed to the street, the Walkers added a low wall around the property's perimeter.

In the 18-foot-deep area between the wall and the porch, Michelle created a tranquil garden influenced by Japanese style.

The river rocks flowing through the space represent water, symbolically separating the house from the street; the mondo grass represents land mass.

"We've got a good feng shui going," she says. A few carefully sited shrubs and trees ― including a large pink- and white-leafed Acer negundo 'Flamingo' ― provide privacy. A sturdy arbor softened with wisteria bridges the wall's entry.

"The street's right there, but you still feel all alone when you're in the space," Jeremy says. "It's our calming spot."

LESSONS FROM THE MAKEOVER

A thoughtful small-space design made this garden a winner in Sunset's 2006-'07 Dream Garden Awards program. Ideas to take away:

1. Bulk up the structures

Re-creating the same level of detail as a true Craftsman-era home and garden can be cost-prohibitive in today's market, says Jeremy Walker. But you can get much of the same effect just by employing blocky chunks of wood, as Jeremy used in the entry arbor.

2. Create the illusion of age

Instead of buying arroyo boulders to build the porch pillars so often seen on vintage Craftsman homes, the Walkers constructed their pillars of cement blocks, then faced them with cultured ledgestone and overgrouted them with colored mortar to impart a similar patina. "The technique provides the effect of vintage stacked stone without its cost or in-stability," Jeremy says.

3. Use earthy hues

After spending a lot of time agonizing over house paint, the Walkers ending up using Middlebury Brown (HC 68) and Kingsport Gray (HC 86), from the historical color series of San Luis Paints (805/489-5606). "If we'd known to start there, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time," Jeremy says.

4. Rely on texture

Foliage should provide most of the interest in any garden, says Michelle. Because her garden is so tiny, she chose fine-leafed plants such as Japanese maple, sweet flag, and weeping bamboo, with just a hint of broader leaves for contrast.

5. Plant pots

To visually enlarge the garden, Michelle greened up the fringes of the driveway with large planted containers, and used smaller pots on the porch. See photos of beautiful container gardens.

Design: Michelle and Jeremy Walker, Blooming Gardens, Ventura, CA (805/643-3139).

Resources: Fountain Lotus fountain ($579) from Fountain Depot (805/208-4876). Fu dog and pot Similar pots available from Asian Ceramics (626/449-6800). Fu dog sculpture ($39) from Fountain Depot Fountain Depot (805/208-4876).