Squeezed between two big apartment buildings, this backyard was just a slab of concrete when owner John Frane, an architect, moved in. His challenge: creating discrete spots for relaxing, dining, and more without visually chopping up the yard. “I could have used hedges to divide the space,” he says, “but they take up too much room.”
Instead, he built a lounging platform of board-formed concrete along one side of the yard—raising it a few steps above the dining area and bocce court so its side-by-side firepit, soaking tub, and fountain feel like “upstairs” destinations. The result is a garden that’s as compartmentalized as the traditional Japanese lunch box, but unified by design details such as redwood steps and clusters of succulents.
When Frane talks about his garden now, it sounds as if he’s describing a much larger yard: “I love being in the water, enjoying the fire, or lounging on cushions with friends—everyone together on a summer evening.”
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Decomposed granite and pebbly Lodi gravel keep the space from looking cluttered.
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Agaves, aloes, and other succulents connect the various “rooms.”
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As they grow, olive trees will spread their canopies, providing extra privacy.
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Shade sails are an inexpensive alternative to fixed trellises.