By ditching the lawn and turning their yard into a series of outdoor rooms, a couple finds themselves living alfresco.
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As Liz and Peter Keenan can attest, downsizing can have its upside. Four years ago, with their teenage daughter, the couple moved from their large home—which had a pool and sprawling lawn—to a smaller house in their Pacific Palisades, California, neighborhood. With the move came a chance to create a yard that fit their new way of life. “It became more about lounging outside with our friends,” says Liz. “We didn’t need lawn for the kids—and didn’t want the boring look of it. Or the maintenance.”
They hired architect Dane Twichell and landscape architect Rob Steiner to overhaul their new place, a corner lot with expanses of lawn and concrete. “With a smaller house, we needed outdoor spaces that would become extensions of it,” says Liz. To that end, Twichell dismantled some interior walls of the 1950s house and installed French doors off two rooms. Then Steiner designed a tree-shaded lounge off the living room and a dining patio off the kitchen. Throughout the yard, he planted low-water natives—“It’s the right thing to do here,” says Peter—and strategically placed trees for privacy from the street.
“It’s better than what we had,” says Liz. “We’re outside all the time now. And when the succulents bloom, it’s magic.”
French doors open onto a semiprivate patio for dining. The designer defined the area using HardiePanels, a rot-resistant fiber-cement board attached to steel panels. The partition, painted sunny yellow (Hibiscus by Benjamin Moore), gives the space intimacy, while its window provides views of the ferns, meadow grasses, red-flowered kangaroo paws, and succulents along the path in the foreground.
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Garden walk before
A patio of cracked aggregate ended in an upward-sloping lawn, a tired fence, and a carob tree.
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Garden walk after
A gravel path edged with succulents leads from the kitchen door and up steps to a meadow of red fescue (additional soil was used to shape the new terrace).
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This patch of grass behind the garage was wasted space—the lawn required too much water and was walked on only for mowing.
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Sports court after
A ping-pong court paved with Del Rio gravel replaces the thirsty lawn; it is now a big draw for daughter Grace and her friends.
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An outdoor seating area opens off the living room along the side of the house. Although it’s close to the sidewalk, the space feels private, thanks to a low hedge of ‘Smokey’ coast rosemary (Westringia), dwarf tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum ‘Reevesii’), and a tall Metrosideros hedge.
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A low wall of painted HardiePanel provides a cool backdrop for shrublike white-flowering tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum), while low-water blue fescue, blue oat grass, and blue and pink muhly grass replace the lawn. Groundcovering gazanias add silver leaves and creamy blooms.