Small yet abundant garden

Clean lines and artful illusion transform a compact space

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Small yet abundant garden

A "floating" bench and a fire bowl, which landscape architect Russ Cletta created from a colored concrete planter, make up the new living space. Blue bamboo helps screen dining area and guest-house. Mondo grass grows between pavers.

Steven Gunther

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  • Small yet abundant garden

    Photo montage shows a jumble of overgrown plants and brick paving in the backyard.

Four years ago, this garden in Venice, California, was a funky 1970s backyard with brick paving, flimsy lattice-style wood fencing, and a redwood deck littered with knickknacks. Then Daniela Rechtszaid, a designer, transformed the house that she shares with partner Juan José Quintana from a one-bedroom cottage to a two-story contemporary home. During the remodeling process, the yard was destroyed.

"I felt confident handling the interior spaces, but I was less sure with the exterior," Rechtszaid says.

So she hired landscape architect Russ Cletta and gave him a list of must-haves: places to eat, to relax, to string a hammock, and to grow a treasured root beer plant ( Piper auritum), whose scented leaves Quintana uses to wrap cheese or flavor cooked fish.

Cletta ― well known for creating functional and attractive outdoor spaces on the modest lots that proliferate in Venice ― had just returned from Costa Rica when he took on the project. Impressions from his trip, along with the couple's heritages (Rechtszaid is from Buenos Aires, Quintana from Mexico City), determined the garden's tropical theme.

In the front yard, a hammock sways near lounge chairs. The backyard is for dining and entertaining. The living area features an L-shaped wooden bench designed by Cletta that appears to float atop concrete. At night, when a fire glows nearby, this is a cozy spot. King palms edge the dining area.

"When there's a breeze, they sound like running water," Cletta says.

For Quintana, a busy advertising executive who unwinds in his kitchen, the garden's other draws are its fruit trees.

At a party last fall, the couple gathered 30 friends for dinner in their backyard. On the menu: an elaborate dish of stuffed chiles with walnut sauce that Quintana prepared using many ingredients plucked straight from the garden.

Design: Griffith and Cletta, Venice, CA (310/399-4727)



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