Hidden Valley

The Design Challenge

Our clients, a husband and wife, each had their own thoughts on what was needed in their yard. The husband, Frank, saw a lack of space for cars… so he put in a garage and a parking area at their Montecito foothills compound (main house, guest house, office - staggered down a sloping 2-acre lot). Wife Debbi called Grace Design Associates when her husband had finished his “landscape improvements”.  “I have a garden emergency,” she said. “My husband just put a parking lot in my front yard.” Naturally, our response was, “My God, that IS an emergency. We’ll be right over.” 

The Design Solution

There were existing stucco walls bordering two sides of the property and surrounding Frank's smoking patio. To parcel off the parking lot, create garden rooms and establish a clear path to the entry, we built a new stucco wall to separate what we now call the garden motor court from the entry garden. We added a fabulous set of antique doors that call out the way to the front door. Next, we took out the gate in Frank's patio wall nearest the motor court and replaced it with an antique iron screen. (We didn't want people winding up there while searching for the front door!) We draped the motor court walls with vines and arranged huge pots with fantastical, sculptural plantings and pebble mulch along the new wall. We planted huge olive trees inside and outside of this wall soften the bright motor court without taking away an inch of parking.

Passing through the gates, a gently meandering flagstone walk passes near a strongly sculptural fountain embellished with pebbles, coral, shells and water plants. On the right is a large, curving fieldstone bench backed by huge (pre-existing) elephantine yuccas and topped with cushions in a range of joyful colors and patterns. Overhead is a large acacia which now supports a massive stag horn fern, hanging plants and a chandelier. Upholstered wrought iron side chairs, green soapstone end tables, a slab of slate for a coffee table on ivy-covered base, large glazed pots and a faux bois dining table complete the couple's favorite new sitting area.

Off to one side is an antique chair and ottoman on a small patio with a faux bois console table against the back side of the motor court wall, huge glazed pots (one with a 36" box olive in it!) and a "living umbrella" (an old umbrella frame with poultry wire where the cloth once was, smothered in evergreen Boston ivy, shading the persimmon-colored lounge set).

Straight ahead is the front door, beneath a vine-draped pergola which is furnished with a beautiful old chinoiserie cupboard, pots, sculpted-looking Japanese maple and great statuary. Debbi had the timbers and ceiling of the pergola faux finished, echoing the colors and scenes on the chinoiserie cupboard.

The portal ("porch" to us non-Texans) on the back side of the house was tricked out with beautiful furnishings and fabrics and pots. Ditto for the three patios around the guest house and the office and the patio under the portal. A large area of lawn was removed where a few odd fruit trees had haphazardly landed. More fruit trees, heavy organic mulch and a perimeter of star jasmine were added to create a large orchard and sculpture garden complete with one of the iconic Chicago cow sculptures and a moss-and-plant chair and table. Once the moss table and chair were in, the space begged for a bed to complete the picture... So naturally we added a moss-and-plant bed with living bed skirt, patterned coverlet and pillows (all made from moss, potting soil and 'bedding' plants, of course!). Debbi is searching for a whimsical, brightly colored bench for this area and more sculpture will be added with future finds.

The buildings were brought together with similar paint colors and finishes.

A long, narrow, uninviting sloped lawn was broken up with two flights of sandstone steps across its whole width and is now an extremely elegant space - suitable for a wedding or a pageant of some kind. And that parking lot? Now it's a showpiece and the couple's pride and joy!


Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Merit Award 2011

Santa Barbara Contractors Association, Builder of the Year: Best Landscape and Hardscape 2007