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Pro Portfolio: After backyard makeover, the party moves outdoors

September 19, 2011 |  9:00 am

Landscape designer Josh Segal transformed the exterior landscape of his 1932 home. It's the latest installment of Pro Portfolio, our feature posted every Monday in which we look at a recently built, remodeled or redecorated home with commentary from the designer.

0-Josh-Segal-backyard-befor Project: New drought-tolerant front courtyard and backyard for a neglected 1932 Tudor Revival home.

Location: Pasadena.

Designer/builder: Josh Segal Landscape Design.

Designer's statement: It usually pains me to take out a mature tree, but in this particular case, the removal of a large acacia marked the turning point in the life of my backyard, pictured at right during and after the transformation. 0-Josh-Segal-patio-lights The tree had overwhelmed the 1,000-square-foot space, and along with about 950 square feet of paving, had essentially rendered the yard useless. Without the tree, the yard could breathe (as ironic as that sounds), and my 1932 Tudor Revival house, which my wife and I had nursed back to health, was ready for a complement. 

The goal for the space was "English cottage garden meets drought-tolerant Mediterranean courtyard” -- in other words warm, quaint and low maintenance.  My wife and I love to entertain, so we wanted to create something that could accommodate 40 to 50 people but still feel intimate if we were just having a dinner for two. The new yard also needed to feel like it had always been there -- nothing too clean or flashy.

To help the yard appear roomier, I split it into two levels, with wide steps and a seat wall accentuating the 2-foot grade change between an upper dining area and lower patio. The seat wall, built from a combination of new river rock and old rocks salvaged during the demolition, mimics the style of an original retaining wall at the back of the yard and provides seating (without looking empty when not in use). To maintain some authenticity, to minimize the need for new material and to reduce the costs of hauling, I reused much of the concrete that had covered the yard, breaking it into irregular pieces to form the dining area. Rustic brick paving adds warmth and character to the lower patio. To visually unite the yard, the same brick is used to create a fire pit as well as the built-in barbecue’s countertop. String lights create a sense of enclosure, turning the yard into a magical outdoor room in the evening.

To see more of the backyard as well as read details about the front courtyard makeover, please keep reading ...

Before the makeover, almost all of the backyard was paved. The steps from the back door were clunky, and the back of the house was cluttered with utility boxes and pipes.


A party in the yard, shown after we completed the work. The upper dining area to the left and the lower brick patio to the right are separated by steps, a seat wall and plants, but the spaces can serve as one when the yard is crowded.


Before the makeover, a large acacia tree by the retaining walls dwarfed the yard, and other shrubs were nondescript. The rock wall, however, was kept.


Though not large, pockets of greenery add warmth to what had been a cold, uncomfortable space. A type of westringia called Wynyabbie Gem is in the foreground. Because a layer of bedrock sits just a few inches below much of the yard, the planting areas had to be carefully located to ensure drainage. Elsewhere the plant palette includes succulents (such as the echeveria Afterglow), drought-tolerant shrubs and grasses (such as a type of Teucrium fruticans called Azureum, Leucophyllum langmaniae and Festuca glauca) and culinary herbs. A row of Italian cypress was planted along the back of the yard. A small vegetable garden produces an abundance of tomatoes in the summer and lettuce in the winter, and a smattering of potted plants add a little personality.


The built-in barbecue, stuccoed to match the house, also serves as a retaining wall. All materials used in the yard are repeated in multiple places to create a sense of continuity.


The new rock seat wall owes its style to the original wall at the back of the yard.


The dining table is from Crate and Barrel. In the foreground: a fruitless olive tree (a type of Olea europaea called Monher) that will grow to provide shade. In the background: a studio above the garage.


A wine barrel and slats recycled from an old fence were used to make a simple table for the lower lounge area.


Italian cypress provide a Mediterranean touch. The  Garden St. sign in the background was purchased from the city of Pasadena a few years ago, when the city's street signs were replaced.


The new configuration of the backyard allows furniture to be re-arranged or added for events. The overhead string lights from Partylights are hung between the house and a retaining wall, providing just enough light and a sense of enclosure.


A somewhat smaller project was the front courtyard, which had really been a no-man's land -- an unwelcoming transition space between the street and the front door. I wanted this space to become a usable area, taking advantage of the L-shaped house to frame it. A mature Southern magnolia graced the front of the house, but a hodgepodge of shrubs and a broken brick wall offered no curb appeal.

Re-using old concrete slabs, a new path leads toward the street instead of the driveway. In the background, old seats from Dodger Stadium add a personal touch.


Looking toward the street: The new garden wall creates a well-defined, usable space under the shade of the magnolia. Gravel and succulents give the courtyard a simple, clean feel, and a bistro table and chairs from Potted add color. It's a great spot to read the newspaper, have an evening beer or just people watch.



Tessier after2 Small modern bathroom remodel

Cory Buckner's Brentwood modern 

Turf swapped for drought-tolerant plants

From barren yard to outdoor screening room 

-- Compiled by Lisa Boone

 Photo credits: Josh Segal   

Pro Portfolio appears on this blog every Monday. Submit projects to home@latimes.com.