L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Green

L.A. Arboretum to open sustainable garden for festival

L.A. Arboretum to open sustainable garden for festival.
Considering all the attention that backyard chicken coops and edible landscapes have gotten, homeowners have few public places to see these ideas in practice. The newly redesigned Garden for All Seasons, under construction this week and scheduled to open for this weekend's Grow! festival at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia, was conceived for just that purpose.

Arboretum-Japanese-plumThe Garden for All Seasons is a demonstration site for sustainable living practices. Visitors walk through a landscape dotted with fruit-producing trees from around the world, past a pond fed with rainwater collected on-site and through to a netted enclosure housing raised vegetable beds, a worm farm, compost bins and a chicken coop. (That's a Brazilian grape tree, top; Japanese plum tree, upper right; and flowering pomegranate tree, lower right.) Arboretum-pomengranate

“We wanted homeowners to feel they could adapt it and make it their own,” said Amy Korn, who designed the space with her partner, Matt Randolph, of the landscape architecture firm kornrandolph in Pasadena. Even a pond fed with water from a cistern is meant to be inspiration, she said. “Maybe it’s not this grand thing, but the idea that collection and circulation is something they can do as well.”

An 8-foot-wide concrete walkway shuttles water to paver stones, sand, a gravel trench and a system of underground pipes that collect and recirculate the water using pumps that are meant to eventually run off solar power. The pond is planted with edibles that serve a secondary purpose: keeping the water clean.

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Sneak peek: New gardens at Natural History Museum's North Campus

Los Angeles is the “birdiest” county in the United States, said Karen Wise, vice president of education and exhibits for the Natural History Museum. One hundred sixty-eight types of birds have been documented in Exposition Park downtown alone, but the museum is hoping to attract even more with its new North Campus gardens. The 3.5 acres are designed to entice critters of all types, so the massive museum that, for 99 years, has documented the history of life on Earth transforms itself into a hands-on outdoor lab.

“We decided the best thing for our visitors was to build a landscape that could serve as a central field site and natural experience in the heart of the city that really allows us and all of L.A. to gather and document the real wildlife that’s living in L.A. today,” said Wise, whose museum houses more than 35 million natural and cultural objects indoors.

Living WallEverything in the new garden is designed to foster life. Winding through the space is the Living Wall, right, constructed from spears of stone that were installed vertically and planted with succulents to entice lizards. The 1913 Garden, so named for the year the museum opened, is a mosaic of colored flowers that is sure to delight hummingbirds.

Passion vines and Burmese honeysuckle grow in 12-foot-tall chain link cages that form the garden’s Urban Edge. The plants were selected because they are most effective at attracting butterflies. And a pond at the garden’s center will be populated with Western pond and red-eared slider turtles.

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At Coyote House, every day is an Earth Day

Coyote House night
Oh, how far we've come from Earth Days past — when the phrase “green home” conjured images of straw-bale structures, when solar panels seemed like such an earnest novelty, when “LEED certified” hadn't yet crept into public consciousness.

With Earth Day 2012 almost upon us, nearly 60,000 homes in the United States are in the process of being certified in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Education and Environmental Design program, according to Nate Kredich, the organization's vice president of residential market development. Need more convincing proof of just how far we've come? Take a peek at the new home of architect Ken Radtkey and landscape architect Susan Van Atta.

PHOTO GALLERY: 26-picture tour of Coyote House

INFOGRAPHIC: How the garden roofs, cisterns and other green elements work

The husband and wife's three-bedroom house nestled into a Montecito hillside is dubbed the Coyote House, partly after the name of the couple's street, partly after the howling critters in the area. Beyond its abundance of energy- and water-saving features, however, the house is notable for its utter normality: On the most basic level, it is simply a comfortable and beautiful family home.

Coyote House veranda“Designing sustainably was a given for us,” says Radtkey, founder of Blackbird Architects, a Santa Barbara firm with an emphasis on sustainable design. “But the most important goal was to make a great home.”

To that end, the house starts with a modern take on the veranda, right. A covered room overlooking the front garden has a sliding screen and front and back sets of glass pocket doors that can open to the outdoors or seal it off in various ways, depending on the season and weather.

A dozen highly flammable eucalyptus trees — by coincidence, cut down just months before the November 2008 Tea fire that swept through the region — were used to build the front door, kitchen table, bookcases, stairs and banister. Other materials used for interior appointments were sustainable too: Cabinets are bamboo, the floors are cork or salvaged stone, most of the walls unpainted plaster.

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Walker Zanger's new tiles made from reclaimed Indonesian teak

Teak tiles Walker Zanger
Walker Zanger has introduced a collection of teak tiles made from wood reclaimed from construction projects in Indonesia. The collection, called AnTeak, appealed to the company because it “is always looking for tiles with an interesting story,” said Jared Becker, vice president of design and marketing.

The teak grain is visible on the tiles, which come in several stains and shapes, including herringbone, hexagon and chevron. They are meant to fit into an array of design styles, including Asian, old European and Midcentury Modern. Walker Zanger, which already sells tiles made of bamboo, is working to make the teak tiles with a resin finish so they can be used in showers, Becker said.

“The wood is taken from buildings being taken down for new construction. They’re already cured, because they’ve been exposed to the elements for 75 or 100 years,” Becker said. That gives the wood “a wonderful patina.”

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Santiago Ortiz house open during AIA tour Sunday

Santiago Ortiz house
Architect Santiago Ortiz takes us through the sustainable Venice home he designed for his family in the latest installment of Pro Portfolio, our feature that looks at recently built, remodeled or redecorated spaces with commentary from the designers. The house will be featured Sunday on an American Institute of Architects home tour. Details of the tour are at the bottom of the post.

Designer and builder: Santiago Ortiz, Ortiz Mexia Projects. Structural engineer: C.W. Howe Partners, (310) 838-0383.

Designer's description: This house is built on an 11,000-square-foot lot east of Lincoln Avenue and south of Santa Monica Airport. From foundation to roof, all materials were chosen for their stability, durability and sustainability.

The house is built around a great room for cooking, dining and communing. The emphasis is on entertaining family and friends. The south-facing wall of sliding doors provides natural lighting, excellent views of the lush backyard and seamless indoor-outdoor living.

The focus of the upstairs is a large master suite with a balcony running the entire width of the house. There is also a west-facing roof deck with a vegetable garden, which serves as an outdoor play area off the children's quarters.

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A salvaged-wood revolution: Turning more fallen trees into furniture

Salvaged wood furnitureThree men in neon-colored hard hats push the blade through a black acacia tree trunk, slicing it into three 1/2-inch-thick slabs and exposing stunning lines and swirls.

"That acacia's beautiful," said John Dominguez, the director of a 2-month-old partnership between Anaheim-based West Coast Arborists and Woodhill Firewood in Irvine, adding that the old-growth grain is something that "you'll never see" on the market today.

It takes eight minutes to cut each 11-foot-long slab because the wood is so hard, said Tom Rogers, owner of Woodhill Firewood, which takes in 600 tons a day from tree trimming and removal jobs. The acacia should yield eight to 10 slabs, he said. Each might surpass 250 pounds, and with luck they'll be sold to artisans to make tables and other pieces.

The tree, which fell in Monrovia Canyon Park in December, and a nearby deodar cedar that fell in Arcadia, are examples of how the popularity of salvaged wood furniture has produced a secondary trend: rising efforts to ensure that urban trees, including those that fall during storms, don't end up in landfills.

It's not a new idea to turn such trees into lumber, and some communities such as Lompoc have embraced it. The state has even lent equipment to those who want to try milling. But until recently, trees that fell or were removed by homeowners and cities in Southern California were mostly treated as trash -- perhaps firewood or mulch, officials say.

PHOTO GALLERY: How salvaged trees become hand-crafted furniture

Dominguez, who has been charmed by wood since playing standup bass in youth symphonies, said he would like to make more connections with furniture makers and wood artisans and see more closed-loop recycling: A tree falls and gets turned into lumber that's used in flooring in, say, a city building. "Walk into City Hall, and you're walking on street trees," he said.

Ferris Kawar, a recycling specialist in Burbank, says about 1% of what goes to the landfill is wood -- an amount he calls "obscene." Branches from downed trees become mulch, he says, but the trunks often go to the landfill.

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SolarCity launches loan program for energy efficiency upgrades

An installer applies solar film insulation to windows at a Culver City houseOwners who want to make their homes more energy efficient but can't pay for improvements up front have a new option: The Home Energy Loan program from SolarCity introduced Monday allows homeowners to finance energy efficiency upgrades through 10-, three- or one-year loans, the last of which comes with no interest.

An average U.S. homeowner spends about $1,900 annually on utilities, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. SolarCity estimates that 40% of the money homeowners spend to heat and cool their homes is wasted through duct and air leakage.

The San Mateo-based company can audit home energy consumption, recommend ways to reduce usage and identify rebates. The evaluation uses 3-D software with detailed information about window types, insulation, water heaters, even light bulbs. Energy use is modeled for a calendar year, the recommendations can be as specific as changing a 100-watt incandescent bulb.

"If you replace it with a CFL," said Levi Blankenship, SolarCity's energy efficiency manager, "the software not only knows the light bulb will consume less energy but it will also know how many more BTUs the furnace needs to produce to account for the fact that the new light bulb puts off less heat."

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House of hemp? Pushing cannabis as a construction material

Hempcrete house Push DesignWoody Harrelson championed the environmental benefits of hemp. Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein incorporated it into their collections. Now a company promoting hemp as the eco-building material of the moment said it wants to build California's first hemp house.

Knapp's Castle siteHemp Technologies said it wants to use hemp-based materials to construct a 500-square-foot structure at the ruins of Knapp's Castle near Santa Barbara. The castle, completed in 1920, was built for Union Carbide founder George Owen Knapp but destroyed by wildfire in 1940. Since then, all that has remained on the property are the sandstone blocks outlining the once-grand estate.

The principal material for the project is Hempcrete, made of the woody internal stem of the Cannabis sativa plant, which is processed into chips and mixed with a lime-based binder. That concoction is then sprayed on, poured into slabs or formed into blocks like concrete to create the shell of a building. Interior surfaces are plastered, and exterior surfaces are stuccoed.

“The walls are to be framed and earthquake-braced internally with lumber,” said Greg Flavall, Hemp Technologies' co-founder, who added that “hemp is very close in cellulosic value to wood.” The material helps to keep structures warm in winter and cool in summer, he said.

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TreePeople to host workshops on capturing rainwater

Rain barrelDuring the wet season, the city of L.A. sends an average of 100 million gallons of storm water into the Pacific each day. That water had been handled as pollution for years, because rainwater picks up effluents that then flush into the ocean untreated.

But rainwater is also a resource that can be harvested and reused. The environmental nonprofit TreePeople is hosting workshops to teach homeowners exactly how. A March 24 event at TreePeople's Center for Community Forestry in Beverly Hills will focus on so-called waterworks, or the plumbing of rainwater catchment, including rain barrels, rain chains and downspout disconnects. Participants can buy 55-gallon barrels at a discounted rate of $100, $25 of which is tax deductible. Admission to the four-hour workshop is free, but registration is required.

The March 25 workshop at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles will center on earthworks -- how to contour the earth to capture rain and use permeable pavement. The three-hour workshop is free, though participants will need to pay museum admission, which is $5 to $12. Registration is required.

Separating rainwater catchment into water- and earth-works sessions "helps people's heads not explode," said Lisa Cahill, TreePeople's senior manager for sustainable solutions. "It's a lot for people to take in."

During the workshops, participants will learn how to calculate the amount of rain that falls on their home during a storm and how to translate those inches of rain into gallons that can be collected. They then learn about the advantages and disadvantages of various catchment systems. Each workshop also includes information on rain gardens, native plants and pest management, Cahill said.

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Out of the Box Collective gourmet food delivery

Armistead5Wednesday is food shopping day for Shelley and Matthew Armistead, but they don’t have to leave the house. Groceries come to them from farmers and small producers whose products are gathered and delivered by Out of the Box Collective.

On one recent day, the Armisteads’ family plan included salmon and pork, almonds, eggs that were pale blue and brown, three kinds of berries and olive oil. (That's Matthew, chef at Soho House in West Hollywood, unpacking a box as Shelley looks on.)

“We work so many hours, I don’t want to spend my time in Whole Foods when I can be with the kids,” says Shelley, Soho House's general manager. 

Armistead2Jennifer Piette, who lives in Malibu, founded Out of the Box about a year ago. Subscribers get weekly deliveries of produce from the Santa Barbara farmers market, plus other foods from the region, a meal plan and recipes.

A box meant for a couple ($160) would include food for five meals, plus fruit and extras such as eggs and fair-trade chocolate or spices. A family box ($195) is meant for four people. Other combinations cater to vegetarians, people with allergies and those who don’t cook much. (At left, some greens on a cutting board.)

“When you have kids opening this box, they’re getting this food literacy,” Piette says. “They’re seeing a cherimoya. They’re seeing that a peach comes in summer and citrus in winter.”

Delivery areas are listed by ZIP Code.


Cool and casual at the Armisteads' house

Mission: Kitchen, profiles of chefs at home

Daily Dish: The Los Angeles Times food blog

-- Mary MacVean

Photos by Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times.


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