grill and chill
A California Coast Retreat
WRITTEN BY RONDA SWANEY PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRINA CURCI
1 By all accounts, this Corona Del Mar, California home at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood with a nice ocean view, had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the home’s outdoor and garden spaces were uninspired. The home’s new owners, a couple with young children, turned to landscape designer Molly Wood to help them realize their vision.
1 “They wanted their outdoor garden to feel comforting, nurturing, and private,” says Wood, owner of Costa Mesa–based Molly Wood Garden Design. “It needed to feel special, like a cozy spot made just for their family.”
Wood’s soothing color palette laid the foundation for the calm retreat the family was looking for. The hardscape and plantings of the new landscape center around white and textured shades of green. Tones of pure white to ivory are predominate in the pavers, fire features, and seating spaces, as well as the home’s white-brick exterior.
1 “The front of the home is small, and we didn’t want it to appear hard or heavy. We wanted to get as much green in there as possible,” says Wood. White-blooming Erodium fills a narrow channel around the stairs leading to the entry gate, and synthetic turf ground cover leading to the garage keeps the entryway low maintenance. Grasses, vines, and mounding shrubs make repeat appearances from the home’s front gate to an outdoor room at the back of the property. Wood kept a row of mature junipers that line the lot to ensure privacy.
Evergreens and succulents, like agave and Aeonium, fill gray and white pottery and serve to soften corners and hard edges. The homeowners also requested space for an edible garden and fruit trees, so Wood found an unobtrusive yet sunny spot for that purpose.
In Southern California, outdoor spaces see a lot of action. They should be enjoyed in shade, in sun, and after dark. “When I plant a tree in a yard, a huge part of what I’m doing is adding shade and shadow. When the sun comes up, it creates dappled light and adds depth. In the evening, uplights create a magnificent effect. Good landscape lighting creates interest and a focal point at night, drawing people into the space,” says Wood.
1 Wood also finds fire and water features attract people outdoors. “I always make the joke that fire and water bring out the caveman in us. If we have those two elements, then we know we’ll be okay,” says Wood. The pool takes center stage in the backyard. Seating areas create vignettes that hold the eye and create a welcoming feeling. Lounge chairs anchor the pool. An L-shaped, white-brick bench surrounds a fire pit. On the rooftop deck, there is even more seating and another fire pit. A cable-and-wood railing edge that deck, allowing an unobstructed view of the surroundings.
A cabana provides a shaded seating area with a comfortable couch and chairs. It also houses a barbecue grill, TV, and icemaker for luxe outdoor dining. A hanging swing bed is a perfect spot for relaxation but was one of the more demanding aspects of the design plan. “That swing was so heavy that getting it to hang level was a challenge,” says Wood. It was necessary to hang the swing low so that it wouldn’t block the view from the windows.
Meeting that challenge paid off for Wood. “One of my favorite things about this project was when the homeowner told me her kids go out to the swing with their books and lay on the pillows. They use that spot to hang out and enjoy the ocean breeze,” says Wood. “That encapsulates exactly why I do what I do—to entice people outside to enjoy nature.”
Landscape designer Molly Wood offers this advice to find inspiration for your garden spaces.
Pictures, please. Wood’s first tip is to look through gardening books, magazines, or websites and tag images you like. You’ll begin to see common themes emerge around what you find appealing.
Analyze this. “When you see an image you like, ask why,” says Wood. “What about it appeals to you? Try to put that in words.”
Starring attraction. “As you look at images, cover up items in the picture and think about how that changes your perception,” says Wood. This exercise helps you understand the elements that shift a design from boring to beautiful.
Priority setting. Decide what you want most from your outdoor space. A place to entertain, a spot to relax, or both? How much time do you have for maintenance? Can you enjoy the space during all seasons? Answers to these questions focus your plans, helping you edit out anything that doesn’t fit your priorities.