Tag Archives: mid century modern

enter the dragons

What they say about good bones for faces and houses applies to gardens too. Good bones will see you through some tough times. I’ve posted just a couple photos on this sweet little house and garden before. The front facade is entirely of glass, so one can’t be too obnoxious with the camera under such circumstances. But walking Ein on the park across the street from this house a couple days ago, I noticed that the landscape was being worked on, and heaps of aloes and agaves were strewn on the walkways. I gave the leash to Marty and looked closer. The house was empty. No more George Nelson bubble lamps or butterfly chairs on the balcony. The house had sold! And what on earth were the new owners doing to the garden? Did they have a deep-seated aversion to desert plants? If so, I needed to talk to them about those enormous Yucca rostrata ASAP.


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Yucca rostrata March 2012, presale


I am normally not an overly bold person, but I found myself striding across the street and up to a couple of surprised men standing amongst masses of discarded Agave attenuata. It was the new owner and the gardener, who wasn’t removing the plants but merely thinning them. The owner was an architect and loved the house and garden but said both were in terrible shape. He told me he had been seduced by the furniture seen through the glass wall, too, but when it was all removed and he gained ownership of the house, his heart sank. The magic was gone. Now he wondered if he hadn’t made a terrible mistake. The place was a mess and had not been well cared for. Amazing what a spell all the classic mid century modern furnishings had cast, and how well even a neglected desert garden looks after itself. I told him it had always been my favorite house among the much bigger mansions that lined the street opposite the park, and this seemed to brighten him up considerably. He even showed me into the backyard, which was graveled and already had mature privacy screens of clumping bamboo. It was a gem, even if the interior’s cork floors were in terrible shape. The new owner was knowledgeable about plants (clumping vs. running bamboo) and energetic. There might be a few more dragons to slay than he bargained for, but the house and garden would no doubt surpass what was here before.


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March 2012, presale
One of my favorite houses on the street opposite our bluff walk. Yucca rostrata, butterfly chairs, and George Nelson bubble lamps. Note glimpse of baby blue piano through the window.”


As I was leaving, I stopped to admire again the work already done in the front garden. The trunks of the multiple Yucca rostrata had been cleaned of dead leaves, the underplanting thinned. It was going to be fabulous. And then I saw the dragon trees set back deep in a recess between the balcony railing and the house. I hadn’t noticed them before. The owner said the dragon trees had been completely buried, probably under the pittosporum that was still peeking through the trunks. The dragon trees had been cleaned up, too, and the burnt orange trunks gleamed against the blue leaves sunning themselves luxuriantly as the sun set over the harbor. I asked the owner’s permission to take a couple photos.

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There’s lots of work still to be done. And I think the dasylirion leaning at the base of the dragon trees needs to go. It has not fared well being buried under the pittosporum. I’d ditch the pitt too. But with the dragons set free, this little house and garden are on their way to being reborn. Walking Ein at the park across the street, it’ll be exciting to watch its progress.

1/24/13 Thursday Garden Talk with Lili Singer

I had the belated, long-postponed, very intense pleasure of attending one of Lili Singer’s Thursday Garden Talks held by the Los Angeles County Arboretum, a tradition going back ten years. Lili Singer has long been so embedded and enmeshed in everything that is good about Los Angeles gardens and garden making that it’s impossible to untangle a first awareness of her. I know of Lili primarily from her public radio broadcasts on KCRW called simply “The Garden Show,” which spanned the years 1982 and 1996. Her Thursday talks at the arboretum never jibed with my work schedule, but I kept abreast of the talks through The Los Angeles Times weekly Datebook, serene in knowing that such fine things were taking place. And then The Los Angeles Times cancelled the wonderful Datebook section, and that news blackout startled me into action, a bleak reminder to take advantage of the good things while they last.

Yesterday’s Garden Talk took the form of a tour of three Los Angeles area gardens. Photographer MB Maher is in town briefly and tagged along on the tour as chief photographer and navigator. Rain had caused the freeways to spasm and seize up, so we shamefully straggled in five minutes late, which turned out to be earlier than most of the other attendees who were also caught up in rain-panicked traffic. Lili said this was the first time in ten years that one of her field trips saw rain. Nothwithstanding the atrocious traffic, I loved it. January rainfall in Los Angeles means all is right with the world.


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This landscape was designed to soak up every precious drop.


From the handout, a description of this Brentwood garden:

Simplicity and clean lines define this Southern California part-modern, part-Japanese, part-woodland landscape with good ‘old bones.’ Situated on a well-traveled Westside street, the outdoor spaces surrounding the Mid-Century Modern residence are carefully studded with ornamental and edible plants from continents near and far. The eastern redbud and western sycamore will be bare, but the ancient camellias will be showing some color. Ryan Gates and Joel Lichtenwalter of Grow Outdoor Design, who updated the landscape in 2008, will join us on site.”


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Taking shelter under the carport. One of the garden designers from Grow Outdoor Design, Joel Lichtenwalter, with umbrella.
Acacia iteaphylla the lacy-leaved shrub in the background

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Not often seen in local gardens, the marbled leaves of Arum italicum ‘Pictum,’ an enthusiastic spreader, with asparagus fern, euphorbias, and oakleaf hydrangeas sprawling at the base of a privacy screen.

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The privacy screen

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Leafless Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy,’ one of several throughout the landscape, and front driveway.

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Around the corner into the back garden, past the twisted trunk of a magnolia gleaming dark from the rain against what looked like a Mexican Weeping Bamboo, Otatea acuminata aztecorum, but I didn’t verify the name.

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The decomposed granite pathway had already soaked up all the overnight rain.

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The back garden was sleek and simple, a retreat designed to honor existing trees and the needs of a growing family, with the central area kept mown lawn, a glimpse of which can be seen here, bounded by the encircling walkway of decomposed granite.

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The power of restrained use of ornament: The owner’s brilliant choice of ceramic tiles by Sam Stan Bitters, which deftly emphasize the orange culms of the towering bamboo growing behind the fence in the neighboring property, claiming ownership and inclusion of a “borrowed” view.

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I wish I could provide a website for Mr. Bitters’ work, but none could be found.

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The owner’s choice of chairs was equally inspired.

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The weight of just one of these chairs was more than I could single-handedly support.

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The owner’s penchant for Mid Century Modern design is also evidenced by the choice of the Circle Pot, designed by Mary and Annette at the Atwater Village shop Potted.

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The garden designers worked closely with the architects, continuing the architect’s use of concrete as the medium for the steps descending from house to garden.

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Chatting about plants and design is the perfect use of a drizzly January morning. So very, very glad I finally decided to attend one of Lili’s Garden Talks. From now on, I’m hoping to make it a standing Thursday appointment.

More photos of this garden can be found on the website of Grow Outdoor Design.

an afternoon at the museum

Modern design was born from the marriage of art and industry.” – “The Architect and the Painter,” Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey

I was worried the exhibit would be over by the time I finally scooted over to Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Living in a Modern Way,” open until June 3, 2012, part of Pacific Standard Time, an ongoing celebration of the works of Los Angeles artists between roughly 1945 and 1980, when the utopian notion of better living through design was taken very seriously.

I could look at chairs all day. This aluminum chair by R. M. Schindler, made for Sardi’s Restaurant, Hollywood, 1932-33, could easily inspire an adaptation for weatherproof garden seating.


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Pottery from Pacific Clay Products and Catalina Pottery

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Planted cocktail table by Milo Baughman, 1950.

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Clothes, textiles.

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Image of textile by Paul Laszlo from Dwell, which also includes photos of LACMA’s re-creation of Charles and Ray Eames’ Case Study House #8 living room.
Photos were not allowed of this portion of the exhibit.

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The Eames’ DCW (Dining Chair Wood).

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Like Steve Jobs, Charles Eames often appropriated other designers’ ideas and called them his own. But let’s not quibble — there’s genius in knowing what to take.
For more on the Eames, check out the documentary “The Architect and the Painter.”



Mid Century Modern Madness

Yesteday, the Modernica sale, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A couple wire, Eiffel-Tower-base chairs were tentatively on my list, like these:

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But the sale itself was such an amazing spectacle of Mid Century Modern mania that I lost my focus, becoming completely absorbed in the Build The Perfect Chair assembly line in the back of the warehouse, where fiberglass shells in luscious colors could be wedded to metal or wood bases in endless iterations. You just hand over your selection of base and shell to the elves with the screwdrivers and within five minutes or so your gorgeous chair was born and ready to go home.

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Problem was, those pesky, fuchsia-colored “Sold” signs were already taped to quite a lot of stuff.
Amid the buying frenzy, some people did manage to keep their cool and detachment. Oh, but not me.

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The wire chairs on my list were available in silver or black, but I had forgotten all about them and instead needed to Build The Perfect Chair, a “Case Study” rocker in a mustard or pale green like this. (List? What list?)

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By the time I arrived at 11:30 a.m., my favorite colors had long since been picked over. I circled around a group of seated shoppers who had several of my color shells in neat stacks at their feet waiting to be assembled. “Nice color,” I murmured nonchalantly as I walked by. At least I tried for nonchalance, as much as one can hissing through clenched teeth. (I’m kidding, of course.) The other three or four, maybe six times I walked by the group with my color I murmured nothing at all. I hope I wasn’t scowling.

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Lots of white and beige left of the fiberglass shells with arms, but I wasn’t interested.

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I mentally built dozens of chairs, which is actually loads of fun, but ultimately left the warehouse sale chairless.
And since there’s not a foot of available floor space left in the house for more chairs, it’s not such a tragedy.

Lesson for next year’s sale: Arrive early, have a firm list of chairs including colors and bases preselected, and do not waver.
And clear some space in the house for that rocker.

(NB: This post by Apartment Therapy, and the following comments, discusses the ownership of Eames’ fabricating equipment, “Modernica Acquires Fiberglass Shell Chair Equipment