you are here (think warmth)

On this very wet Valentine’s Day I’m sending a love letter to…cactus. Cactus may not be what horticultural traditionalists call lovable plants, but their sculpturally adaptive, sun-addicted ways make a landscape feel warm and inviting to me any time of year. These images of a sun-drenched Southern Californian garden in the Verdugo Hills that recently changed hands are a vivid counterpoint to the atmospheric river currently drenching Los Angeles this February.

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photo CA Home & Design

This home and garden have a lot of historically significant moving parts, as befits any dwelling built by a modernist master. The 6-acre parcel with a small house built by Richard Neutra in the ’50s for his secretary Dorothy Serulnic and her husband attracted contemporary artists Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell when it came on the market in the mid ’90s.

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They laid out the golden barrels using paper plates as markers.”
Garden Design “A Waterwise Cactus Garden”

Even though Richard Neutra began his career as a landscape architect, the landscape design is entirely the work of Pittman and Dowell after acquiring the property. Pittman likened the ensuing earthworks to the scale of “Haussmann redoing central Paris.”  Although both artists brought with them a lifelong love of cactus, they planted the new garden as artists rather than collectors, focusing on massing shapes rather than displaying rarities, and they do admit to moments of doubt: “At one point, when the cactus were going in, the couple began questioning the wisdom of the project, worrying that it was too much, that it was becoming a folly. But the uncertainty passed as they stepped back and considered the ephemeral nature of their project as a whole.”   (Garden Design “A Waterwise Cactus Garden”)

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“An 800 sq. ft. Garden Pavilion augments an immaculate 1,365 sq. ft. Neutra House on 5 ½  acres of high desert bordering the Angeles National Forest overlooking the L.A Basin. Wanting to respond to an architectural icon, but not copy it, the desire was for a structure more minimal than the house itself.” 
Roger F. White Studio

A pavillion by Roger White was added on an adjacent lot to complement the Neutra house.

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photo Sotheby’s International Realty
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photo CA Home & Design

Architect Michael Maltzan was brought in around 2008 to build a sprawling trapezoidal complex which became their main home, with the original Neutra structure kept as a guest house.

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the Neutra house overlooking the Maltzan house
photo CA Home & Design
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View from the interior on exterior patio of the Maltzan house
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Garden Design “A Waterwise Cactus Garden” photo 0ECBDADE-09AF-76D4-C0A1-0E87DE92A3B2_1800x1200.jpg
photo Sotheby’s International Realty

And then around 2014 owners Pittman and Dowell decided it was time to sell. The property remained unsold for a few years, slid a few million from the original asking price, and was ultimately acquired in 2018 by Flea, (Michael Balzary), bassist for The Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Give it away give it away give it away now“) — “Flea Snags Architectural Compound From Artist Lari Pittman

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photo CA Home & Design

Those bare Palo Verde trees will add their own golden warmth to the landscape once again on a sunny spring day.

Happy Val Day, whatever your object of affection!

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8 Responses to you are here (think warmth)

  1. James Golden says:

    Beautiful place. Thanks for the valentine post. It leaves me wondering why I’m in the cost, icy northeast, still.

  2. Denise says:

    We’d love to have you, James!

  3. hb says:

    Nice place. Sounds like it won’t be split into 20 different lots with a house on each–at least not yet. That’s a good thing. The yellow pots and yellow pillows form an eye-catching line–interesting design choice.

  4. Hans Brough says:

    Inspiring. I admire the vision and guts the original owners had to create this landscape.

  5. Kris P says:

    I’m surprised at how well the 3 pieces – the original house, the cactus garden and the Maltzan house – fit together. While I’m incapable to restricting myself to a plant palette that limited, it’s effective.

  6. Nell says:

    The original house and the pavilion and the modernist cactus garden: wonderful.

    The new octagonal house: ecch. Though I’m sure it’s excellent if looking out from inside.

    Very timely visual warmth! We’re at a dull, damp low point of the year — more of the same after the least sunny fall and winter in memory. Hellebores in bud but not open, winter honeysuckle likewise, earliest daffodils way behind the full-out winter aconites (which look lonely and out of place as a result). But who’s complaining? Meeeeee…

  7. Elaine Rude says:

    A very unique design. Not sure I like the triangular patio space though. Can see all sorts of stuff getting blown in a stuck in the corner so it can be seen through the windows. Would bug me so would have to continually be cleaning it up.

  8. peter says:

    It all works so well together, the buildings, the landscaping, the setting. Thanks for the warmth, a perfect antidote to the winter blahs.

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