ISSUE 52  |  Best of 2014

Before and After: A Grande Dame in LA’s Hancock Park

December 29, 2014 2:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Hollywood’s version of the 1920s managed to be both giddy (the talkies are coming!) and gratified, because how else could you feel about life in a palm-tree paradise? Nowhere was the contrast more apparent than in Hancock Park, built as an architecturally fanciful experiment where Tudor turrets sit next door to Connecticut clapboard. Developed as a city neighborhood in central Los Angeles, Hancock Park’s Craftsman cottages and Moorish manses managed to exude an exquisite suburban leafiness.

Fast forward a few decades. When writer Whitney Friedlander and True Blood producer Alex Woo bought a 1920s house in Hancock Park a few years ago, the boxy stucco facade had simple lines, some Art Deco details–and a very fussy garden.

Soon after, LA-based landscape designer Naomi Sanders arrived to find an ornate backyard fountain that was hemmed in by roses, and a grid of formal parterres with “a million different plants.” Her challenge: to streamline without starting from scratch, to make the garden feel both elegant and warm.

Sanders had a two-part plan. She designed new hardscape elements (including a concrete front path) and reduced the plant palette to three colors (green, white, and red). “I was really interested in looking at the work of Mark Rothko for inspiration, for that limited use of color for effect,” Sanders said.

The Before and After photos tell the story:

Photography by Jennifer Roper, except where noted.


Above: Sanders kept the existing formal parterres of dwarf English boxwood in the front courtyard but simplified the planting scheme inside the hedges. “The house is two stories, and when you look down from a window, you can really see the geometry,” Sanders said.



Above: Photograph via Naomi Sanders.

The street view. A stucco wall separates the front courtyard from the sidewalk. The first time Sanders saw the house, the street-side garden bed had a mix of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants including: two olive trees, rosemary, and agaves.



Above: Sanders kept the Mediterranean plants as well as a mature Japanese privet hedge, which serves as a backdrop, and simplified the plant palette at the base of the olive trees.


Above: A variegated agave. The green-and-white-stripe pattern repeats elsewhere in the garden; clumps of variegated Dianella flank the front door.

Before (Front courtyard)


Above: Photograph via Naomi Sanders.

Inside the fence, a path of broken flagstone pavers led to a concrete front stoop.



Above: To match the existing concrete stoop, “we took out the flagstone pavers and replaced them with cast concrete pavers, matching the color to the stoop, which has yellowed over time and looks like limestone,” Sanders said. “It makes the hardscape feel more connected to the house.”

The elongated rectangular pavers complement the geometric lines of the house’s facade.


Above: Sanders replaced ficus trees on either side of the entryway with star magnolia trees. “It gave them a lot more light through the windows,” she said.


Above: The white, green, and red palette is accented by black planters that flank the front door.

The garden’s front courtyard is a shady, meditational space. “I wanted them to really be able to use the space and not for it to be just a walkway,” said Sanders.


Above: A pair of Sol y Luna armless armchairs designed by Dan Johnson sit in the corner of the courtyard. Outdoor furniture and architectural lighting were selected by interior designer Sarah Shetter.


Above: Red accents in the courtyard include Japanese maple tree leaves, pomegranate fruit, and fuchsia flowers.


Above: A pomegranate.

Before (Backyard)


Above: Photograph courtesy of Naomi Sanders.

An ornate fountain was surrounded by a rose garden surrounded, in turn, by English dwarf boxwood. “We opened up the space,” Sanders said. “It didn’t make sense to have a blockade.”



Above: The fountain is connected by new concrete pavers to both the back patio and the rest of the backyard; the mature red bougainvillea on the pergola was an existing feature.


Above: The pergola’s solid roof was opened up to let in sunlight. Beams were replaced with Plexiglass.


Above: Echeveria succulents in the planters have a tinge of purplish red.

To see more of Naomi Sanders’ work, see LA Confidential: A Private Courtyard Goes Luxe on a Budget.