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Required Reading: Gardens Are for Living by Judy Kameon


Required Reading: Gardens Are for Living by Judy Kameon

March 6, 2014

Landscape designer Judy Kameon is often asked the question, “How do you start?” Her Los Angeles firm Elysian Landscapes, is known for their liveable gardens, full of color, texture, and of equal importance to Kameon, spaces to entertain, eat, play, and relax. Homeowners are curious to know her secrets for how to transform a tired garden into a welcoming outdoor room.

In Kameon’s first book, Gardens Are for Living: Design Inspiration for Outdoor Spaces, out this month from Rizzoli with a foreword by design maestro Jonathan Adler, the answers are all there. The book is a densely packed, playful, and easy-to-penetrate read. Kameon’s generously shared with the world what she’s been sharing with her friends and clients for years: how she does it, what her process is, and where she gets her inspiration.

Photographs courtesy of Rizzoli.

Above: The Elysian Landscapes headquarters is a must stop on the Kameon garden tour. A space that was once derelict has been transformed into a lush oasis. It’s loaded with Kameon’s favorite plants, color combos and furnishings and always the host offers multiple terraced areas and seating for guests and employees. Her clever use of a concrete retaining wall, doubles as the back of a U-shaped sofa.

Kameon is the star of the indoor/outdoor merge. A California girl, her gardens are perfect for that lifestyle, but there’s lots in this book that can be applied to other climates. In 2000, with her husband, Erik Otsea, a photographer and designer, she launched Plain Air, a collection of outdoor furniture inspired by mid-century design and stemming from Kameon’s frustration with finding the right pieces for her gardens.

Above: Kameon uses low-voltage lighting in her gardens to enhance the experience both from inside and out. A chandelier outdoors, adds a hit of glamour to poolside dining. When Kameon first met her clients they barely used their garden, now they hardly entertain indoors.

When I visit Kameon at her very personal, much photographed oasis-cum-laboratory-cum-home, I’m always impressed with her gracious hospitality and ability to whip up a gourmet meal no matter what fires she’s been putting out all day. She’s a natural host with energy to burn, which comes through in her designs. I always learn something new when I’m with her. Whether its a Julius Shulman photo she wants to share of an outdoor space, a much loved Sunset book from her childhood, or a historic garden from a recent trip that has given her ideas for new plant combinations.

Above: An underutilized front courtyard was transformed by Kameon into the first “room” of a 1930s home. Outdoor encaustic tiles act as a “rug”, an extra wide Plain Air daybed and coffee table give the owners a place to read the morning paper, and a water feature muffles the sounds from the street, creating a magical spot that relates to the architecture of the house. 

There’s nothing one dimensional about the way Kameon thinks, lives her life or plans her gardens, which are layered and carefully constructed to make the most out of a space. Consideration is given to comfortable seating, lighting–whether it be from fire pits or Morcoccan lanterns hanging from the trees to extend the time in the garden–, and hardscaping materials that add interest and define spaces. She thinks the same way an interior designer does, adding accessories that make a “room” feel inviting: a colorful Bauer pot to ignite a table, striped throw cushions, even vintage finds like playful ceramic parrots or Foo Dogs to give the garden character. 

Above: On the cover of Kameon’s book is a photo of the upper terrace at of the Elysian Landscapes office garden. The decomposed granite surface is permeable and easy to walk on, upholstered Plain Air benches are upholstered in an inviting striped fabric, a Plain Air fire pit creates a focal point, and side chairs, red lanterns and red Bauer pots add the punch of color that Kameon is known for. She’s created a place that’s easy to be in and hard to leave.

Her hopes with this book is that it will get the same kind of abuse a favorite cookbook does, with post-its, well-thumbed pages and notes in the margin. As Kameon says, “I didn’t want to do a monograph of just pretty pictures. I wanted to offer solutions for people. Whether you create a garden yourself or hire a professional, the better informed you are about the process, the better chances are that you will end up with a finished garden that’s right for you.” 

Above: Kameon’s colorful style can be seen in her approach to entertaining. Here she finishes off a table setting with vintage Mexican textiles and colorful dishes, while Moroccan lanterns hanging from the ancient pepper tree subtly illuminate her garden. Gardens Are For Living: Design Inspiration for Outdoor Spaces is available on Amazon for $34.12.

Hoping to create your own outdoor room? Find inspiration from inside the home with Remodelista’s collection of Dining Room posts.
Debating an outdoor rug? Join the discussion at Help Me Choose an Outdoor Rug (Or Have I Gone Too Far?) 
Looking for another good read? See all of our Required Reading posts.
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