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Landscape Designer Visit: A San Francisco Backyard Where ‘Surf Life Meets Ancient Rituals’

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Landscape Designer Visit: A San Francisco Backyard Where ‘Surf Life Meets Ancient Rituals’

May 4, 2022

If a landscape designer were to describe a certain aesthetic as “surf life meets ancient rituals,” you’d be forgiven for wondering what that could possibly mean. But one look at this project from Los Angeles- and San Francisco-based design studio OR.CA, and the description starts to make sense. Outfitted with a sauna, outdoor shower, and ample places to park the owners’s surfboards and featuring materials and pieces that are encouraged to gracefully age, the small backyard is an ode to both beach life and meditative pursuits.

The property, home to a surf-loving couple and their two young children, is situated in SF’s Outer Sunset neighborhood, near Golden Gate Park. “It is a rare, wonderful 1908 home with original character and perched high, with access on both sides of the house,” says OR.CA principal Molly Sedlacek. The alleys between houses in this area, though, are extremely narrow, making transporting materials less than ideal. “We were working with a 32-inch path to bring through all materials. Our builders, Kelly Linscott and Joe Caniglia, did incredible work.”

Despite the challenges, the OR.CA team were able to deliver everything on their clients’ wish list—an outdoor spa area, places to sit and unwind, inspired but fuss-free plantings, a refurbished studio (that was once on the verge of collapsing), even a composting toilet.

Join us for a tour. (And be sure to scroll down for the plant list.)

Photography by Cass Cleave, courtesy of OR.CA.

The garden&#8\2\17;s materials palette includes earth clay pavers, pea gravel (on the elevated section), decomposed granite, boulders, redwood fencing and siding, and cypress stairs. Renovating the studio, at right, which had been in such bad shape that most designer would have urged a teardown, was the toughest portion of the project, says Molly. &#8\2\20;Working with inherited materials can be the hardest and most rewarding process. We did an interior layout that fit in a small bathroom with a sink and composting toilet, along with an area for the owner to see her clients.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The garden’s materials palette includes earth clay pavers, pea gravel (on the elevated section), decomposed granite, boulders, redwood fencing and siding, and cypress stairs. Renovating the studio, at right, which had been in such bad shape that most designer would have urged a teardown, was the toughest portion of the project, says Molly. “Working with inherited materials can be the hardest and most rewarding process. We did an interior layout that fit in a small bathroom with a sink and composting toilet, along with an area for the owner to see her clients.”
Above: “We used a cedar sauna kit and recommend these often for clients as they are quite affordable and easy to assemble. The sauna in this yard seats two comfortably. The clients use it after surf sessions, then head over to the outdoor shower next to it,” says Molly. (See Object of Desire: An Elegant Brass & Copper Outdoor Shower by OR.CA.)
&#8\2\20;We use a lot of California natives and Australian natives in the Outer Sunset because of the proximity to salt and fog and the sandy soil. Low maintenance was also a request from our client so low-water and easy to prune was high on the list.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “We use a lot of California natives and Australian natives in the Outer Sunset because of the proximity to salt and fog and the sandy soil. Low maintenance was also a request from our client so low-water and easy to prune was high on the list.”
&#8\2\20;I love how the Dutch door on the studio looks in the space. Kelly (the builder) used an upcycled door from Establish, a shop a few blocks away that is now closed, that I use to visit frequently. It felt very special seeing the door have a second life in an OR.CA garden,&#8\2\2\1; shares Molly. The pea gravel is rounded, and thus ouch-free for bare feet.
Above: “I love how the Dutch door on the studio looks in the space. Kelly (the builder) used an upcycled door from Establish, a shop a few blocks away that is now closed, that I use to visit frequently. It felt very special seeing the door have a second life in an OR.CA garden,” shares Molly. The pea gravel is rounded, and thus ouch-free for bare feet.
The view from inside the studio.
Above: The view from inside the studio.
&#8\2\20;There’s a mix of year round bloomers (grevillea, banksia), some seasonal bloomers like Kangaroo Paw, mixed with some more structured specimens like the Aloe Bainesii and Acacia Baileyana.
Above: “There’s a mix of year round bloomers (grevillea, banksia), some seasonal bloomers like Kangaroo Paw, mixed with some more structured specimens like the Aloe Bainesii and Acacia Baileyana.
The boulders were sourced from American Soil & Stone. The cypress stools are custom by OR.CA (check out their online shop for similar versions).
Above: The boulders were sourced from American Soil & Stone. The cypress stools are custom by OR.CA (check out their online shop for similar versions).
Above: “We love wild. Lush, textured layers is something we aim for when doing our plant design,” says Molly. “We placed a Japanese honeysuckle [at left] next to the studio to encourage some vertical growth onto its siding, and to provide a place for pollinators to go.”
Molly&#8\2\17;s favorite part of this project? &#8\2\20;The transition of chunk cypress to clay pavers. I love the two textures touching and their harmony.&#8\2\2\1; The clay pavers are from OR.CA and made in Sacramento. &#8\2\20;We love using them as a sandset surface option with swept decomposed granite in-between for a very relaxed permeable surface.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Molly’s favorite part of this project? “The transition of chunk cypress to clay pavers. I love the two textures touching and their harmony.” The clay pavers are from OR.CA and made in Sacramento. “We love using them as a sandset surface option with swept decomposed granite in-between for a very relaxed permeable surface.”

Plant List:

Aloe bainesii (A. barberae)

Baine’s Tree Aloe (Rose Pink)

Banksia integrifolia

Coast Banksia

Bouteloua gracilis  

Big Grama, Mosquito Grass

Grevillea ‘Moonlight’

Moonlight Grevillea

Dendromecon harfordii (D. rigida h.)

Island Bush Poppy

Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’

Sage ‘Allen Chickering’

Salvia apiana 

California White Sage, Bee Sage

Acacia cultriformis  

Knifeleaf Acacia

Lonicera japonica ‘Purpurea’ (L. j. chinensis)

Japanese Honeysuckle

For more San Francisco backyards, see:

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