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A frontyard is crafted to match a Greene & Greene Craftsman home in Pasadena

A couple sought a landscape that looked as turn of the century as their 1906 chalet-style Craftsman known as the John Bakewell Phillips house.

October 03, 2009|Emily Young

Susan and Derek Pippert live in a classic Greene & Greene home in Pasadena that has always attracted plenty of admirers. But the old frontyard? Not so much. Only after the couple replaced that ho-hum rectangle of grass with a painstakingly detailed, Craftsman-style landscape did the garden do justice to the house.

The Pipperts once deemed Arts and Crafts homes too dark and dreary for their taste. But with three stories and more than 60 windows, the bright and cheerful 1906 chalet-style Craftsman known as the John Bakewell Phillips house changed their minds.

The couple, a foley editor for films and a stay-at-home mom, bought in 2006 and settled in with their two toddler daughters, content to leave the old frontyard as it had been: a lawn dotted with a few trees and hedges.

"It wasn't bad," Susan Pippert recalls. "It just wasn't great."

The following summer, a mature pittosporum tree died and fell, forcing the Pipperts to rethink the garden. That's when they remembered a magazine article about a charming Craftsman landscape in South Pasadena. The designer was Venice-based Gabriela Yariv, who coincidentally had been a childhood friend of Susan's sister.

Yariv cringed when she saw the Pipperts' ratty lawn and awkward brick path laid out in a right angle between the driveway and the front porch. "There was no pedestrian entrance from the sidewalk and a lot of flat, empty space, which made this tall structure look very imposing," she says.

To give the house a more inviting presence and to blend it into the surroundings, she told her clients: "You have a Greene & Greene house. Why not do it right?"

Yariv reenvisioned every aspect of the yard. Most important was the wide, serpentine brick path, built by Cliff Douglas of Douglas Masonry in South Pasadena, that is flanked by rugged granite boulders and two short stone pillars to welcome visitors arriving from the street. The pillars, also by Douglas, consist of rocks like those supporting the front porch and are topped with reproduction Craftsman lanterns to match the fixture hanging from the eaves.

With Greene & Greene's more famous Gamble and Blacker houses in mind, Yariv focused next on the large expanse of lawn, rounding off this one at the corners for a more natural-looking oval. Stones form rustic edging between the turf and less-thirsty beds, which are filled with the seasonal color the owners wanted and nods to the Asian influence on Craftsman architecture.

"I wasn't absolutely true to tradition," Yariv says. "I winked at it."

Although there are gingko trees, Japanese maples and seashell pink abutilons, also known as Chinese lanterns, the designer saved room for several California natives and other plants common in Mediterranean climates.

Chartreuse euphorbia (Euphorbia characias Bruce's Dwarf), purple Verbena bonariensis and Spanish lavender, and bright orange Epilobium canum provide spring or fall blooms that stand out against a richly textured backdrop of green, gray and white foliage such as acanthus, the westringia Morning Light, the pittosporum Compacta, the phormium Tricolor and Dudleya pulverulenta.

Yariv tucked a surprise off to one side of the house -- a dry riverbed fashioned out of granite cobble and pea gravel that doubles as an informal path. It leads to a backyard gate, cutting through banks of wispy Berkeley sedge and sculptural aloes and agaves.

"The dry riverbed was a whimsical riparian touch," Yariv says. "I wanted it to have the feel of the arroyo where all these stones would have originally come from."

Finally, to shrink the scale of the home's facade, Yariv selected trees of graduated heights. When fully grown, their canopies will form a graceful transition from garden to rooftop and back again. In addition to the gingkos and Japanese maples (Ever Red and Bloodgood), three strawberry trees (Arbutus Marina) punctuate the gentle turns in the front path, their reddish-brown bark repeating the color of the bricks.

Since the Pipperts' house was already a local historical landmark, Yariv's design was subject to city approval. The plan sailed through, and the garden was completed last year. Last spring, the new landscape that looks as if it might have been conceived at the turn of the last century, earned a Golden Arrow design award from the nonprofit Pasadena Beautiful Foundation.

Today, while the Pipperts' children, 6-year-old Mia and 4-year-old Callie, turn cartwheels across the lawn, their mother marvels at the stunning transformation.

"When we moved in, people drove by to take pictures," she says. "But after we redid the yard, we never had so many people go out of their way to come up and tell us how much they love our house."



Craftsman tour

Pasadena Heritage is staging its annual Craftsman Weekend from Oct. 16 to 18. Events include a tour of Greene & Greene's Freeman Ford House, with its extensive art glass, as well as bus tours of Myron Hunt and Louis B. Easton architecture, Judson Studios and lesser known but notable architects' homes. Walking tours include homes in Bungalow Heaven and the Arroyo Seco. Some events already have sold out. More information:

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