Los Angeles Times Magazine
July 6, 2003



Behind the Bamboo Curtain: A couple seek privacy in a Venice garden bordered by busy streets.


By: Susan Heeger


Photographed by: Jeremy Samuelson



Noisy days and nights in a cramped house on a busy street: Such is life for many in our auto-centric city. But it doesn't have to be like this. Cheryl and Matthew Erramouspe, an FAA inspector and her entertainment lawyer husband, live at the intersection of two Venice commuter roads. Though traffic does speed by, it's muted by a wall of bamboo, which gives the couple a view of green, red and silver leaves.


A mere 1,400 square feet, the house seems larger because of its glass doors and big windows. The open layout helps too: Without the strict limits of walls and doors, the smallish kitchen flows into the dining room, which opens into the living room. Venice architect Michael Sant reworked the 1940s house for a former owner, erasing walls, and dark halls and adding glass to create what he calls "the subtlest line between indoors and out."


To ensure that the home's occupants weren't relegated to a fishbowl, landscape partners Jay Griffith and Russ Cletta raised the street-side edges of the lot, so that plants sit higher there, blocking most of the public views. The designers also moved the home's entrance to the less traveled of the intersecting streets, and planted a hedge of purple plum trees that are kept topped at five feet, suggesting a friendly, rather than a forbidding screen.


For depth and softness, Griffith and Cletta added California pepper trees, and green-and-yellow 'Alphonse Karr' bamboo. At ground level, they planted billowing 'Limelight' helichrysum and laid a silver gazania carpet that flowers gold and gives way to blue succulent senecio at the garden gate.


The designers' plant palette, on a previously all-but-bare lot, links the landscape to neighbor's gardens, where other plums and peppers grow. The enclosing concrete-and-steel fence makes playing safe for the Erramouspes' children, Justyn, 5, and Chloe, 5 months. Within the fence, the space is divided into different levels to give the small grounds an expansive feel. As part of the house plan, Sant plotted patios and landings off major spots, such as the master bedroom and living and dining rooms.


Steps crafted by Griffith and Cletta, partly from recycled driveway concrete, connect these platforms to larger garden rooms- a raised entry terrace, for example, and a sunken, gravel-floored lounge behind the house that they designed around a fire pit.


Their fire pit consists of a concrete bowl filled with black grit, topped with tumbled glass and powered by a gas line. It has become, Cheryl says, the focus of the couple's social life, the place where they gather with friends to enjoy their summer nights.


"We're so busy, we have to keep things simple, "she says, pointing to orange Ikea chairs she has arranged around the fire, their color harmonizing with a nearby tree.


She and her husband chose the house for its simple modern lines, and the fact that it was "done" and had room for a garden. Indoors, to stress the views, the two have underplayed their décor, keeping walls white and rooms spare. Outdoors, they let the plants be the stars, adding only enough chairs to make garden rooms usable.


As to gardening, Cheryl admits, "We don't have time. We never have." Luckily, their plants are undemanding. Once a year, plums are pruned by professionals. Once a week, a gardener sweeps patios and neatens beds. The rest of the time, Cheryl says, "We have our own little world, and our own forest, outside every room."