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Small Yet Abundant Landscape Design

Sunset Magazine – Small Yet Abundant Landscape Design

By Kathryn Harris

January 2007



Small yet abundant: – Clean lines and artful illusion transform a compact garden

Four years ago, this garden in Venice, California, was a funky 1970s backyard with brick paving, flimsy lattice style wood fencing, and a redwood deck littered with knickknacks. Then Daniela Rechtsvaid, a designer, transformed the house that she shares with partner Jose Quintana from a one-bedroom cottage to a two-story contemporary home. During the remodeling process, the yard was destroyed.

“I felt confident handling the interior spaces, but I was less sure with the exterior,” Rechszaid says. So she hired landscape architect Russ Cletta and gave him a list of must-haves: places to eat, to relax, to string a hammock, and to grow treasured root beer plant (Piper auritum), whose scented leaves Quintana uses to wrap cheese or flavor cooked fish.

Cletta-well known for creating functional and attractive outdoor spaces on the modest lots that proliferate in Venice-had just returned from Costa Rica when he took on the project. Impressions from his trip, along with the couple’s heritages (Rechtszaid is from Buenos Aires, Quintana from Mexico City), determined the garden’s tropical theme.

In the front yard, a hammock sways near lounge chairs. The backyard is for dining and entertaining. The living area features an L-shaped wooden bench designed by Cletta that appears to float atop concrete. At night, when a fire glows nearby, this is a cozy spot. King palms edge the dining area. “When there’s a breeze, they sound like running water,”Cletta says.

For Quintana, a busy advertising executive who unwinds in his kitchen, the garden’s other draws are its fruit trees.

At a party last fall, the couple gathered 30 friends for dinner in their backyard. On the menu: an elaborate dish of stuffed chiles with walnut sauce that Quintana prepared using many ingredients plucked straight from the garden.

Striking a balance-between old and new, community and privacy, indoor and outdoor-is the leitmotif for the remodel and expansion of this small Venice cottage. The house, built in 1928, had been left to architect Daniela Rechtszaid by an uncle, and when she and her husband, Juan Jose Quintana, a marketing consultant, moved in, a modest renovation was all they envisioned. But when the couple’s need for space outgrew the 700 square feet of the house-she , working at home, and he, discovering a passion for cooking and entertaining-they realized it was “time to do something major.”

“We sought to keep the identity of the original cottage, while trying in new forms,” explained the Argentine-born Rechtszaid. She retained the gabled façade, with its character-defining wood siding, and then built upward to create a second story, sheathing the new spaces in a smooth stucco finish and introducing a contemporary design sensibility to the mix. She also made key changes to the circulation, moving the entrance to the side, inserting a staircase near the new front door, and combining ground-floor back rooms to accommodate a large kitchen-dining-living are that opens to the back. Construction spanned nine months, beginning in 2000.

Next, collaboration with landscape architect Russ Cletta brought the garden into focus with zones that extend living spaces to the outside. To the rear, graciously proportioned seating areas, reading as outdoor rooms, mirror adjacent interior spaces. The front yard becomes another landscaped room, its water feature acting as a counterpart of the fire pit at the back. Lush plantings-some of them edible-move through and surround the garden. These include wisteria, tropical fruit trees, and hoja santa – gestures to the flora of Quintana’s native Mexico-and contribute to the sense of privacy.

The casual, light-filled interior is dominated by the couple’s art collection: contemporary pieces by young Mexican artists mixed with lively folk pieces and framed art from a family collection. Hanging such a large and diverse collection could pose a problem, but the couple has, through trial and error, created an underlying structure and pattern to the display-keeping some walls blank to provide balance so as not to overwhelm. Simple furnishings, including classic modernist pieces mixed with occasional thrift store find, complete the picture of this unpretentious but well-curated interior.

Inside and out, this is a house made for sharing. There are the frequent gatherings of friends, the meals that Quintana enjoys preparing, the nights seated around the fire pit. “Our house means a lot to us,” says Quintana, summing up. “Since the two of us are immigrants, here from the different countries, this is our common ground, our place in the world.”