Pleasing The Palette

Located only 500 feet from the ocean on a quarter of an acre in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., a Mediterranean/Spanish-style residence needed more pizzazz in the outdoor living space.

After numerous consultations, meetings, and design proposals with the owners, the project finally “got on the board” with a promise to deliver:

• State-of-the-art swimming pool complex

• Fireplace

• Fully equipped casita

• Personal putting surface

• Multiple water features

• Driveway and stone patio

• Creative lighting schemes

• Environmentally friendly native plantings.

A project of this scope would not only challenge the designer and his crews, but present an enormous strain on the residents as they lived through the daily grind of the construction.

Clean Beginning (Or) Blank Canvas

One of the biggest challenges architects face on a daily basis is living with, or working around, existing features. Having to incorporate a once-favored structure into a new and different landscape has caused many projects to fall short.

Fortunately, this was not the case in this project. Our company was given a blank canvas to create a masterpiece. The demolition phase began with the removal of all existing grasses, irrigation systems, and undesirable grade changes.

Benefits Of Detailed Planning

Armed with a complete understanding of the proposed plans and the homeowner’s confidence in the assembled team, we utilized the demo equipment to its fullest and created as we demolished.

The dig for the main pool, wading pool, and spa was accomplished by removing tons of unwanted earth. Landscape-quality rocks were unearthed, later used as finishing stones for other areas.

Footers for the 16-foot by 30-foot casita also were built during this phase, as were the trenches for underground infrastructures.

Planting surfaces were determined for as many as six palm trees and planters.

Benefits Of Being Square

One of the initial challenges of a project of this size is to keep all lines, corners, and junctions true and square to the prepared plans. Failure to do this can result in an unwanted dead space, or relationships that are out of sync.

Truly, layout is everything, and a qualified surveyor is a valuable part of any landscaper’s team.


One of the many jewels in this project is the outdoor casita, located only steps from the main house. Typically, a casita means “a small kitchen.”

It consists of a 28-foot-long outdoor BBQ kitchen with a 48-inch barbeque, outdoor refrigerator, microwave, sink, and garbage disposal, along with multiple storage units built of custom cabinets. The amenities are limitless as the custom countertop is an imported Brazilian granite slab of unique color and pattern, with bull-nose finished edges.

At the far end of the barbeque is a 42-inch TV with surround-sound speakers that are recessed into the structure for maximum enjoyment.

Strategically placed within the casita are four stainless-steel electric heaters. The choice of electric power enables the area to be warmed rather than heated, adding to the overall welcome of the casita’s environment.

Alternatively, the 12-foot outdoor wood-burning fireplace, constructed with Mt. Moriah stacked stone, provides a desired glow and heat.

The casita’s roof, trim, custom gutters, and stacked stone are in harmony with the palette of the home. The casita is also equipped with an outdoor tile shower.

Anyone For A Dip?

This home and backyard retreat utilize water and its relaxing properties more than most. The main pool measures 20 feet by 40 feet, while the wading pool provides for the non-swimmers. The spa completes the invitation to get wet.

Numerous water spitters/fountains made of decorative copper are appropriately placed, while supportive LED lights enhance the effects of this wet-and-wild area.

As if the allure of the water isn’t enough, the beauty of the pools will definitely grab one’s attention. To enhance this beauty, there are 2,200 square feet of imported Turkish marble in walnut and Tahoe-blue colors laid in an Ashlar pattern. Finished with a coping of color-infused bull-nose concrete, it is an irresistible attraction.

The mechanics of the pool include a saltwater generator and LED lights, which are high-energy efficient and state-of-the-art.

Water features grace the landscape as well. A drip wall was created from mosaic tiles imported from India. These hand-laid tiles create a unique design not only appealing to the eye, but functional. The feature’s pools and troughs guide the water through a path that ultimately ends as a recycling and recirculation pathway.

A Stroke Of Genius

A custom putting green was installed, utilizing synthetic grass for those who want to sharpen their game. The green rolls on a stimp meter of 10, while offering four challenging holes. A small chipping area provides a great starting point to improve those “ups and downs.”

Outdoor Lighting

The home is softly illuminated with over 80 outdoor custom cooper and bronze light fixtures, strategically placed to draw attention to the various features of the spaces. A warm, rich ambience envelops the entire area during the evening hours.

We Did Start The Fire

A 4-foot gas fire pit at the north end of the project completed the amenities of the yard. To highlight the imported tiles, we utilized broken fire glass of various colors, which complemented the overall palette. Standard firebrick for temperature control in conjunction with regular CMU block was used for the basic construction of the box. The top deck of the pit was created from colored concrete, similarly used on the pool coping, and matching stacked stone as displayed in the 12-foot fireplace, discussed above.

Soft Shoulder Ahead

To soften the hardscape lines and change to vertical, numerous varieties of native California plants were introduced. Utilizing a combination of some tropical varieties allowed for blending and modifying the areas immediately surrounding the hardscape features.

Strategically placed plantings also provided the needed continuum of the color sequencing, while affording the opportunity to give a “splash” of highlights throughout. Numerous species and varieties of plants as well as many hard-to-obtain trees and shrubbery were provided with irrigation on an elaborate schedule and frequency.

Not Without Issues

As landscape designers and builders, we are aware of the normal problems that occur on any project. The delays due to obtaining permits, waiting for regulatory inspections, and often changinge orders are anticipated and dealt with on a daily basis, as they were with this project. With a project utilizing so many exotic and unique materials from Italy, India, and Brazil (to mention a few), those normal daily nuisances seemed insignificant by comparison to a delivery delay of off-shore materials.

However, with the benefits of detailed planning, total understanding of the project by subcontractors, work crews, and most importantly the homeowners, these delays were often minimized. Faced with an unexpected delivery delay, we were able to shift our focus to other aspects of the project and continue progress.

All in all, it actually worked out for the better!

Matt Preuss is the owner of The Cutting Edge, a landscape design firm in Carson, Calif. He can be reached at (310) 406-2251, visit

Bryan BuchkoComment