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October 2006
Lessons in creating an artfully untamed display
from a Beverly Hills garden

A garden with tables and chairs in the middle of it.
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Steve Hug Landscape Architect: Raising The Grade

Raising The Grade by Heather Lebus

Hug selected an extensive list of paving materials gathered from the ruins of Europe to the deserts of Arizona.

York stone pavers rescued from old English buildings and shipped to the United States frame the swimming pool (above, right). A brick pathway leads to the custom-made playhouse (above, left), designed by Steve Hug, Landscape Architect, and constructed by Chris Hollenbeck. The child's retreat complements the style of the parent's home.

For Landscape Architect Steve Hug, transforming a virtually "non-usable" space in Pacific Palisades, California, into a "usable" landscape proved quite a challenge. The one-acre, triangular-shaped residential property needed warmth and dimension, so the Landscape Architect responded with a charming hardscape design and a tri-level landscape.

Hug gave the residence dimension by essentially creating three horizons-- the patio level, swimming pool level, and landscape level. The existing patio off the kitchen door was small and blocked by four two-foot square brick columns; Hug removed two of the columns and extended the patio out. According to Hug, "For the contractor, taking the columns out was difficult since the original pergola was to remain. The columns spanned about 24 feet, and the process required extra support beams and reinforcement." Originally, five steps led down to a lower patio, two steps came back up to a sitting area under a long arbor, and a long retaining wall divided the yard between the house and the pool. Hug raised the grade one-foot, so now he only needed three steps down, took out the retaining wall, and extended the steps the length of the patio by dropping the grade one-foot on the other side. This design opened the entire yard up, making it feel much bigger and giving it more usable space. He compensated for the elevation change by adding two steps at the pool entrance.

An extensive array of plant materials complements the existing Eucalyptus trees, which the owners wished to preserve. A new gravel patio off the living room is peppered with 24" terracotta pots and lined with a brick border. An herb garden was added for the avid gardener residents. The yard's view originally "consisted of plaster walls and tree trunks" Hug explains; he planted Long-Leafed Yellow-Wood to hide the walls and add dimension and height to the landscape plan.

For the hardscape design, Hug worked with the client in selecting antique English York stone and French terracotta tiles to bend in with the 30-year-old existing brick that was reused for the pool deck. He also selected an extensive list of paving materials gathered from the ruins of Europe to the deserts of Arizona. The selection of the materials was very important since the client desired to incorporate the existing old Italian brick into the new design. The stone around the pool and the steps to the patio were a York stone out of old buildings from England, and the tile used on the patio was also out of old buildings from France. He explains, "The end result blends together very nicely." A sliding iron gate complements the railing along the landscape perimeter wall. Connector pathways of Arizona flag stepping stones on a mortar base complement the built-in barbecue counter and the low-block retaining wall.

In addition, Hug custom-designed a playhouse for the client's daughter. The playhouse blends in with the main house, and it features a loft and a porthole window. A brick-bordered sandbox sits outside the playhouse. Hug maintains, "One of the most challenging aspects of the project was to integrate the play equipment and play-house into this space and make it blend with the rest of the property."

A dramatic new low-voltage lighting system and colorful hardscape have added vibrancy and perspective to this stately home. By experimenting with different levels and perspectives, Hug was able to "raise the grade" of this residential space that he credits with "a lot of potential"-- and meet the expectations of his creative-minded clients.