The Great ‘scape
A Sherman Oaks family with a handsome colonial doubles curb appeal and living space without adding a single square foot—thanks to a talented landscape designer.
If you commute in Sherman Oaks south of Ventura Blvd., chances are you’ve admired the movie-perfect colonial situated on a prominent corner lot along Valley Vista Blvd. In fact, that’s exactly how the Neely family discovered this 6,355-square-foot dream house, while it was still under construction as a “spec” home in 2008.
Now eight years later, they’re loving their abode that much more, due to a dramatic makeover of the landscape. Nearly every inch of outdoor space has been overhauled. The result is not only visually stunning—it is drought-tolerant and very low maintenance. Thanks to a well-conceived plan by landscape designer Zabra Yee, the reconfigured front, side and backyards have also doubled the home’s livable space.
The original grounds consisted of a sprawling, wrap-around lawn dotted with flagstone walkways and patios, all surrounded by a white picket fence. “We thought it was fine at first,” says Beth Neely, “but we entertain a lot and people kept tripping on the flagstone.”
That, plus sky-high water bills, motivated Beth and husband, Blake, a TV and film composer, to enlist Zabra, who also happens to be a family friend, for a total revamp earlier this year. “The neighbors had started complaining when they saw our sprinklers and I was really starting to feel bad about it. I felt like we were using more than our fair share,” Beth says.
Zabra agreed eliminating the flagstone was the place to start. In addition to the tripping hazard, it “didn’t go with the architecture,” she says.
The designer swapped out every last piece for a more even-toned, slate-colored, blue stone. The grass was replaced by unbelievably realistic-looking artificial turf and a graceful combination of drought-tolerant plants. White flowering gardenias and heliotropes, with their purple blossoms and velvety, dark leaves were added for fragrance. Meyer lemon, lime and mandarin orange trees were also planted, along with a peach tree (a nod to the Neely’s Texas roots).
The property’s original mature roses—in a myriad of colors—were transplanted throughout, and a water-efficient, underground drip system was installed for irrigation. Instead of the white pickets, a custom, black metal and concrete fence now encircles the home.
COLONIAL TIMES: The home’s interiors are bathed in neutrals with an occasional pop of color—like the eye-catching chartreuse pillows on the living room sofas.
The front yard boasts three striking focal points. A formal yet charming, gated courtyard was created because Zabra noticed when Beth walked out past the front door to greet and say goodbye to party guests, she always ended up standing in the grass.
The second focal point is a 25-foot-diameter circle of synthetic turf, conceived as an inside joke and tribute to Blake’s love of traffic roundabouts, popular in Austin, Texas, where the couple once lived. At Christmastime, it also provides the perfect stage for the couple’s outdoor holiday display.
The final touch was a stunning and distinctly modern, s-shaped metal fountain that Zabra designed for the far north edge of the angled front yard. This rectangular space—lined on two sides by individually-lit cercis trees—has the sophisticated vibe of a museum garden. Beth uses the area to host a weekly exercise class with friends.
The renovated backyard is an equal combination of beauty and function. It was originally made up of a small flagstone patio, lawn, pool and cabana that was “always a muddy mess,” according to Beth.
It now features a fabulous outdoor kitchen complete with sink, wine fridge and ice maker, which along with a large dining table, is housed under a sloped, rectangular, sunbrella-covered canopy, inspired by the architecture of a French train station. Sleek, narrow (barely noticeable) outdoor heaters are discreetly tucked in the canopy.
Parties, which have included three wedding receptions, a lobster bake and a neighborhood get-together for 200, usually begin with drinks at the outdoor kitchen counter. Guests often move to the dining area and then to the fire pit for after-dinner drinks.
The main house was designed by Studio City-based architect Jon Brouse of Jon Brouse AIA & Associates. “It’s funny because the Neely home really put me and my career as an architect on the map,” laughs Jon. “It is on such a prominent corner and with so much curb appeal, I just kept getting calls about it.”
Brook Giannetti of Giannetti Home in Brentwood handled interiors. The structure features four bedrooms, an open floor plan and walnut floors. There’s also a guesthouse over the three-car garage that’s been converted into a music studio.
WALK THIS WAY: “I used all the plant textures to soften. The house is classic. The idea was to make the entrance feel more approachable and less stuffy,” says landscape designer Zabra Yee. Upper left: Zabra and her coworkers, Fermin Ruelas and Maria Perez, meet in the backyard with Blake and Beth Neely.
Brook’s signature “patina” style creates ambiance and warmth throughout the home. French antique doors are propped against the walls, as art, in the entry area and dining room.
But the room that’ll truly make you want to move in, is the master suite. Bathed in lush natural linens and cotton fabrics of white and cream tones, it features a lovely sitting area with a fireplace and built-in bookshelves. A private balcony overlooks the newly minted, resort-like backyard.
“It’s my favorite room in the house,” admits Beth. “It’s an amazing place to retreat to. I just love curling up with a book by the fireplace.”
Landscape designer Zabra Yee on some of her drought-tolerant selections.
1. Olea Europaea ‘Little Ollie’
Durable and needs very little maintenance, while providing consistent color, a lovely, fluffy texture and a carefree vibe.
2. Pittosporum ‘Golf Ball’
It can be sheared to have a formal appearance or left alone with its natural rounded shape (as we’re doing at the Neely’s), making it easier to manage than Boxwood.
3. Myrtus Communis Compacta
The quintessential, sheared hedge plant, but in this garden we’re letting them grow a bit wild to showcase their white flowers.
A.K.A. the Chinese fringe flower, this shrub has a dark purple hue that adds nice contrast and a showy pink flower.