Christy Hobart -- Interior Design, 3/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
At the Los Angeles–area house of art consultant Tina Petra and businessman Ken Wong, one of their most loved—and most used—rooms isn't even inside. "The stereo is in the trees," Petra notes, gesturing toward speakers hidden in this outdoor living room's "wall," a lush hedge of podocarpus. Artisanal lanterns, commissioned by the couple on a trip to Morocco, hang from a red-painted trellis of bamboo and cedar posts, casting a flickering light on wrought-iron furniture with sinkable Sunbrella-covered cushions. The concrete-tile "rug" underfoot was the idea of Rios Associates, the firm that saw the potential in what was once merely an ugly cement patio.
In designing a garden for a collector, Rios Associates intentionally left blanks for her to fill. Just as Petra has covered most walls inside her house with eclectic work by up-and-coming and established artists, she made the outdoor spaces her own with such accessories and vignettes as the 1950s cement Buddha sitting among potted aquatic grasses and rushes by the goldfish pond. Meanwhile, Wong worked with Rios Associates to create the tile rug, described by project designer Mark Tessier as a "true abstraction of a Tibetan carpet." It's not just art for art's sake, however. The unusual ground cover, Tessier explains, also "defines the outdoor living room." That's as distinct from the areas for dining, grilling, relaxing, and swimming.
"The original patio had many disjointed parts," says Tessier, who collaborated with principal Mark Rios and in-house landscape designer Samantha Harris to balance existing structures. Because the house's side porch was out of kilter with the pool area, the team replaced the porch with a pergola that improved equilibrium by extending the house's lines. The asymmetrically placed stairs to Wong's freestanding office also distracted from the lines of the landscaping, so Rios Associates shortened the pool by several feet to leave room for a new double stairway. Not surprisingly, the empty surface beneath the stairs didn't remain that way for long. Working closely with Petra, Rios Associates installed a glass-tile mural on a door to storage space for children's pool toys. The mural pulls together colors found on tiles throughout the garden while adding splashes of orange and pink. Tessier calls the result his "pixelated Matisse."
Rios Associates's smart choices with hard-scape materials include the treatment of bluestone pavers. They're grouted around the pool. Up three steps from the pool area, the bluestone breaks up, and creeping thyme, dichondra, chamomile, and herniaria fill gaps between pavers. This transitional, organic treatment defines the dining room.
For Petra, the combination called out for a bright-yellow dining table by furniture artist Roy McMakin—chosen to mirror the interior breakfast room's white McMakin table, visible through French doors. Around the outdoor table are oversize McMakin chairs in various shades of yellow. Above the grouping, an old Brazilian pepper tree's branches form a verdant roof.