Project Description

This small lot has a great deal going for it.  Nestled in the Bel Marin Keys neighborhood, it represents a transformation from suburban “bland” to an exceptional property.  Renovated inside and out, the exterior street view evokes curiosity and interest with the artistic arrangement of cacti, succulents, and palms.  The theme of the landscape was a choreographed transition from the street to the back yard – from desert cacti, succulents, and drought-resistant plantings to a lush, tropical oasis in the back that cements its place as an eminently desirable waterfront property.

The front yard’s artistic arrangement of Barrel Cactus set in gray pebbles, Yucca rostrata set in artificial turf, and palms set among unusual Proteas and Pincushion plants earned this house the title of “the Art House” in the neighborhood.  One challenge on this property was that the front door is set mid-way down the side of the house.  To create additional interest, we added a large ceramic pot water feature, which gives a hint of the water to come.  Within the choreography, this is followed by an architectural line of cactus down the side of the house leading to the front door.

A north-facing deck off the master bedroom was given a corrugated sheet metal wall, to reflect light back into the master bedroom to brighten it.

The back yard slopes to the water and is terraced with gabion baskets filled with glass rocks in sea tones of greens and blues, which are backlit at night.  The client desired vegetable beds, which are also faced with thin gabion baskets and backlit.  The glass was imported from China specifically for this project.  In addition to the large deck that opens off the wide sliding doors of the living room and expands the living space another 800 square feet, most of which is covered with a deep porch roof to provide shade from the southern exposure.  There are other smaller sitting areas, including a sandy beach, a small fire pit area nestled under a feature Canary Island Palm, and culminating in a simple arrangement of Adirondack chairs on the dock.  The plantings comprise Canna lilies, a Banana palm that bears fruit every other year, Queen Palms, Princess Flower, edible Passion Fruit vine, Galanga Ginger, Monstera of different sizes and hybrids, a specimen multi-trunk European Fan Palm, and Citrus.  These provide a lush and tropical setting.  Agaves, rushes and reeds ground the setting beside the water.

Photo Credits:

BMK  2, 3,12 by Eyerusalem Gettiye
All others by Heimo Schmidt

Ecological Attributes

  • “smart” controller adjusts irrigation times based on weather
  • hydrozoning for site microclimates
  • drip irrigation throughout
  • lawn replaced with artificial turf
  • low impact retaining walls built with gabions reduce excavation
  • passive climate control with shade from porch roof & trees
  • all site sculpting using soil from this site only
  • Gravel mulches used against house for fire risk reduction
  • low water use plant selection
  • planting to attract beneficial birds, butterflies and insects
  • planting for habitat
  • “tropical” aesthetic using primarily drought-resistant plants
  • Low energy LED lighting throughout property