Challenged to design a garden suited to their T-shaped house, two architects create a series of open-air rooms

When architects Raun Thorp and Brian Tichenor have a party at their Westwood home on a summer night, it’s a wandering affair. Guests may pick up drinks in a courtyard outside the living room, but they’re soon off to a Japanese garden, its pond illuminated by candles, and from there to a children’s play garden edged in rosemary or to a pool terrace with a sheltering cabana.“The shape of the house, which is cruciform, creates four room–sized courtyards,” explains Tichenor of the T-shaped home. “Developing the gardens let us extend the relatively small but transparent house so it feels bigger than it is.” Most of its glass–walled rooms command a view of a garden, and each is a world unto itself. The living room faces its outdoor counterpart, complete with a fireplace, daybed and comfortable chairs. The master bedroom overlooks the pond, splashed by a fountain and crossed with steppingstones that younger guests especially love. Outside the kitchen is the play garden designed for their 9–year–old daughter, Ava, who enjoys serving tea there. Tichenor’s art studio has a quiet view of the fourth patio, which is edged with flax and agave.Outside the grid, two additional gardens make the lot seem larger than its 17,000 square feet: There’s a hidden pool on an upper hill—a destination for lounging grown-ups and swimming kids—and a lower street-side garden that sweeps along the steps to the front door.

Designed in 1940 by Modernist architect Harwell Hamilton Harris, the house was a wreck—and a source of inspiration—when Tichenor and Thorp purchased the property in 1997. With its simple, low–slung lines and see–through walls, it cried out for a landscape.

After undoing a bad 1960s renovation of the home, the couple plotted the garden rooms, forging a master plan that served their needs and the layout of the land. Concrete and stone became a garden theme, as did a palette of repeating colors and plants that appears in various forms and combinations. In the open–air living room, a chain–link fence was replaced by a concrete wall that hides the garden from the road. The patchy brick floor turned into a pebble carpet, and the rampant ivy gave way to New Zealand flax and ‘Limelight’ helichrysum. A second concrete wall completes the room and holds the built–in fireplace, wood-storage nook and countertop used for serving drinks and food. The dining table is always out, as are potted succulents, which pull the garden in from its edges and soften the expanse of stone.

The same pebble carpet reappears in Ava’s garden, but as a frame for a small lawn. Jewel–like succulents repeat too, but in planted borders instead of pots. A line of blue glazed pots holds child–sized leafy metrosideros, and there’s a space for tea parties. The smoke-green hedges are westringia, another recurring plant that Tichenor and Thorp shear or let sprawl in different places on the lot. In Ava’s garden, it’s paired with flowerlike agaves that ramble on, in a connecting border, to the studio garden, where they join yet more flax, ‘Limelight’ helichrysum and burgundy Caribbean copper plants.

Throughout the landscape, Tichenor and Thorp use a palette of browns, golds, reds, grays and blue—and chartreuse-greens as painters might use a unifying color wash. In the Japanese garden, a wisteria vine, with its purple flowers and green-turning–to–yellow leaves, is surrounded by Japanese maples. Beside the swimming pool, westringia serves as a filmy green background against the coppery flush of purple hop bush, while red, green and gold flax spikes from a pot.

Tichenor, the more plant-mad of the couple—“I want to try every plant in the world”—says some of his picks and combinations were inspired by early 20th century plant master Ralph Cornell. “He often used flax as punctuation in tough, Mediterranean-style borders,” Tichenor says. The house and garden also were influenced by the owners’ interests. “We’re pluralists to the core,” says Thorp, who acknowledges Balinese influences on their pool pavilion as well as the impact of many trips to Europe. The result is a collection of scenes that suits their glass house to a T. Not to mention their lucky guests.