It's a phrase that gets bandied about by both designers and those who describe what they do. On its face it seems meaningless—why wouldn't a space have a sense of place?—but to look at it more deeply, it represents a fundamental component of how design projects come together.
As a process, it's been said design is like Michaelangelo creating David from a block of marble. Before chisel can be laid to stone, first the stone must be created. For the purposes of an environmental project this means that creating the basics at the outset, this stone-making—concept, theme, style, historicity—is like a writer creating a first draft. This is where something begins out of nothing but pure imagination, as it were. Once the basics are established, the subsequent work—the plans, drawings, materials, etc.—can be chiseled from that stone. From there, the beautiful design can emerge.
How the stone gets chiseled into an environment or architecture, or even a piece of furniture, depends on a number of factors. For a garden that means achieving a balance between those things that don't change—climate, topography, history, surroundings, both human-made and natural—and those that do—style, theme, material, culture, etc. The best design comes from an interaction of the two, a relationship built like any other human interaction, a cooperation of mutual respect and understanding.
For this project on Dudley Court in Venice, that respect took the form of coastal references. This was demonstrated in the use of scallop shells, sand colored gravel, water in the form of a small plunge pool/spa, succulents, and a mix of coastal and Mediterranean style plants and grasses. The idealized lushness and density of the plantings also pointed toward an idyllic English garden with its layered, hedge-like planes and a lawn area which also allows serves the purpose of extending flat space for entertaining. A reference to early Los Angeles and it's residential architectural style of the time, Victorian, which the house (seen below right) alludes to.
The palette was muted in deference to the local natural environment. A number of California-like tones were used among the greens including blue gray, silver, white, and yellow-orange. A hint of California's agricultural legacy can be seen in the use of domesticated foodstuffs like artichoke (seen foreground, right) and wheat.
Below, views from the inside the home: At left, Moroccan-style seating set for a party across the lawn area.
Above right (bottom), the hand like objects are vintage glove driers with a backdrop of hand turned ceramics; below upper left, the plunge pool in black concrete. A white gate with an attached planter at bottom that opens onto a walk street.