Local landscaping designer helps transform an empty canvas with amazing views into a garden setting ripe for entertaining.

When Michele and Bob Poletti bought their Mediterranean-style abode in Rancho Palos Verdes in 2005, the landscaping consisted of little more than sod and a few stray plants. The couple didn’t yet know what they wanted to do with their half-acre property, but they immediately knew what had to go: a low wall that enclosed the front patio, bisecting the front yard and restricting the view to the ocean.

“It stopped your eye from really appreciating all the land in the front of the house,” Michele says. “We thought, ‘It would be great if that could be removed. It would open up the space a little bit more.’”
Enter landscape architect Deborah Richie-Bray, who helped the Polettis think outside the wall—literally. With Deborah’s guidance, the family tore down the barrier to spectacular sea views and opened a world of outdoor-  living possibilities.

When the Polettis first sat down with Deborah in 2006, their wish list for their hillside lot was short and practical: a backyard pool for their son, Steven, now 11, and a front yard that maximized space to play, relax and take in the ocean vistas.

“We knew we wanted to capture the natural beauty of the area,” Michele says. “We wanted to make use of as much of the lot as possible. We felt like this was a special area, and we felt very lucky to be here.”

Deborah Richie-Bray had the gently sloping front yard filled in to create a flat, grassy expanse suited to sports and entertaining. This freed up the backyard, so the family could install a pool without sacrificing space to play a ball game.

The next challenge was privacy. With the patio wall gone, the front of the house was open to traffic from the street below. So Deborah planted a low, evergreen blueberry hedge around the perimeter of the yard, sheltering the space while preserving views of the coastal bluffs and the ocean beyond. In the evenings, Michele says, the front yard is a hub for “grown-up time,” where she and her husband like to sit back with a glass of wine and watch the sun set over the water.

Two outdoor fireplaces create natural gathering places in Deborah’s property design. One is a focal point outside the dining room window, at the far end of a pocket-sized, formal hedge garden tucked into a nook along the side of the house. The other anchors the backyard, which features the pool, a bar and barbeque, a cabana and a spacious entertaining area where Michele and Bob like to have dinner under the stars.

“We wanted to create a courtyard sort of space,” Deborah explains. “You really feel like you’re in a private little enclave here.”
Since views of the ocean are mainly access-ible from the front of the house, Deborah designed a cabana on a raised platform behind the pool. It’s high enough so Michele can keep an eye on Steven in the pool and still catch a glimpse of the Pacific from the comfort of a chair.

Deborah Richie-Bray finished her landscape design with a masterful palette of flora. The backyard is surrounded by leafy arbutus trees, which sprout wild strawberries and provide a private canopy from neighboring homes higher up on the bluffs. Lemon trees scattered around the property lend an Italian villa ambiance. And the exterior walls of the residence are softened with jasmine and Cup of Gold Vine.
“Deborah was able to maximize every special quality that this property had,” says Michele, gesturing to the vast, sunlit space. “It feels like us … how we live. She really had a vision for how special it could be for our family.” •


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