Debra Prinzing

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Another amazing reason I’m starting to groove on Southern California

Monday, May 18th, 2009


For those of you who have known me for a l-o-n-g time, or even for ones who only occasionally stumble upon, it may be evident that I am torn between desperately missing Seattle, my home for most of the past 30 years, and embracing life in Southern California, where I’ve been living nearly 3 years now.

I’m learning that there is incredible beauty here in SoCal, especially if one gets off of the freeways and out into the raw, rugged nature. The same attributes that make me love the Pacific Northwest – the mountains, the ocean, the amazing plant life – are some of the ones that have made me begin to appreciate, value and (possibly) love my new home.

Yesterday was no exception. I slogged through 70 miles of freeway traffic on a mid-Sunday (which took 1 hour and 45 minutes, thank goodness for Prairie Home Companion or it would have been a lot worse!) to a place high above the ocean called Rancho Palos Verdes. When it comes to offering endless views of the Pacific shoreline, coastal beaches and blue ocean, it’s as breathtakingly gorgeous of a place as the more popular Malibu. Except, it seemed to me yesterday, with way less traffic and commercial development.

I met up with architect Ron Radziner of Marmol-Radziner, a Venice, Calif.-based architectural firm (which also has landscape architecture, interior design, furniture design and prefabricated design in its portfolio) to tour one of his projects. The property is called Altamira Ranch and the American Society of Landscape Architects recognized it with a residential design honor award in 2008.  My interview with Ron about the project will appear in a future issue of Landscape Architecture magazine. Suffice it to say that the approximately three sweeping acres of California native plants, surrounding a contemporary residence (also designed by Marmol-Radziner) is a study in excellent design. It is lesson that Bud Merrill, my former garden design instructor, would have so loved. He preached the gospel of “environmentally responsive design” – and I tell you, this project – home and landscape – makes huge strides in that practice of only “lightly touching” the earth.  Stay tuned for the full story.

The alluring labyrinth patterns are visible from high above the beach

The alluring labyrinth patterns are visible from high above the beach

The stone design, made by unknown hands

The stone design, made by unknown hands

After Ron and I finished the interview, Julie, the owners’ personal assistant, offered to walk the property with me.

She is a wealth of knowledge about native plants and how they perform in a residential setting – especially this tricky coastal site that is exposed to high winds, intense sun, frequent blankets of fog, and saltwater.

We paused at the edge of the bluff and looked down at the beach, which was probably 200 feet below us.

Julie pointed out the stone labyrinths that beachcombers have placed on the shore and she told me where to park so I could walk down to see them (she also suggested where I could grab some lunch; ironically, it was at the grill where golfers eat when they’re finished playing the greens at the Trump International Golf Club).

I hiked down to the beach and made my way across the uneven, rocky surface. It isn’t one of those “take off your shoes and stroll barefoot” kind of beaches. My shoes kept filling up with pebbles, but I couldn’t imagine going bare. The wind was brisk, which you’ll notice in the poor sound of the two short movies I shot. How else do you show the experience of a labyrinth without a moving picture?

At the Beach with Deb:


Walking the Heart-shaped Labyrinth:


Here’s my takeaway from yesterday’s unexpected hour on the beach: I was given yet another gift of California’s natural beauty. It was a vivid reminder that I am here for a reason. I am still discovering the reason(s), but isn’t having a chance to drink in this beach, collect a few of these stones and witness the creative way artistic humans have responded to them reason enough?

Arts and Crafts architecture, then and now

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Our beloved Seattle bungalow, updated from its 1924 origins

My interest in garden design from the American Arts and Crafts era is connected with the affection we have for a 1924 Seattle Craftsman bungalow, which my husband and I bought in 1996.

The one-story house, about 1,100-square-feet in size, was painted light gray. With faded white trim, it was not much to look at, as it had been a rental house for so many years (seen at right). On our first visit, we ignored the sofa on the front porch (below, left) and instead gazed at the breathtaking views of Lake Washington, the Cascade Mountains, Seward Park and Mount Baker.

Thus began our love affair with Craftsman architecture. We wanted to expand the house while also preserving its character. My husband Bruce met Toby Taylor of Caledonia Bay Builders after previously seeing his work and tracking him down through a real estate agent

Toby (seen below, right) and Bruce hit it off immediately, an almost unheard of phenomenon between a builder and a potential client who is also a lawyer. Toby introduced us to Robin Abrahams, a Seattle architect who he described admiringly. We were impressed when Toby told us that Robin was “way cool.”

Miraculously, we went with our “gut” feelings and hired them both (this was highly rare for my lawyer-husband, who typically would have insisted on competitive bids from three candidates). We’d heard all the horror stories. Nearly everyone we knew who had restored, renovated or built a home was unenthusiastic about the process, or about their contractor, or about their architect.

But our little project was blessed. We adored Robin and her colleagues at Abrahams Architects. She is a bundle of creative energy, a thoughtful, very smart, incredibly gifted designer. We also loved Toby’s verve, his hard-working, can-do attitude, and his often amusing ski-bum vocabulary.