Debra Prinzing

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A filmmaker, his designer and me

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

. . . in an intimate, domestic setting illuminated by flames, candles and carnival lights.

The September Issue

The September Issue

Thanks to ample layout space and the 4-color gods, today’s Los Angeles Times HOME section devotes a whole lotta real estate to my feature story about the indoor and outdoor kitchens of hot documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler.  If his name doesn’t ring a bell, I refer you to the The September Issue, the documentary feature film that opened last weekend in New York and opens in Los Angeles and the rest of the world on Friday. The film follows the legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour and her creative team as they put together the fashion magazine’s most important issue of the year – in this case, the September 2007 issue. The expanded online photo gallery is here.

Debra and R.J. on location in his outdoor dining room

Debra and R.J. on location in his outdoor dining room

Every good thing that has happened to me since moving to Los Angeles comes through meeting interesting and talented people who, in turn, lead me to more fascinating and gifted ones. I met R.J. through interior designer Lory Johansson, whose studio is called Just Joh. I met Lory indirectly while profiling a Malibu garden designed by Scott Shrader for Garden Design magazine. Lory designed the interiors for Scott’s clients and I mentioned their collaboration on choosing materials for the indoor-outdoor elements in my text (that piece appeared in January, called “Sunset Soiree.”).

During the editing process, I received a message from the Garden Design fact-checker saying that Lory would love to show me one of her outdoor projects. We connected by phone and arranged to meet at R.J.’s Hollywood Hills property this past February. It takes a lot of time to scout gardens. It’s kind of like buying futures on the commodities market. You have to spend a few hours on the freeway, usually in crummy traffic, on the off-chance that the architecture, interiors or landscape you’re scheduled to visit will be a worthy candidate for publication. For some reason, after speaking with Lory, I had a hunch the trip to R.J.’s wouldn’t be a waste of my time.

Designer Lory Johansson and me. The photo is a little blurry because it was taken without a flash by candlelight. We're happy that the shoot is over!

Designer Lory Johansson and me. The photo is a little blurry because it was taken without a flash by candlelight. We're happy that the shoot is over!

The property is just stunning, high in the hills above Beachwood Canyon and literally under the HOLLYWOOD sign we’ve all seen in a million movies and TV shows. It’s a circa 1924 Spanish Colonial Revival home, which R.J. acquired in 2005 and has subsequently restored with Lory’s brilliant design skills. Big but not imposing, the house sits on three-quarters of an acre. There is a beautiful garden with a swimming pool, strolling paths, a lawn for croquet and square-dancing, a secret garden and other intimate spaces. You can’t see that now, though, because photographs of the garden are under wraps until Garden Design’s March 2010 issue (photographed by the very talented Jack Coyier). That’s right. First the Los Angeles Times. Then Garden Design. See how lucky I was connecting with Lory?

At the outdoor pizza party featured in today’s LA Times, freelance photographer Ringo Chiu, who shoots frequently for the newspaper, captured the festivities through his lens. I tried to stay out of the way while also surreptitiously “art directing.” Anyone who has worked with a newspaper photographer over the years (this comment is for you Melanie Munk) knows how impossible it is to get them to do what you want. And even more impossible to style a shot as you would for a magazine or book. However tough that “dance” can be, Ringo at least humored my few suggestions (ie, shouldn’t we light the fireplace? how about the candles? let’s move that dead potted rosemary!). He did a great job and it was fun for me to snap a few shots of him at work, shown here.

Photographer and Filmmaker

Photographer and Filmmaker

You can draw a lot of inspiration from this story for your own garden. The best tip from Lory is to go bold with color. She designed the entire outdoor kitchen, benches, fireplace and privacy wall with a white stucco finish, like R.J.’s house. But when it was finished, Lory says she stood at the opposite end of the garden and looked across the pool to the too-white scene. “It looked like Greece instead of Los Angeles,” she lamented. Lory knew color would lend heightened drama, especially in the outdoor setting.

The day before R.J. was planning to host his first big al fresco pizza party, she couldn’t stand it. Lory went out and ordered gallons of paint – rich, deep, paprika-terra cotta red – and got the crew started painting. When R.J. came home and saw what was going on, she promised him that if he didn’t like the result, she would pay to repaint everything white again. (Can you imagine how many coats of white paint it would take to cover dark red?).

Let’s just say Lory’s gamble paid off. You have to read my story to see what R.J. says of the decision to keep it.

After researching and reporting this story, I have two new items on my own garden wish list. Number one: I need to buy a 100-foot string of carnival lights to suspend around my own garden. Number two: I desperately want my own wood-burning pizza oven. But only if I can have Chef Alberto come over to cook for me!

Here are more of my candid party photographs:

Stylish Chicken Coop in Santa Barbara

Sunday, August 16th, 2009
A tiny chicken coop with loads of style

A tiny chicken coop with loads of style

Last week’s visit to Santa Barbara included a stop at “Rooms & Gardens,” a wonderful home furnishings, antiques, accessories and interior design emporium on State Street.

I needed to check out the store’s new backyard chicken coop and garden.

Owners Eric and Jami Voulgaris recently created the sweet coop and romantic garden, where four Buff Orpington hens reside.

When I met Eric a few weeks ago, at the Santa Monica “Rooms & Gardens” store (they own this location with a partner, actress Mary Steenbergen), he told me about the chicken coop project.

The little building measures about 6-by-6 feet in size, with a charming shingled roof, board-and-batten siding, a country-style screen door and shutters. Stained that dreamy grey-blue shade, it looks both elegant and timeless.

A curved cobblestone path leads from the store’s back door out into the postage-stamp-sized garden. Picket fencing contains the four gals in their little yard.

The Voulgaris children named the Buff Orpington chicks, born on Easter morning: “Henny Penny,” “Rosy,” “Cornflake,” and “Scramble.”

The 800-square-foot garden’s renovation came about because it had to be ripped up when the neighboring Apple store was moving in. When that construction came to an end, Eric and Jami saw it as a chance to dress up the space, which really hadn’t changed much since Rooms & Gardens opened 16 years ago.

Happy chickens living in a happy garden

Happy chickens living in a happy garden

Pretty and inviting, a corner garden

Pretty and inviting, a corner garden

Fully organic, the Martha’s Vineyard-inspired garden is landscaped with espaliered apple trees, Meyer lemon trees, ‘Iceburg’ roses and clumps of lavender. One corner holds a display of potted hydrangeas and an iron chair.

The garden and hens complement the carefree lifestyle settings inside Rooms & Gardens. Eric describes the store’s look and feel as “a fusion of British Colonial, ethnic accents, Chinoiserie and a relaxed coastal theme.”

I love the happy vibe that you feel upon entering. It’s a store where sink-into furniture is paired with uncommon accessories, all of which suggests well-loved and well-lived-in environments.

The garden is open to visitors during store hours. If you want to taste the yummy brown eggs produced here, check with the staff. Eric mentioned that a plan is in the works to supply Tuttini’s, a cafe around the corner, with their daily source of eggs!

Santa Barbara Style – indoors and outdoors

Sunday, April 26th, 2009
A tapestry of showy succulents, designed by Botanik

A tapestry of showy succulents, designed by Botanik

Erin (Keosian) Taylor’s  cool plant and design emporium called Botanik was one of my very first garden discoveries when I moved to Southern California in late summer of 2006.

I have Gillian Mathews, another awesome garden retailer who created Ravenna Gardens in Seattle, to thank for the introduction.

In September 2006, Gillian and Theresa Malmanger created and led the “Los Angeles-Santa Barbara Garden Tour” for the Northwest Horticultural Society. So I piggybacked on that trip and joined all my Seattle pals only 3 weeks after I moved here. I was in for a treat!

It turns out that I needed Gillian and Theresa to be my “guides” to begin to understand my new backyard.

It was the best gift they could have shared. The three-day garden extravaganza gave me a front seat tour to some amazing private gardens, public gardens and retail outlets. It fed my spirit and soul as I got to pal around with several very special, dear friends.It made me begin to realize that I was going to be “okay” living here because I started viewing SoCal’s horticultural and garden design world through the eyes of these savvy Seattle folks. That began my long education as to just how cool my new environs are.

One of our stops was the coastal village of Summerland, where Botanik occupies two cute cottages. Created by Erin Taylor, a fresh, young talent who has an amazing eye for design and a solid footing in horticulture, Botanik captured my imagination for gardening with succulents in a whole new way.

Since then, over the past few years, I’ve visited Summerland whenever I could (it’s only a few miles south of Santa Barbara off of Hwy. 101). Erin is inspiring, creative, and refreshingly casual in her design approach. She and staff designer, Molly Hutto create succulent displays like I’ve never before seen. Their creations are oft-copied but never surpassed in composition – with delicious succulent textures, colors, forms and patterns.

Botanik's entry porch converted into a potted plant display

Botanik's entry porch converted into a potted plant display

botanik7In 2007, Kate Karam and I produced a story about Botanik’s luscious succulent designs for a future Cottage Living story. We had such a great time working with Erin and Molly that day. The designs they came up with were to die for! Sadly, as you all know, Cottage Living ceased publication after the December 2008 issue and we all miss it (we miss garden editor Kate, too!) Who knows where that film will surface or whether it will at all (I’m hoping Sunset picks it up, since it’s a sister magazine).

Not one to sit around and wait, I was recently fortunate to interest another editor in Botanik. Well, that’s not fair to say because I haven’t met an editor or publication yet NOT isn’t interested in Erin and Botanik!

But, earlier this spring, Erin graciously agreed to let 805 Living create a story around her natural design philosophy for interior and exterior spaces.

My story appears in the April issue of 805 Living, with photographs by Gary Moss. Here it is for you to read and enjoy. And for those of you planning a Garden Pilgrimage to Santa Barbara (Lotusland, Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, etc.) don’t leave town without stopping in Summerland to visit Botanik.