Low Water Use Backyard 

My family recently rehabbed an approximately 300-square-foot grassy area into a low-water-use play area for our young child. Although we had been planning on doing this project for awhile, the incentive of getting a rebate back from our utility made it even more compelling. There are a lot of considerations when planning a landscape design, especially one involving a play structure: how do you want the space to function, what’s the appropriate fill for safety, how much maintenance do I want to do, what are the safest materials, budget, etc. I hope to touch on all of these points in describing how and why I designed the project the way I did.

Our first goal with this space was to provide our daughter with an outdoor area for her to play. Because the space is small, we chose this geodesic dome play structure from Lifetime (available on Amazon here) because we felt that it allowed for more “unstructured” and imaginative play. We put a swing and some monkey bars hanging from the inside (it’s 5-feet tall) and also have a parachute that can go over the top and make it more of a igloo or house inside. The sand pit provides a safe surface should someone fall, but is also a fun place to build sand castles or bury treasure. The structure really packs a lot of punch for the space it takes up! We then planned the rest of the small space AROUND the play structure. We put mulch down because it was cost effective and good for safety. It also allows us to change our mind later as we may add some low-growing ground cover after the heat of summer passes such as dymondia.

Be sure to “FOLLOW” my blog with the links at the bottom of the page (mobile) or on the right-hand side (desktop).

This job ended up taking us about two full-days with 2-adults. We had to remove about 4-cubic-yards of soil and grass. We then created a circular structure with some bender board that helped  us decide where to place the structure (this is KEY since the assembled play structure is VERY heavy.) If you notice to the left of the firepit there is a gravel-ly looking area, this is a drain for water, and the entire space gently slopes towards that point.  Without drainage all of our sand and mulch would float away and/or get moldy during the rare but torrential rain that we experience here in Los Angeles. There is also a drain under the sand pit which is  about 18-inches deep in the very center.  Here is a short document about the required depth of ground covers for safe play areas. Also, if you use sand for a play area, be sure it is “silica-free” sand because of the danger to children’s lungs of inhaling the fine silica.  Read more about that here.

Grass and synthetic grass are not considered safe ground covers for play structures because they become dense and compacted over time (don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger here…) We wanted to move away from grass anyway because of the water use, we also avoided synthetic turf for reasons I mentioned in an earlier post about low water use landscaping and about lead in synthetic turf.

Once the shredded wood bark and sand were in place, we then planted with some low-water-use plants including fortnight lily, blue fescue and yarrow. I love how the plants soften the angular lines of the firepit, they also help keep kids away from the corners which was my original reason for planting them. With the plants in place the final design has a pond-like feel with the “pool” of sand in the middle and the reedy-looking fortnight lily sprouting up in random corners. There is still plenty of space in front of the firepit to place chairs and hang out, and the flexibility of the mulch will allow us to plant more at a later date or put in a vegetable garden again if we ever decide we have the time for that. This design is practically no maintenance, and our daughter and her friends have been thoroughly enjoying the multi-functional nature of the space.

Be a spark in the world!

Be sure to “FOLLOW” my blog with the links at the bottom of the page (mobile) or on the right-hand side (desktop).

Copyright 2015 All Rights Reserved

Champagne Bottle Chandelier

Here is a design project you can do with all the leftover bottles you’ll have tomorrow morning!
I created this “Bubbly Chandelier” for my (now closed) retail store Green and Greener back in 2007. It hung over my register counter for many years, and was even written up in the LA times by David Keeps. Putting the individual pendant lights together into a chandelier may require a bit of outsourcing.

Step 1: Cut your bottles. Take your empty champagne, wine, beer bottles to a glass store and ask them to cut off the bottom for you. In my experience between 10-20% of bottles will shatter during this process so be prepared to have back-ups. I’ve seen videos of people explaining how to cut glass from home, that is something I would personally never recommend or try. My glass guy would charge me $10/a bottle to do this. If you want to keep the cage and foil from your champagne bottles, cut through the foil with an Exacto blade so that it comes off cleanly. Many other projects take the labels off the bottles, but I chose the Perrier Jouet bottles specifically because I like the artwork and it brings back wonderful memories of a trip to New Zealand. For me part of the fun is the memories the bottles have!

Step 2: String electrical wire. You can get all the supplies to do this from a local hardware store or ask an electrician to do it for you. Check out the blog posts below on how to do this. The most important thing to remember is to creat a knot with the wire on the inside of the bottle to take the weight of the bottle off of the socket. See the Remodelaholic pictures.

Step 3: Choose your bulbs. I chose the round LED bulbs that look like bubbles to complement the champagne bottles (hence Bubbly Chandelier). These bulbs are made by a company called TCP and are their medium-sized festive light. The bulbs last a long-time and the Tivoli white color (pictured) gives off a gentle candle-like glow. They are not bright enough to do work by. The festive light also comes in a small size and a really large size that would also be fun to incorporate if you can get your hands on them (not easy, they are mostly to the trade.) The bulbs inside the bottles are TCP flame-tip CFL bulbs in Las Vegas white. TCP makes really high-quality products that cost a bit more but are worth it.

Step 4: Hang the lights. You can either hardwire them so you can use a switch to turn them on, or you can wire them to a plug. See blogs below for more on that. To space out my lights my electrician fabricated a structure that worked for my industrial-looking space. He took some hollow curtain rods, drilled holes every few inches and passed the wire through. We used 2-rods that were spaced a few inches apart so that there was some depth to the fixture as well as some width. Have fun and be a spark in the world! Here is to an amazing 2015.

Here are some other instructional blog posts and videos on this same type of project.

Remodelaholic shows a step-by-step blog including glass-cutting:http://www.remodelaholic.com/2010/09/how-to-make-a-glass-wine-bottle-pendant-light-diy/

Decoist shows 50-ideas for similar DIY light projects. http://www.decoist.com/2013-10-31/diy-pendant-lights/

youTube demo by a South African designer https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EnZa9i2B4cs

Design 101: Mixing High and Low

You often hear in fashion magazines about the benefits of mixing “high and low” with high meaning expensive, designer pieces and low meaning everything else.  It’s a good practice because it keeps the total cost of your outfit lower and also ensures that you have an interesting mix of pieces rather then looking like you stepped out of the pages of a specific brand’s catalog.

Mixing high and low also applies to home decor.  I use second-hand pieces bought at a thrift store alongside collector’s items when setting my dining table.  But which is which?  A-ha…that’s the great part about it! Many times the “low” pieces look just as good as the “high” pieces.  All three of the platters were purchased for a couple of dollars at a Goodwill.  Two of them happen to be crystal.  The white pieces are original mid-century ceramic pieces by well-known designers Eva Zeisel, Ben Seibel and Russel Wright.  But all of the pieces “play well” together and make my table look more interesting than if I just used clear glass or just used white ceramic.


One other tip: I like to use only clear glass and white ceramic on my table because I feel like it allows the colors of the food and flowers to really be the stars of the table.  Also, by using color or material as your unifying factor, it allows you to play with the shape, pattern and texture.  All 6 of the pieces in my picture are by different designers/companies, but they have a cohesive look on my table because they all share a neutral color scheme.  Even though the 3 clear platters have different patterns, they still “go” together because they are unified by color and material.  It’s also very economical to use clear and white for tableware because you can easily find pieces to fill-in when something breaks (which they eventually will!) Have fun setting your tables!