written by:
photos by:
July 23, 2013
Originally published in Designers at Home
as
A Lot in a Lot
A Bay Area landscape designer works her yard like a jigsaw puzzle, packing a bevy of distinctive destinations into a steep and diminutive plot.
Modern cottage renovation in Marin County
"It's not about the space; it's about envisioning what you can do with what you have." —Loretta Gargan
Photo by 
1 / 4
Wooden garage with green roof
A green roof blooms atop the detached garage.
Photo by 
2 / 4
Modern picnic table in Marin County, California

A Bay Area landscape designer works her yard like a jigsaw puzzle, packing a bevy of distinctive destinations into a steep and diminutive plot.

Photo by: Morgan Rachel Levy

Read the entire article here.

Photo by 
3 / 4
Modern outdoor lap pool area with slatted cedar screen
LEDs behind the slatted cedar screen cast a soft glow on the concrete and wood surrounding the lap pool.

Click here to view more photos of the renovated cottage!

Photo by 
4 / 4
Modern cottage renovation in Marin County
"It's not about the space; it's about envisioning what you can do with what you have." —Loretta Gargan
Architect 

Until a few years ago, Loretta Gargan had spent her entire career as a landscape designer creating outdoor havens for other people, without a proper yard to call her own. But don’t feel sorry for her: She never felt deprived. “I’ve always interpreted a feeling of nature wherever I am, no matter the context,” she says. “Even putting big branches in a vase or arranging rocks—that’s enough to make me happy. It’s not about the space; it’s about envisioning what you can do with what you have.”

That vision served her well six years ago, when she and her partner, the artist Catherine Wagner, first visited the one-bedroom shack in Marin County, California, that would become their weekend retreat. The house and land were sorely neglected. “Things were growing haphazardly because they’d been planted by squirrels and birds,” recalls Gargan. “Oaks and cotoneasters were popping up all over the place. The whole property was on this gentle slope, which meant you couldn’t put a chair down without tipping over.”

The couple hired San Francisco architect Jonathan Feldman to renovate and extend the cottage while maintaining its historic charms, which include old-growth Douglas fir ceiling beams and a 1930s stone fireplace. Feldman designed a two-story addition that contains a master bedroom and bath upstairs and, downstairs, a living room with sliding glass doors that open wide to the landscape. Feldman describes it as an “open-air pavilion below, tree house above.”

Modern picnic table in Marin County, California

A Bay Area landscape designer works her yard like a jigsaw puzzle, packing a bevy of distinctive destinations into a steep and diminutive plot.

Photo by: Morgan Rachel Levy

Read the entire article here.

Gargan and Wagner spent weekends at the property for three years before tackling a full-scale landscape redesign; during that time, they wrote and revised their list of desires. This included a dining deck where they could host parties; a lap pool and spa; a green roof atop the detached garage; and various patios where they could lounge throughout the day, chasing or escaping the sun depending on their mood and the season.

To create the landscape plan, the couple first “mapped the idiosyncratic plants that had to stay,” says Wagner, including old oaks and a hundred-year-old olive tree intertwined with a vigorous climbing white rose. They set the 36-foot lap pool in the sunniest spot. Gargan then fit all the other components around the site, grading the slopes and creating patios, and “working on the space as if it was a puzzle to fit in as much as possible in a relatively small area.” She planted native grasses, edible plants, and African blue basil, the last selected for its potent bee-attracting properties (“it’s kind of magical—you always have company,” she says). The green roof blooms with poppies, strawberries, and a spectrum of native wildflowers.

Their plan was ambitious, considering the lot—one of the smallest in the town of Ross. Even Feldman was mildly alarmed: “I was expecting, maybe, half the lines on the paper,” he says of his first glimpse at Gargan’s drawings. But thanks to Gargan’s experience designing tight urban gardens, maximizing every square inch came naturally. Today, the couple has just one complaint: With so many distinctive places to be, weekend visits always feel short. “There’s not a bad location,” says Gargan. “You can move around the property all day and never have enough time to sit everywhere!”

Click here to view more photos of the renovated cottage!

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016
Modern prefab lakeside home in Bloomingdale, New Jersey
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
June 18, 2016
Rectangular bento glass table with compartments.
These top-notch projects by design students earned a spot on our honor roll.
June 18, 2016
bozley all
Jory Brigham picks up his family’s trade and takes it in unexpected directions.
June 17, 2016
ph133407
The outlandish Belgian fashion designer, a member of the iconic Antwerp Six, creates a quirky pattern-filled capsule collection for the Swedish mega-retailer—with a high-tech twist.
June 17, 2016
2016 Triumph Pavilion
A creative take on the classic children's toy.
June 17, 2016
planar and simple chicago farmhouse addition kitchen mutina cabinets tiles pella window kohler faucet
A relaxed interior and radical roof make a home more sociable and energy-efficient.
June 17, 2016
up and away renovation san francisco family room richard wright painting sofa
A couple bring cohesion to an architectural mishmash in San Francisco.
June 17, 2016
new head of its class connecticut renovation summer home facade bleached cedar siding volumes glass bridge
A Connecticut home with a notable architectural legacy gets an expansive update for a family of six.
June 17, 2016
Rockefeller Center filled with cactus during the month of June.
To welcome summer, the plaza at Rockefeller Center transforms into a desert landscape.
June 16, 2016
Tennessee cabin with porch and a natural hardscape
A metal-and-cedar home rises on farmland in East Tennessee.
June 16, 2016
sailing the high desert prefab vaction home narrow building storage outdoor kitchen facade
A prefabricated off-the-grid vacation home in eastern Washington is one with the land.
June 16, 2016