Keep It Simple, Stupid



For the last couple years, I have driven past this building off Coast Highway in south Laguna several times a week, usually on my way down to San Onofre State Beach to go surfing.


It’s hard to get a good look because traffic is usually heavy and you need to keep moving and try not to hit the pedestrians stepping into the crosswalks. But I was always craning my neck, trying to get a good peek past that massive concrete entry and intriguing rusty “weathered” steel (aka Corten-Steel) gate.



The design was so simple–some decomposed granite, a few strategically placed (gorgeous) succulents and cacti,
and a couple feathery California Pepper trees.



Yet I couldn’t believe how it drew me in. Everytime I passed I always said to myself, “Next time, I need to bring my camera.”



Or I would think, “I should come back when the sun is going down and the light is more gentle.” But my timing was never right.


For some reason, I decided to grab my camera and make a special trip this morning to see if I could take a look inside the beckoning gate. It has been cold here in recent months, and rainy, so not a lot of surfing for me.


I always feel a bit sheepish wandering into places like this. But it can never hurt to ask. Turns out the place is the office of a group of architects and landscape architects. Why was I surprised? I guess I thought the design was so pleasingly simple that some lay person figured out how to put this together without any formal training. Possibly some hipster engery? It sure looks easy.


No. I was wrong. The architect, Ed Lohrbach, and his colleagues there seem to be so high-end that he mainly works via word of mouth. Ed was very friendly, however, and told me I was welcome to take photos. He said this was just an empty lot next to their offices, 31742 Coast Hwy., and it’s still a work in progress. (Can you see the Paolo Soleri wind chime in the pepper tree?)


I assume the other designers who work there like to eat their lunches out here, have meetings with clients on sunny days or enjoy a TGIF barby on Friday afternoons. I’m sure you are noticing, but how about those chains as an overhang element? Or the simple river rock meandering through the patio as a type of faux wash. My guess is that’s grape vine over the fountain, which will soften the look when its leaves return in spring.



Now this yucca high up on top of the wall was on the fancier side.


The blocky, concrete accent features, repeated throughout the space, had a bold, Aztec feel to me, which hinted at the designers’ local clout. It still amazes me how few spaces in our town use clean, modernist lines, organic materials and native plantings like these.


You can tell this was an impromptu visit, with vestiges of the holidays and half-hazard chair placement.


If you happen to be driving through town on south PCH–somewhere around The Coyote Grill, South Swell Donuts and Ti Amo restaurant–see if this place jumps out at you, too. Funny how the best stuff always looks the most simple. Or is that what makes it art?

14 thoughts on “Keep It Simple, Stupid

  1. Fantabulous! I love this garden completely. I’m thinking how we could interpret the plants in the final image with ones that would survive our winters here in Austin. It could be done!

  2. Glad you brought your camera! They pulled off modern without it being harsh and uninviting, just enough agaves in mass and softening, plus that water feature! The mixed gravel sizes, then the smooth DG elsewhere a nice touch. Easy to replicate here in ABQ. Thanks for inspiring me; need it on a couple design tasks today.

  3. Wow! What a beautiful garden, I’d like to see the interior of the building too, I’m sure it’s even more intriquing to see the relationship of the building to the exterior space. Nice photos, thanks for sharing!

  4. what’s the name of the plants that are the large blossoms in the bottom picture? they’re beautiful succulents

  5. Thank you so much for posting. I too drive by this pretty front garden twice a day and have always wondered what was inside. Beautiful

  6. Do you know the plant species? My guess: Euphorbia ingens variegata and straight species, Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks of Fire’, Furcraea foetida variegata, Agave potatorum, Agave ‘Blue Flame’, Agave americana variegata, Dasylirion wheeleri, Schinus molle, Senna artemesioides, and the vine looks like Boston Ivy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *