Greystone Estate

Maison de Luxe, a 10-week long national designer show house at the historic Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, raised funds for restoration at the historic estate. Twenty-five designers were selected to re-imagine the iconic national treasure. Purchased in 1926 by an oil magnate as a wedding gift for his son, the property was developed as a residential estate. According to the Friends of Greystone website, “Greystone Mansion was designed by the renowned Southern Californian architect Gordon B. Kaufmann and … the landscape architect was Paul G. Thiene who used a potpourri of Gothic and neoclassic architectural styles.”

The Design Challenge

Extensive site restrictions made the 10-week installation complex. The existing garden surfaces had to be completely protected as items were transported onto the property. All structural components and in-ground plantings had to remain untouched. Nothing could be put in or taken out of the ground. No existing plants could be trimmed. Nothing could be permanently altered. Last, (but certainly not least) no maintenance was provided for the 10 week installation! Translation: all plants had to be in containers, and those containers could leave no marks.

Our situation as a design team was much like the experiences of the many film crews who have filmed at this location: Ghostbusters, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Death Becomes Her and dozens of other movies were shot at this site. We had to create something spectacular, comprised of live plants that would receive no care or water, that would last for 10 weeks and leave not a trace of ever having been there. It was a real head-scratcher.

The Design Solution

We wanted to respect the estate's long, auspicious history yet bring a 21st century sensibility to the space. It was all about contrast: contemporary elements mingling with established 1930 design. “It's NOT your granddaddy's mansion anymore!” became our overarching theme --- and our rallying cry. 

In addition, although Greystone borrows its architectural leanings from Europe, it is physically rooted in Beverly Hills. Because the existing garden offers no hint of its location in southern California, we wanted the plantings to provide a strong sense of place. This was accomplished using several sub-themes, reinforced by repetition:

●      The plant palette echoed the soft, hazy grey tones of chaparral and the tawny grasses of the “Golden State.”

●      Extensive use of succulents and drought tolerant plants spoke to the limited rainfall that waters our native landscapes.

●      Our indigenous plant communities are tremendously rich, with a myriad of wondrously diverse species. In contrast to the existing Reflecting Pool garden, with its controlled use of a small number of plant species, the plantings for the show house installation celebrated diversity, creating a lively and harmonious composition.

Two modern "pergolas" embraced the reflecting pool, reinforcing the strong symmetrical lines of the existing garden and drawing the eye to the focal point at the end of the pool where contemporary garden sculpture blended seamlessly with the garden architecture and the panoramic view of L.A.’s downtown skyscrapers. The twin pergolas, comprised of a series of aubergine-colored modern arbors bolted to custom burlap-clad planter boxes, ran the entire 60 foot length of the pool.

Foliage spilled over the edges of the planter boxes, grounding the pergolas. The mélange of plants - in dusty silver, blues and grays - connected the water, stonework and surrounding plantings to the larger building and reflected the dominant tones of the city surrounding it.

Modern sculpture, made of recycled wine barrel hoops, repeated the timeless form of the circle, as did the clusters of round pots and dangling round mirrors that brought vibrancy to the space. A playful collection of planters and traditional urns, simple furnishings and dramatic night lighting struck the perfect note to complete the lighthearted design. And - Voila! - as if by magic, this venerable yet staid garden was transformed into a delightfully youthful and fun space.

Indeed, this was NOT your granddaddy's mansion anymore… 

Special Features

Many components of the show garden were on loan for the event. "Consumable" components - plants, potting soil, mulches, lumber, and burlap - were reused on other projects. Efficient LED lighting ran on rechargeable batteries.