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My Secret Front Yard Is Finally Revealed

After FOUR years it seems appropriate to show you that we do indeed have a secret front yard. Despite my apparent (obvious) lack of privacy, I kept this off the blog until today – never even photographed it! I was always tweaking, always wanting to improve it, so selling it gave me the opportunity to dial it in. So before the reveal, I want to show you what it looked like when we bought it and how we turned it into an almost Disney-like, butterfly friendly, birds chirping, hummingbird bathing private magical English country front garden.

the original listing photo

When we saw the original listing, above, we loved the house immediately. It’s covered in ivy, has such pretty architecture, original brown coat stucco and it’s set back from the road. It is one of two houses first built on this hill in Los Feliz by two brothers, both architects/carpenters, both covered in ivy. It is SPECIAL. We loved it immediately.

But we were excited to make it our own, not to mention create some privacy and more purpose for all that space. So over the last four years. we did the following: 1. Replaced the path, 2. Upped the landscaping (including trees), 3. Put in irrigation, pathway and landscape lighting, 4. Fixed all the drainage issues and put in a french drain, 5. Replaced the garage doors, 6. Painted the trim, 7. Put in a citrus grove, 8. Added a water feature and 9. The most expensive yet worth it – created a privacy fence with electronic driveway and pedestrian gates.

Right before we sold it I amped it up even MORE because this property is dreamy and I frankly have too much home pride to release it to someone else and show you guys without it being at its absolute best. Brian didn’t agree with my investing in it at the last minute, but I did and I’m so happy that I’m leaving it at its most beautiful for someone to take over. You don’t buy this house for the closet space, you buy it for the magic. The charm. The yards. The butterflies and hummingbirds. So over the last few years, I dedicated a lot of time and money to making the front yard special and magical to match the backyard and the inside. At times it was almost ridiculous–with multiple butterflies flying, birds chirping, and hummingbirds bathing at the same time so I guess it worked. 🙂 It’s like the movie “Enchanted” which we recently watched with the kids and they LOVED (maybe because it reminded them of home).


For whatever reason, I didn’t take close up before shots BEFORE we started remodeling but you get the gist of it here. There were boxwoods and dying grass (because there was either no or bad irrigation) and that’s about it. I could have just nursed the grass but once we had Pete landscaping the back and a ton of extra plant/bushes we realized how much prettier the front could be.

The side yard was just dirt and totally unused – partly because it’s very sloped and hard to figure out why you’d go over there with such a great backyard. In retrospect, I would have leveled it (tiers?) or raised it and turned it into a large vegetable garden but I didn’t realize that I would be so into gardening until a year ago, then winter + pandemic + move equals no changes. But it gets a lot of sun and could have been a great use of space. Instead, we put in a grove of citrus trees – some thrived amazingly, some not.

This is the ONLY shot I have of the side yard, my apologies. It’s so hard to even see it!!! We used DG (decomposed granite) and put in irrigation for the 7 citrus trees, but some of them didn’t thrive because the DG kinda suffocated them so we had to give them more space and water. But the ones that thrived sure were fun for the kids to pick and yes, make lemonade :).

I worked with Pete Hieatt (Deluxe Plants) a few years ago on the yard and man has it grown in (in a good way). I think the rains from last January and the spring rains we had this year made it THRIVE. The tree is an evergreen pear that blooms bright white blooms in the winter which made us so happy.


The path was a pretty bright red brick. Early on we had to demo a bunch out to fix a drainage issue, which we did, so one we had to spend the money to replace it we figured we’d put in something we loved more.

We chose a meandering path of flagstone – the same that we put in the back, with DG in between. At one point we had lot of greenery and even white flowering ground cover in between but as you can imagine with a lot of traffic it doesn’t last long. Here’s what it looks like now – the plants have EXPLODED.

To save money we kept the brick retaining wall that the flower bed was on and the brick at the entrance but mixed the flagstone wherever there was a path.

New Garage Doors

The old ones were original, wood, rotted and so heavy. Then they broke and I think we kept them that way for months before we decided to invest in new doors. These were only $3k, metal, BRAND NEW and the white matched the white close enough to our trim (here are similar ones). Anyone else with an old house knows that while there are some things you want to remain old, totally unfunctional, dangerous, garage doors are not one of them. I could have customized them to be cuter (add windows, etc) but it’s just not where we wanted to spend money. We always meant for the garage to be an extra room (it has cute windows inside!) and even at one point had California Closets draw up plans for it to be a workshop/craft room, and accessed through our playroom, but because of what I do it instead became storage for furniture and props. The potential is there though and in California you don’t really need to park your car in the garage unless you have a fancy car, so basically if I weren’t a furniture hoarder you could make this a whole other room which is VERY popular right now with isolation.


a reminder of the before

As a reminder, there was no gate on this property. Now we aren’t big “stay off my lawn” people but we are big “don’t let kids get run over” people. A lot of people walk on our street (it’s strangely well known for walking) so sure, we wouldn’t mind more privacy, too. So pretty soon after moving, I designed the gate and now it’s so overgrown with jasmine and ivy that you can barely even see it!

pedestrian gate

The gate and fence should be its own post as there was so much information and learning involved. It was 100% custom, electric, and yes an investment (I think around $20k). In our neighborhood you can’t have a tall fence, I think that 48″ might be the tallest you can get. We didn’t want to close off all the view so we chose a picket fence (but considered something more decorative and metal to match the patio railing in the back). But we ultimately loved the idea of a picket fence to make it feel more cottage-y and cozy. The driveway gate and the pedestrian gate had to be designed by me which was scary as it’s not something that I have done before, but I actually LOVE how they both turned out.

driveway gate

We set it back a few feet so we could have a sidewalk and somewhere to step onto when we get out of the car.

It took over a week to install. We used a company called “Shamrock” (tell Patrick I say hey) and the quality and execution were great, but he’s hard to get a hold of (FYI). Here’s what it looks like now (via the real estate photos, there were cars parked when Sara and I shot, but you get the idea).

The Fountain

Oh, I do love a water feature. It’s hereditary as my dad LOVES them and passed that obsession down. I think I installed this one after we lived with our “stream” up in the mountains and the sound of the water is so calming, the birds bathing is so sweet and I just wanted one so badly. I bought it via Unique Garden Decor.

It normally has more water in the bowl and birds bathe in it which you can watch from the playroom through the windows.

Speaking of windows, we took the ivy off the windows to give that room some light. We just clip them as they start growing over the glass, but the entire root system of the ivy is at the base so we can’t remove the stick part or else the ivy over the whole house would die, and then I would die.

I’m going to miss that front door VERY MUCH. The red, the roses, the lanterns. It made me happy every single day.

Right before we took these photos I realized that the area to the left was blank and then I realized that I had an extra outdoor bench floating around. I styled it with cut flowers in a basket and boots and now I want that life again – minus the gutter, another fun way to spend money and invest in your home 🙂

It was a lot of work and a big investment and took probably a year and a half to execute (without a shoot date/deadline I’m just like the all of us – prioritizing our own house is so hard), but I’m a firm believer that the spaces you see every day should bring you joy. We hung out in the back on the patio and in the yard because it just made more sense with the kids, but I loved how the front really told the story of the house the second you saw it. And yes, I’m getting VERY sentimental about leaving it permanently. Every house has a soul, sure, but this one has so much old soul that is impossible to manufacture or replicate. I’m so glad our family got to be part of it for 4 years. xx

In case you missed any of the other reveals so far check them out: The Living Room | The Kid’s Shared Bedroom | The Basement Guestroom/Office | Basement BathroomElliot’s Room | Kitchen and Dining Room | The Entry

Reveal and Family Photos by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, Original landscaping by Deluxe Plants, and outdoor lighting and additional landscaping by Jessica Viola of Viola Gardens.


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70 thoughts on “My Secret Front Yard Is Finally Revealed

  1. Absolutely charming. You served the house well, and it makes me happy to think of the lucky family who will enjoy it after you’ve moved on. Thank you for sharing your street side with us.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Emily! What a magical space. The ivy is a real showstopper. I’ve always been under the impression, though, that ivy really wrecks havoc and can destroy outdoor walls (their tentacles break through brick, stone, stucco, etc). Did you ever have any issues with this? Separately, PLEASE do a post on the front gate! I live in a city (that gets snow in winter so perhaps a little different), and the only automatic (alley) gates I’ve been able to find are those ugly roll-up ones. Serious gap that needs filling and there is serious market demand for something else!! Also curious how all the plants in your backyard held up and what you would have done differently. How exciting you’re already in escrow – congrats!

    1. I wonder about the ivy too. My experience with it hasn’t been good, especially around windows. I’ve even had it creep through bricks into the basement.

      1. There’s ivy and then there’s a killer variety of ivy.
        Some can break the mortar so bricks fall down.
        Others are non-invasive and simply a beautiful ‘dress’ for a house to wear.

    2. We heard about this so we get it trimmed twice a year and its not a big deal at all. its been there for 100 years so regardless it hopefully is never going anywhere. We LOVE it.

      1. We live in a log cabin on the river, and the ivy is always trying to join the party indoors! We just do our best to tame it, but we realize that in the “man-versus-nature” experience of living in a 100+ year-old cabin, it’s just part of the deal.
        Emily, your yard is beautiful! I used to live in a tiny house in Silverlake, and aimed for the same aesthetic. I don’t think I achieved it exactly, but with an itty-bitty yard, I could at least feel that sense of lushness pretty well.

  3. Great post, thanks so much for letting us see it. So much good luck and blessings on your move.
    But the real deal her is Birdie mimicking her Mommie’s toe pose for shoots! Ha!

  4. This a a dream house.
    No wonder someone already snapped it up!
    What an improvement from the beginning.

  5. Love it! The charm of that house is just amazing. And I’ve heard driveway gates create a nice feeling of safety (and actually do provide a level of security, of course). Anyways, your line “I’m a firm believer that the spaces you see every day should bring you joy” as related to front yards made me chuckle – when we fist moved in (just four years ago this month), we had a fern growing all along our long front walkway, up to the front door. Then the house was tented, and b/c of the overhang of the roofline, most of the ferns were fried to a crisp – there were bright rust colored! So I went to town on the front yard walkway area – we were planning the interior reno, and I was SO excited to DO SOMETHING, to start improving/updating something! I spent 27 hours (over the course of many early Sat/Sun mornings) pulling up the dead plants and I dug about 6″ of dirt so I could sift the dirt (remove debris) and add good soil. It was literally back-breaking work, and I would do 2-3 hours at a time. (My husband would meander out, and ask “Still going at it, huh?” haha.) Then I went to two nurseries and picked out drought-tolerant/native (we’re in San Diego) plants – it was so fun, and I brought home a truckbed-load. I had no idea what I was doing, I just selected plants I liked. Anyways, over the years it’s grown in very nicely – it’s pretty and I’m proud.

    But anyways, all that work and we’re the kind of house where you don’t even come in through the front door – we go through the garage! And our garage is rat-pack-CITY (90% of contents are my husband’s, he’s a big saltwater coral aquarium guy, and the back-end running equipment takes up one entire wall of the garage, not to mention all the gear/supplies he needs; oh, and b/c of this aquarium, we can’t park our cars in the garage b/c overtime the metal rusts b/c of the saltwater – other coral aquarium folks out there will know first-hand it’s a LIFESTYLE, it’s not just a “tank”). We’ve been talking about a garage purge (not that I ever think that space will “bring me joy”; and honestly, I have the entire house sans the mancave, so it’s really my husband’s domain), but with this dang heat, it keeps getting pushed back. But some day soon, we’ll rent a dumpster/get a donation pile going, and purge – heck, that will bring me joy!

    Thanks for sharing this part of your home, it’s nice to see as it’s on your way to the next chapter (which is so exciting!!).

    1. HAHAHAH. First off it is SO MUCH WORK. We have a gardener at that house, but not up at the mountain house and we are doing all of the maintenance up here (and failing at it). This is why people had 13 kids back in the day. We need the help 🙂 But your lifestyle line cracked me up. When I get into a hobby I COMMIT so i understand. I’ll stay away from tanks for now just in case … Fun fact, my brother owns a small shipping franchise and almost exclusively ships tropical fish overnight all around the world … he didn’t mean to get into that but there aren’t THAT many things that need to get shipped overnight so he’s found his niche.

    2. Karen, you’re so right about aquariums being a lifestyle. My sister’s ex was huge into this and every weekend they’d go to the fish store to get more stuff. I can’t understand this mentality at all. We have a house with a pool and all the gear and chemicals for the pool take up a lot of garage space and we do have to go to the pool store many weekends to get our water tested but at least we get to use the fricking pool! I can’t understand all that time, effort, and attention to have a pretty box of water and fish.

  6. It’s absolutely so charming — and what time and energy you put into making it so! And the family pic at Christmastime is soooo sweet.

    Thank for you for sharing this! Lovely.

    1. thank you 🙂 I was like ‘oh remember when Brian had a mustache and I had lash extentions?’ I’m going to miss christmas there so much. xx

  7. It is something out of a fairy tale. Absolutely gorgeous! You really transformed the front yard and upped the curb appeal to insane heights. So so beautiful!

  8. It’s so exciting to finally see this space! I had a different image in my head. This is much better! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Absolutely lovely! It’s amazing what a difference landscaping can make. It really emphasizes the overall charm of the house.

  10. Wow it looks so beautiful! Love the lush plantings and the water feature! I’ve been paying attention to all the birds and butterflies in my garden this summer. I recently started using the Seek app to upload pictures of butterflies to help identify them. It’s so fun! I also snap pictures of neighbors’ plants I like to figure out what it is so I can plant it too.

    1. Yes! I just got the Seek app too after a friend showed it to me, and I am obsessed! I’m not always sure how accurate it is, but it’s super fun. I’ve been walking the same route for years but now I’m actually learning about all the trees/ferns/wildflowers/wild mushrooms I’ve been admiring. Good quarantine entertainment, lol.

  11. This is incredible! What a beautiful home. Are you able to share the paint shades used on the trim and windows (blue and white)? I have a stucco home a similar shade of brown and love what you did with the trim – would love to do something similar on my house! Thanks

  12. Really really charming. I like the fence a lot. Looks like a Hobbit House in the shire. Which is a compliment.

  13. Disney “Enchanted” is the perfect description. I could move right in just based on the front garden.

  14. No need to publish, but I found your listing when it went live and saw it went pending as well, so hopefully it is a smooth ride to close and CONGRATS and to Oregon. I am so excited for you all and to see what the blog will transition in to. Thank you for many great years of reading and I am looking forward to many more. Excuse my grammar.

  15. You put the magic into the street front of that home. It’ll never be ‘just’ a house! It’s way too special.

    That ‘ol girl hit the jackpot when you bought her! Not only did she get facials, manicures, pedicures and the likes…she got drizzled in fantasy and fairies that ride on butterflies, enchanted forest gnomes and secret hideaways!

    Truly the stuff of dreams, Emily. I truly understand how immeasurably difficult it isto leave a labour of love home behind. Your new place in Oregon must be a-maz-ing!!!! Can’t wait.

    Thank you for (finally sharing your secret treasure!

    Checking in on THE blog as I soothe my tired mind and body before bed after a massive say of Aussie Spring gardening today…tizzying up this 100 year old lady of a home’s front yard.
    I also put a picket fence, pedestrian gate and driveway gate in.
    Ha! It took me six years of designing and saving and garden preparation first though! But, she’s beautiful…painting all those pickets is a killer though!
    I met so many people while I’ve painted and re-painted that fence though (also a walking community).

  16. Thank you for explaining the jarring white garage door … I was sad to see it replace the pretty dark wood one , but now I get it 🙂

    1. That’s funny, my thought when I saw the photos was, “Those lighter garage doors are SO MUCH BETTER than the dark ones.” To each her own I guess!

  17. Fun fact: I was in Enchanted as a dancer in the Central Park scene, and I can say with joy that Amy Adams is the nicest person EVER and basically exactly like her character!

    I truly love what you have done here. Maybe a future avenue of design for you will be in garden and plant design! I have been pretty obsessed with getting our front garden spiffed up since we moved into our place. This year we put in two small brick paths and a small brick patio, installed 3 raised beds for veggies, and I also planted a bunch of new plants (heathers and heaths, AMAZING plants btw). I also nursed a small olive tree back to health that I almost killed….lol. I do a little bit every year because it all adds up so fast. BUT I did find an awesome garden statue for $50 on marketplace and I convinced my neighbor to let me “borrow” her fountain (it was sitting uselessly under her carport).

    Marketplace can be an awesome source for cheap plants etc. Can’t wait to see your place in Oregon!!!!

  18. I enjoyed this post so much … the yard is perfect with your beautiful cottage. And I love English gardens! Could you share the exact plants your landscapers used? Are any of them drought resistant? I’m in Southern California, too, and want to be environmentally conscious but I (gasp!) don’t like succulents.

  19. …sounds like your landscaper used California natives for your front yard. A lawn without food and water for the birds and bees is so boring and sterile. Your children will miss the entertainment until you get he same thing, different plants going up north. Good luck with the new party.

  20. Magical, indeed. It is so lovely and such amazing curb appeal. I would die to have butterflies and hummingbirds buzzing around my home, but alas, I’m a city dweller with limited outdoor space.

  21. Thank you for leaving space for a sidewalk! I am a renter with no outdoor space so I’ve walked my dog pretty much everywhere in our neighborhood, and it sucks (and is unsafe) to have to walk in the street especially when visibility is bad.

  22. Spent several satisfying years before retiring in the garage door business. Hate to tell you; but, most Americans would take wood (with or without glass lights) over stamped steel and baked-on white, well enough to pay up for the difference. Your originals look nice enough to convert to upward-rising…if they weren’t already.

  23. Before retiring, I spent several years selling garage doors. Your original doors look like wood…in good shape and appropriate design. Most Americans who could afford this sort of reno would upgrade to wood over stamped steel with a baked-on white finish. Yours appeared nice enough to convert to upward-rising…if they weren’t already.

  24. Beautiful house and yard, I’m sure it was no problem to sell! I can’t even imagine moving to Portland, but good luck and prayers for your family!

  25. It’s beautiful! Like a cottage in a story book! I’m wondering, what ever happened with your back yard after the arbourist over pruned you trees? Did he actually over prune them? Or did they come back to normal? I was wondering about that!

  26. Beautiful front yard! Could you tell us the manufacturer, style, and color of the roof shingles? I like them and my 1921 bungalow needs a new roof. Thank you.

  27. This is absolutely lovely. I am glad you all enjoyed your home so much. I haven’t read the posts about selling yet, but I wish you all the best. I am glad you kept your privacy. You deserve it, as we all do, especially since you give us so much as a public figure. And I totally understand your sentimentally, I recently moved last year and I didn’t realize how bittersweet I’d feel when I moved. I was very glad to move, management was horrible and so many problems with the building and tenants that I couldn’t wait to go. So was actually surprised when all the memories just came flooding in and I cried. I was there almost 7 years, where I lived while we planned my nieces wedding and my little great niece and nephew were born and that’s the only house they knew for me. I’m totally settled into my home now and with the pandemic it’s the best situation that could have happened. I can walk to work instead of public transit, in unit laundry, parking for my mothers car, only 2 other apartments as opposed to a big building and our landlord is so nice and responds quickly. And as my mother has been sick (kidney and back issues) she’s been at home and I can take care of her easier than the last place. So I hope whatever you all are deciding to do, (staying in the mountain home?) the new memories will be just as precious as the old ones (now I need to go play catch up on your other posts).

    P. S. I hope whatever you invested in last minute/overall, that the next owners appreciate and don’t change drastically (yes we all put our Own stamp on our homes). If they do they SHOULDN’T buy it, but unfortunately I see all the time people who ‘update’ homes who should just get a different style home than the one they bought…

  28. Thank you, Emily, for this blog. After reading local paper and New York Times on line, I turn to your latest, part of my morning routine. I’ve been curious about what your house looked like curbside. Well, it’s absolutely magical. Hope your move to northwest goes smoothly. Cheers to you and yours!

  29. Love everything about your front yard! Thank you for revealing something that has truly been a labor of love and something so personal. Can you share your source for the planters? They are beautiful and so simple (which is shockingly hard to find!). Thank you!

  30. It looks like Snow White should live there!

    So enchanting and magical…. I love a fluffy flower garden overflowing with life, bees, butterflies, birds and the lively sound of water! You did such a wonderful job giving your home a garden worthy of its’ character!!

  31. This is possibly the most knockout transformation I’ve ever seen on your blog. I’m like violently in love with this. Not to be dramatic about it, but this is all my gardening hopes and dreams made real.

  32. Dear Emily – this is THE BEST POST I’ve ever read from you – so inspiring and beautiful! You’ve given new meaning to CURB APPEAL! Thank you so much for sharing! Really appreciate all the info –

  33. This is just lovely!

    For the flagstone path, are they just layed on top of thr dirt or how did you install them? What is DG? I have a brick path that I also need to replace.

  34. Wow, the transformation is truly amazing. Really improved the look and function of the front. The only quibble is putting that style of gutter and downspout on an almost 100 year old home. Makes me sad. Was it a conscious decision because half-round gutters and round downspouts cost more? Those rollform K/ogee style gutters weren’t invented until the 50’s and ribbed downspouts don’t match ogee gutters.

  35. What a beautiful garden 😊 We are in a similar situation, bought an old house, started gardening, need irrigation and realizing we have drainage issues. . . I would love to hear any french drain stories you might have 😉

  36. My only question here – why not paint the garage doors the same as your trim color? They look like they don’t belong here and “too new” for a 100+ year old house… otherwise it’s very charming and elegant. Well done.

  37. Love the gate so much! Too bad you couldn’t make the fence closer to it’s height, but, hey, you can’t have everything. Also, I love the simpler lines of the fountain you picked. I think too many people go with overly elaborate ones that don’t always go with the house. Your choices really make sense with this house and make it sing. I can’t believe the former owners covered up those windows with the ivy. Your ‘after’ is miles better than the ‘before!’

  38. Disney/Enchanted crossed with The Shire! It’s utter magic. Looking at the original photos I think you took the house and garden to it’s very best most beautiful potential.
    We live in NYC right now, and when we were staying with family earlier this year in WA, I would go for walks and redesign people’s front yards in my head…these people actually HAVE houses and yards, why can’t I when I would want to make it prettier?! Anyway, your yard epitomizes what I was imagining 😜

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