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The challenge at this residence was to create an intimately-scaled landscape for a historic house on a lot considerably reduced from its original size.  


The Tobey House in downtown Palo Alto is a handsome example of classic revival architecture, described as ‘restrained yet elegant’ by Palo Alto-Stanford Heritage.  Constructed with ‘concrete over heavy beams’ in 1904, it withstood the earthquake of ’06. Almost a century later it still presents a stately façade to Hale Street. 


The new landscape design employs the aesthetic of California’s traditional gardens. 

A venerable planting of palms along Hale Street is integrated into the plan for the front yard, which features a wide blue-stone walk lined with arbutus trees and roses, a small lawn, and a wisteria vine climbing the front of the house. An antique park bench flanked by planted urns is a focal point when viewed from the front windows. At the front door, a semi-circular landing, life-sized lion sculptures, and a stately yew tree are mementos of previous inhabitants. 


In the rear, another small lawn is a virtual area ‘rug’ in a space bordered by raised beds and a bluestone patio just large enough for two loungers. This yard is planted with understory trees, shade perennials, and ferns. The original barn, across the cobble driveway, is screened by a row of columnar magnolias. Now a garage/guest house, it has a flowering vine on its front and a private rear garden.


Palo Alto, CA


1904 architects:  

Bliss & Faville


2012 remodel: 

Elisabeth Doermann Architecture

Landscape contractor: Pazmany Bros. Landscaping 


Photos 1 and 3:

David Fenton

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