Debbie and Neil Schwartz are known for Shabbat dinner at their Beverly Hills home, where on comfortable evenings the Jewish observance begins on the backyard patio under the lofty, vine-covered pergola.
"We'll hang out here and have what we call our Shabbas margaritas and then we'll go in and have dinner," says Neil, a residential real estate executive who notes that the regular Friday night gatherings have drawn a diverse bunch over the years, including players from the Los Angeles Sparks, the WNBA organization where Debbie's daughter once interned. "It's an open invitation," Debbie offers. "You should come by."
The ever-gracious hosts are happy to show off their backyard, thanks to the efforts of interior and garden designer Sandy Koepke. Through a years-long collaboration, she's helped the Schwartzes create an outdoor living area that suits their love of entertaining and complements the late-1920s Spanishstyle architecture of their two-story home.
"...really what I'm buying is everybody else's junk," says Debbie.
"What I'm always trying to get at is the seamlessness of inside to outside so that you're really using the outdoors as part of your living space," Koepke says. "'Let's make this part of our life. Let's come out here with our food and read the paper,' and they do that. They truly hang out here."
Through a large window in the Mexican folk-tiled kitchen, you get the first glimpse of the outdoor entertaining area. The rustic brick patio is furnished with deep, comfortable seating and lushly overhung with flowering vines, baskets of succulents, and groupings of well-weathered pulleys and other flea-market finds.
This light-hearted approach is the signature of Koepke, the principal of Los Angeles-based Sandy Koepke Interior Design, whose work has been featured in national shelter magazines, design books and on HGTV.
"Sandy was into old rusty things, and really what I'm buying is everybody else's junk," says Debbie, who took Koepke's cue and began scouring second-hand stores, antique shops and flea markets for collectibles. "We did really well in Long Beach...and when we used to travel for basketball we'd go to cities like San Antonio and Colorado Springs and buy a ton of stuff.
"Oh, and I bought on eBay," she says. "I was an eBay addict."
These relics of the past give character to the Schwartzes' outdoors space, which is evident from the moment you walk out the back door and onto the container-lined steps. Debbie and Neil point out their treasures amid all the color and texture of the yard, including a giant wrought-iron chandelier that they brought back from San Antonio.
At the back of the property, wrought-iron hanging lamps are clustered in a corner of the poolside where colorful Guatemalan weave upholstered chaise lounges are accented by Catalina tile-topped side tables, vintage pottery and antique milk canisters. On the other side of the pool, next to the base of the flowering vine that covers the pergola, a rusty boat ladder plunged into the dirt doubles as yard art and a towel hanger for swimming guests.
The theme continues into the guesthouse, a converted detached garage. A decorative iron gate is mounted above the door like a canopy while a tiled tabletop mural of a flamenco dancer is reincarnated as a wall hanging.
This is the second redesign of the Schwartzes' yard since the couple moved into the upscale neighborhood just off Wilshire Boulevard 11 years ago. They were still dating (each had been married before), so the first big celebration in the backyard was their wedding.
Debbie was still practicing law when they first decided to build up the yard, her days booked with client conferences. When the designer would call asking for a decision about the design, Debbie's response was typically, "What would you do if it was your house?" Not surprisingly, neither she nor Neil was satisfied with the result, which resulted in sparse landscaping and a white painted pergola.
"We used it, we had the patio, we had the barbecue, we had the warming oven, we had it pretty much as you see it and then we had the overhang," Neil says. "It was like you would find in a nice fine home. But it didn't connect with the house very well."
It didn't connect with the Schwartzes either. They eventually began working with Koepke, who helped them explore the relationship between their home and their yard and to fulfill their vision of a true outdoor living place.
Now, Neil says, "I can't imagine living anywhere else."