Like Zora Neale Hurston said, “Trees and plants always look like the people they live with, somehow.” So it seems wonderfully apt that Lora and Frank Banzali — two magnetic Midwesterners who traded Illinois winters for LA’s endless summer — would cultivate their surroundings with cold-hardy plants that mingle easily with sun-hungry tropicals.
Their house feels like a world away from Los Angeles, even. For one, this canyonside casa is quiet. (Except for a few noisy animals, but we’ll get to that…) Passing cars are few and far between. The temperature is easily 10 degrees below what it is on Hollywood Boulevard, which is only about a mile away.
“I tell them, ‘Drive into the void.’ It’s like a black hole,” Lora says about directing friends up the Hollywood Hills at night. “You basically leave the city business [and] job behind, which helps us recharge our internal batteries. It lets us appreciate where we came from and separates work/city life from ‘home.’ ”
Lora and Frank met while undergrads at Northwestern. Today Frank is an anesthesiologist and marathon runner, and Lora is the founder of Lo Motion LA, plans and executes soirees through Button Events, and works in advertising and marketing at Allure’s West Coast office. (She and C met while C was also working at Condé Nast.)
Despite the busy day jobs, they’ve been able to beautify and populate their landscape, one now bursting with ferns, yucca, acacia, wild orchids, succulents, eucalyptus, araucaria conifers and ivy. The stark verticality of their yard adds to the effect. And the furnishings? Modern and at the same time playful and exuberant. Like the people they live with.
We stopped by for the full tour. We also asked them about their modernist finds, their landscaping process and the lively creek across the street.
When you first saw this house, what was it that spoke to you?
LB: The architecture (it’s very non-cookie-cutter) and the balance of the windows to let the outside in.
There was the opportunity to expand and develop the landscape as well. We love the fact you could just stare out a window from the inside and enjoy the landscape — and Frank spends many hours daydreaming about landscaping.
It’s been almost two years since you first moved in. What was the situation like outside back then?
LB: A couple parts of the outside landscape were dying due to lack of watering and there were a lot of dead branches we had to clean out. Luckily, the concrete patio came with the house, but it appeared that the last owner did not utilize the outdoors as much. It was a blank slate, which stimulated our creative juices!
Did you know exactly what you were going for? Or did you just go with the design flow…?
FB: I’d been gathering ideas for both indoor and outdoor for many years prior, so we just had to find the right home to have those ideas come to life. It took us a matter of a few months to purchase the major furniture and think of wall treatments, et cetera, but as the years went by, there was definitely editing going on as to furniture, colors and placement of items throughout the house.
We [also] wanted to create small ‘vignettes’ throughout the indoors and outdoors.
LB: I’m more into editing – I let Frank’s creative juices flow but I’m all about order and not looking too cluttered. Over the past two years, we’ve changed things around — due to functionality and just because we wanted to switch things up. Our personality plays a huge role in the decor — you’ll find humor throughout. We don’t take ourselves that seriously. We’re a good team like that.
Frank, how did your upbringing in rural Galesberg, Illinois, influence the gardening you do today?
FB: I grew up in a small town as a child and then mainly lived in big cities like Chicago and LA, which influences my love of both the warmth and quiet of a small town and the modern, architectural aspects of a big city.
My dad grew up in the rural Philippines with very meager means and the philosophy of ‘nothing beats working hard, and if you want something done, do it yourself, especially by the cheapest way possible.’ There are so many things I took from my dad and mom, but definitely a green thumb. Dad is basically self-trained master gardener.
I still have fond memories of helping remodel my parents’ bathroom and manually screwing in all the cement board into the walls and floor, and also digging huge koi ponds with my brother in clay dirt — yes, clay dirt!
LB: I’m thankful for Frank’s background — although sometimes his DIY spirit injures me. (I.e., I almost fell down our hillside helping him landscape!)
Do you get the gardening equivalent of ‘runner’s high’?
FB: I’m always thinking of the next project, like I always think of my next meal while I’m eating. Once I start a project, I just can’t stop till it’s done. I’m in the zone, so I can spend practically the whole day doing a project. It’s a natural high.
LB: I never got the runner’s high when I ran races (hence my early retirement from them!) I do get a cleaning high. Although that could be from the bleach!
Any memorable party stories?
LB: Our Game Nights are memorable. However, first rule of Game Night is you don’t talk about Game Night. We will host movie theme nights: college frat movie night and a beers and brats movie night.
Oh, and the creek across the street! What are the frogs up to these days?
LB: Usually in spring and summertime from early dusk to about three to four hours later, it sounds like a symphony of ‘ribbits.’ It almost seems like they are having prolonged discussions – probably about us being their new neighbors. Other than that, it is very quiet, with the occasional coyote yowl. Which of course was a big change from living in downtown LA across from the Staples Center.
What’s next for your home and garden?
FB: We will soon start remodeling our bathrooms. Down the road we’ll possibly add a guest house or an addition to the existing house. We’re also creating a patio to the south hillside area.