Husband-and-wife team Raun Thorp and M. Brian Tichenor are architects with a very full tool bag. Their Los Angeles-based firm, Tichenor and Thorp, is adept at working on projects of all sizes and styles from small personal residences to large scale commercial properties. Their process might surprise you: Raun and Brian often begin outdoors and work their way inside, a unique perspective on the relationship between landscape and building. Their recently released book, Outside In, focuses on just this and lets us in on their unique methods for designing magnificent homes and gardens and inspiring spaces.
We recently spoke with Raun and Brian about their new book, how they design from the outside in, and where they find inspiration.
When and how did your interest in architecture and landscape design begin?
Brian: As a child, at about three, I started building little houses and cars out of whatever was lying around. In the garden, the big moment for me was when my parents bought a house by a stream (in Los Angeles!). The first spring we were there, when I was eight, about a thousand irises came up out of nowhere. I was sold on gardens for life.
Raun: I was also obsessed with making things when I was young, from paper dolls to building “forts” and decorating doll houses. Both of my grandmothers had amazing green thumbs, and my mother was always involved in the landscape designs for our houses. Though I can’t say that I inherited the green thumb, my interest in gardens began watching them cultivate plants.
You recently co-wrote and released your first book, “Outside In.” Congratulations! What prompted you to write this book and what do you hope readers will gain from reading it?
The nice people at Vendome press approached us with the idea of doing a book that would explore both houses and gardens. That made us consider our work, and just how different our way of approaching the design of the house and the garden is from the norm. We hope it will inspire readers to see the great possibilities of considering the garden at the beginning of the design process—as opposed to the typical scenario, where the landscape is shoehorned into the residual space left after the house is designed—and to see how this way of thinking, from the outside in, is applicable to any style.
Since its founding in 1990, your firm has worked on more than 350 projects nationwide. What projects stand out to you as icons of your firm’s work?
Perhaps the house we did for Raun’s parents, overlooking the ocean in Orange County. Stylistically, it’s an abstracted take on a Portuguese quinta, but it is very light and airy, and each room is completely linked to, and looks into, an adjacent garden. Because of the size limitations of the property, and the extraordinary view, it is a house that very much benefited from our practice of establishing garden priorities before the plans for the house were set. It makes great use of the land it has; it’s a good expression of working “outside in,” and a very nice and very habitable garden to boot.
Your firm works on all types of projects: private residences, commercial properties, historic restorations. What types of projects most inspire you? Do you prefer working on a particular type of property?
We both love the puzzle-solving aspect of what we do, so the most inspirational moments come from those projects where the transformational quality of the design is most acute, no matter what the scale. We’ve been lucky to have amazing longtime clients, who have interesting and inspired collections, as well as compelling ideas about buildings and gardens, which we gleefully reassemble into what we hope are unique, well-fitting distillations of what they set out to create. />Tell us about your personal garden at your residence.
The chapter in the book about our own house and garden is titled “Design Laboratory,” if that’s any indication of how we see them. We live very near to UCLA in the heart of Los Angeles on a not-large piece of land, but because of the way the house sits, there are six discrete gardens around the house and guest house. Though there is a complete absence of lawn here in water-challenged California, we love how habitable our garden is. Everywhere, the eye is drawn out to places to sit, read, relax, or entertain. The gardens make a modest house feel very generous—and make us feel as if we’re on vacation when we’re home.
What advice would you give Fellows looking to seamlessly design their indoor and outdoor spaces? Any tips or best practices to follow?
Always consider what you can, or might be able to, see of the garden from every room, and design to those possibilities. It doesn’t matter if you don’t sit on a garden bench very often, if the view of that bench from inside lets you imagine being in your garden. Comfortable dining spaces, sensitively lit, and well-placed doors to provide access are very important. Also, always think about the spaces in your garden that can double as outdoor rooms—an extension of the house—and use them that way.
You have been Fellows since 2010 and attended several Fellows tours. How has your involvement with the Garden Conservancy played a role in your professional and personal lives?
Seeing gardens in other parts of the country is very inspiring—we always come back full of ideas. It is also fascinating to observe how each region has its own garden sensibility, with even stylistically disparate gardens showing shared characteristics and plant material. As they say, “the eye must travel to see,” and that certainly holds true here. There is no substitute for visiting these gardens in person—the experience of which has been truly enhanced by meeting and getting to know the Fellows across the country.
Any other thoughts or remarks you’d like to share with our Fellows?
Just how much we are compelled by the great gardens of all scales we have been exposed to through the Garden Conservancy, and how, as practitioners, we are so cognizant of the ephemeral nature of these beautiful places, and what important work the Garden Conservancy does to preserve this deep and vital culture.
Photos, top to bottom: Raun Thorp and Brian Tichenor; Book Cover; Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, CA; Wyoming; Rancho Sante Fe, San Diego, CA (2). All photos by Roger Davies.