At first blush, the two homes – 150 miles apart on the California coastline but owned by the same dynamic family – are as different as they could be.

One house, set in an urban San Francisco neighborhood, is topped with a 500-square-foot rooftop garden with a compressed beauty dictated by the limited space.

The other, a compound on a Mendocino coastal bluff, is encircled by a swath of rolling lawn, native grasses, and woods, with a maze, courtyard, and seating space where the owners and their family can revel in the extraordinary outdoor environment.

Despite their differences, the two landscapes share unique bonds. Both are powerful connecting points to the community, nature and family. And both share the spirited touch of Pamela Palmer, an award-winning landscape architect and a partner – with husband Howard Rosen – of ARTECHO Architecture and Landscape Architecture in Venice, Calif.

For Palmer, a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the key to a pleasing design lies in simple, elegant forms.

“Our projects are very tied to natural phenomena. We’re always looking at light and shadow, sun and shade, and places where you can be outside any time of day or year,” she says.

Palmer has a special affinity for water. “It has this magical effect of changing the mood of a garden or landscape,” she says.

This talented landscape architect has worked on properties with a jaw-dropping scale. She recently oversaw a long-term Santa Monica project, for instance, to create a master plan for an urban forest – including all the city’s public trees.

But her first love is creating eye-catching residential landscapes, and the two family properties in California couldn’t meld better with Palmer’s unique sensibilities.

The owners, Fedele and Linda Bauccio, love being outdoors, where they are known for serving extraordinary meals.

Nature guided the design for this beautiful coastal garden in Mendocino, California 

Fedele, a founder of the slow food movement, is a co-founder of Bon Appetit Food, a restaurant and catering business emphasizing sustainably sourced ingredients. Naturally, both properties have impressive outdoor kitchens.

Building on the sublime natural elements was a given for Palmer as she broached the landscape architecture of the two homes. Although one is urban and the other rural, both share similar settings – beautiful skylines, spectacular views, and cool California evenings.

Creating an outdoor environment at the Bauccios’ San Francisco home, an upstairs flat, required imagination. The family, Palmer relates, called her to say the home presented a problem – there was no outdoor space.

How did Palmer feel about a rooftop garden? She thought it was an excellent idea, and the result is a compact green space, both lush and artful.

San Francisco’s famously foggy and windy climate led Palmer to choose hardy plants that can withstand the elements, mostly container plants with shallow root systems, such as jasmine, cypress and lemon trees.

Guests access the rooftop from a stairwell, where they cross a small bridge over crushed glass and then glimpse a show-stopping view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

Likewise, Palmer studied the natural setting before creating the landscape for the Bauccios’ rural retreat, a renovated sheep barn and contemporary new home on a cypress-lined bluff situated above the Pacific Ocean in Mendocino County.

Using nature as a guide in this locale meant paying attention to how the sun travels, Palmer says, creating places to sit in dappled sun or a warm spot for coffee in the morning. “It’s about light, water and atmosphere,” she adds.

A circular, sculptural lawn between the sheep barn and the contemporary home, called the Cliff House, anchors the property. The expansive space is designed for fun and relaxation.

The family also enjoys kayaking in the cove below, and children busy themselves swinging on a buoy or following the maze to a hidden garden and basketball court.

One of the biggest draws for guests is the outdoor kitchen and pizza oven. With so much major league cooking going on, Palmer took special care to create a functional yet beautiful path between the two houses.

“Fedele’s mother, Miki, is known for her marinara sauce,” Palmer recalls. “So I envisioned her carrying the sauce.” Palmer graded the winding path with a design so elegant that people aren’t aware of its functionality.

“Miki can cook the sauce in the sheep barn and carry the pot down an arching path to the Cliff House,” Palmer muses. “The goal was to have a landscape that is so carefully crafted, it functions seamlessly.

Image Credits: Photos courtesy of Artecho Architecture.