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Shapiro also planted exceptional trees and shrubs, including Italian cypress, Ficus nitida, king and queen palms, fragrant Pittosporum, Scheffiea actinophylia, Podocarpus henkelii, jacaranda, Norfolk pine and Rhapis excelsa.
Juxtaposed with museum-quality modern sculptures are oversize stone and marble torso fragments, clipped stone capitals, Romanesque lions, 16th-century Florentine lions, 18th-century stone busts, weather-worn urns, broken stone columns, an antique stone portal and a marble fountain placed throughout the verdant composition.
The abstract forms of dream-worthy boxwood topiaries are trimmed and shaped every day with specialized pruning and clipping tools. In the background, bamboo creates a vertical screen and blurs the boundaries of the garden.
Clouds of trimmed boxwood swirl around an antique Italian stone urn, and paths meander among the cypress.
Richard Shapiro beside his studio/office where he meets his design clients and shows his fine antiques and art.
Shapiro wanted the "villa" to be simply furnished with rattan chairs and an antique table, creating an undecorated air.
Shapiro also planted exceptional trees and shrubs, including Italian cypress, Ficus nitida, king and queen palms, fragrant Pittosporum, Scheffiea actinophylia, Podocarpus henkelii, jacaranda, Norfolk pine and Rhapis excelsa.
The monumental steel sculpture The Red Forest, by Shapiro, consist of seven 15- to 18-foot tall steel columns, painted red oxide and emerging from the earth at random angles.

Secret Garden

by intern

Designer Richard Shapiro has shaped a surreal retreat with rare botanical species, sculpted boxwood and a trompe l’oeil Palladian villa for quiet repose.

Richard Shapiro, a world-renowned art collector, furniture designer and antiques dealer based in Los Angeles, is also a superbly creative and daring landscape designer. On a quiet street in Holmby Hills, Shapiro has created a lush environment for his Hispano-Moorish residence. Hidden behind walls of Boston ivy and a forest of Japanese timber bamboo, it is an utterly private domain, silent and poetic—his escape from the world.

Shapiro’s vision is a dreamscape of sculptural clipped boxwood. Meandering paths lead past a reflecting pool to hidden corners with dramatic steel sculptures. This verdant world—vivid year-round—feels much larger than its near-acre. Boundaries are blurred. Even his sprawling house and design studio are romantically shrouded in overgrown vines, and their tall windows reflect abstract patterns of leaves and branches.

“I view my property as a vast canvas, and the creative possibilities are limited only by my imagination,” says Shapiro, who feels compelled to work on the landscape almost every day, pruning and planting, clipping, trimming, sweeping leaves and contemplating where to place new sculptures. “Rather than a garden, I think of it as an installation of land art.”

“I view my property as a vast canvas, and the creative possibilities are limited only by my imagination,” says Shapiro, who feels compelled to work on the landscape almost every day, pruning and planting, clipping, trimming, sweeping leaves and contemplating where to place new sculptures. “Rather than a garden, I think of it as an installation of land art.”

Overlooking the large pool, a charming folly was designed to be the focal point of the grounds. This pool house was inspired by a Palladian villa and is complete with a handsome antique stone fireplace, hand-carved columns, an antique mirror and a large-scale lantern, meticulously designed by Shapiro.

But it’s the surreal boxwood, inspired by the abstract hilltop gardens surrounding the turreted Château de Marqueyssac in southwest France, that is Shapiro’s theatrical tour de force.

“On an annual tour through the Dordogne 10 years ago, I visited its 15th-century fortifications and cliff-top site and marveled at its endlessly swirling and surreal boxwood sculptures,” recalls Shapiro. He had started designing his garden about 16 years earlier as a labor of love. In a kind of frenzy, he dug up the lawn, and over the next nine years, he planted hundreds of boxwood in its place.

The château garden, his inspiration, was originally planted in the 17th century by a pupil of André Le Nôtre, the designer of the Versailles gardens. At Marqueyssac, acres of overgrown topiaries are clipped in abstract shapes, a rare concept in France, where they are traditionally highly regimented and formally laid out, and never wildly imaginative and playful.

“I returned home and began researching Buxussempervirens—known as box,” says Shapiro. Some of his plants are acquired fully grown from a specialist nursery; others are planted with just a few tender branches.

“The carefully sculpted plants, now numbering around 1,500, suggest to me the forms they might take,” says the designer. “The entire exercise is very fluid and spontaneous, with a great deal of accident, surprise, experimentation and randomness.”

He planted the box and then hand-carved the plants into a maze of undulating, cloud-like forms.

“The shapes are so mysterious and original,” says Shapiro. The clipped box project was the basis for what has become and remains his obsession.

Shapiro conceived the clipped mounds and sculptures and does all the shaping and shearing by hand with specialized Japanese shears and clippers. Heavy-duty American versions go into action for rough work. More are added every year, and his skill at creating new effects reflects his passion. Well-worn Japanese leather gloves attest to Shapiro’s attacks on woody branches and rampant and unruly twigs.

“It is a work in progress, always being refined and altered somewhat,” says Shapiro. “With these shears, the sculptural possibilities are endless, very precise and rapid. Gratification is instant.”

Over the last few years, Shapiro has written his autobiography in leaves, covering every square foot of the free space, planting rare specimen trees and creating vast and wavy vistas in every direction, like a flock of green sheep roaming his land.

The evergreen garden, tranquil and shaded, changes subtly from season to season. A burst of light green new growth and the beauty of mauve wisteria and blue jacaranda blossoms herald the spring. Colorful fallen leaves indicate the last days of autumn.

Juniper trees form a background of green curtain. Boston ivy covers the walls of the studio, where the designer crafts new collections and meets clients.

Shapiro planted Eugenia to secure the tall property-line hedges. An impenetrable perimeter of trees, hedges and foliage entirely obscures the house and landscape garden from the exterior.

He also planted exceptional trees and shrubs, including Italian cypress, Ficus nitida, king and queen palms, fragrant Pittosporum, Schefflera actinophylla, Podocarpus henkelii (with its elegant slender leaves), as well as jacaranda, Norfolk pine and Rhapis excelsa (a dramatic fan palm).

Shapiro’s pool house (just 20 feet wide) is an exact copy of the portico at Palladio’s Villa Chiericati outside Vicenza. He discovered the 16th-century architect’s original construction drawings in a book from his private library.

“It was at this juncture that I began to realize that for me, this entire exercise had very little to do with gardens. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I was installing plants.”

Shapiro executed the plans in weather-resistant wood and then eroded and covered the surfaces with plaster, lime and varied pigments to simulate ancient stone and to give the portico and the entire scene an authentic antique appearance.

He uses weather-faded furnishings that appear old and worn and well used. The pool house is the perfect hideaway for festive apéritifs in the evening, as a bucolic setting for a quiet summer lunch, or even as the stage set for an early supper on a winter evening with the fire blazing and darkness settling over the trees.

“I was steeped in post-war conceptual art for over 35 years, and as a working sculptor, I sensed that something other than mere landscaping was taking place,” he says. “It was at this juncture that I began to realize that for me, this entire exercise had very little to do with gardens. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I was installing plants. Instead, I was in a dream state, creating art populated not only by individual sculptural forms but rather a fully integrated whole, with Buxus as the medium.”

Shapiro says that his lifelong immersion in the world of art had taught him to see everything as art, or at least as the fodder for art. It’s silent here in his verdant domain. Undisturbed, he can work for hours, his artistic instincts and imagination taking over. For him, it’s sculpture, creation, expression.

“My garden, it is now obvious, is my art project, endlessly captivating and inspiring,” he says.

The primary objective—that of total creativity and isolation—has been achieved. Richard Shapiro’s Studiolo line of furniture is sold in showrooms around the country or at the Los Angeles studio by appointment, 310-275-6700; studiolo.com

Written by Diane Dorrans Saeks
Photographed by Lisa Romerein