Paradise Created 

Mysterious, private and sensual . . . the backyard in Los Angeles


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Ben McGinty, Underground Arts Society Gallery owner, tilemaker and mountain man, Altadena Shannon LaBaw-O’Sullivan, tattoo artist-owner of Shangri-la, with daughter Rose & son Mars, Altadena

BEN: Part of the idea for the backyard comes from watching the Little Rascals — my favorite show growing up — and having things in little areas, rooms almost. You can’t go in a straight line. You see more as you’re walking around everything. And there’s the centerpiece, a red trumpet vine — native of Mexico — which was probably planted when this space was built in 1950.

SHANNON: This beautiful plant totally encircles the property — it’s almost as if it hugs us, protects us. My shop name developed partially because of the garden out back. Shangri-La is a mythical city that is invisible unless you are led to it. The shop is basic looking, and then when you lead someone back here, they have a Shangri-La freakout reaction — seeing this shiny place of magic and wonder.

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BEN: I have a sign over the back door of the gallery that says “Surprise Room.” Shannon, who’s the plant fiend, works her magic on the north side and I work mine on the south — but parts of each of us are on both sides. Actually, it’s time to spin things around. I’m anxious to do some pushing and shoving and rearranging. It’s good to make change, open things up and then put them together again.

SHANNON: Ben loves to move things around. He has changed the positioning of every single thing here a dozen times. And he’s constructed these makeshift walls out of old doors — it’s like a clubhouse. So little of our money has been laid out furnishing the yard — we pull tons of stuff out of the trash, thrift stores. Except for the few annual flowers I get from the local nursery, most of my plants are rescued from the trash.

BEN: We both prefer being outside more than inside. I don’t want to be cooped up between four walls, and you don’t open your windows because you’re afraid someone is going to look in. This gives us seclusion, and we can experiment with things — when you build with baling wire and drywall screws you can change things around really fast and easy — it’s not permanent.

SHANNON: I walk all around this town, and I don’t hear people in their backyards and I don’t see people in their front yards. We’re getting to be a culture of inside people — inside our cars, inside the house, inside the mall, in in in. Breathe fresh air, use backyards!

Recommend: Estate sales (not garage sales) and flea markets.

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