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Thriving through Adaptation
Contractor and Designer Yvonne English


A custom residential project in Irvine, California, was led by Yvonne English, who not only designed it (with help from Jeff Perry and Margery Morris), her company, Legends in Landscape, was credited as a contractor along with Cunningham Construction of Laguna Niguel. The installation included an extensive outdoor kitchen with many features, and a large, heated eating and entertaining area. The kitchen unit (inset) was built with concrete masonry units mortared together and then covered with stucco and real stone veneer. The counter tops are granite and the backsplash is made of glass tiles. The appliances include a 42" grill, side burners, a regular sink, a bar sink, a refrigerator and lots of drawers. All the paving material in the front and backyard is travertine set on 4" of road base. After it was compacted and leveled, a 1" sand bed was added. Once the pavers were placed and sand put into the joints, everything was compacted again.

Companies partnering with each other on a project are common occurrences in the landscape industry based on how often LC/DBM reports about them. And often, a company will partner with another again and again. But a stronger partnership than the one in this story, as evidenced by a peculiar arrangement, may be hard to find.

The main character in all this is Yvonne English, who is not only a landscape architect but a licensed landscape contractor as well, which on its own sets her apart from the norm: and the path she traveled to these careers makes her story even that more interesting.

A Change of Direction
English was a software engineer in Illinois for 17 years. In 1999 she and her husband left the Midwest and moved to California. Furthering the transformation, English received her contractor's license a year later. Next, after a four-year postgraduate program at UCLA, she earned a landscape architect certificate.

While originating projects as Legends Design Studio and then building them as Legends in Landscape, English worked with Cunningham Construction on a job, was impressed with his results, and began a long-term association.

"I tried a lot of different contractors," she recounts. "He (owner Tom Cunningham) was a contractor that when the job was done, the clients still liked him. It doesn't always happen. And I still liked him. They really seem to go above and beyond."

After the project pictured here, a residential makeover in Irvine, California, was completed, Cunningham retired. Which led to the interesting arrangement. English took over his crew, put them to work on her projects, and trained the owner's son, Zach, who was already in the business but did not have enough experience yet to supervise.

This went on for about a year and a half and then, as was planned, Zach took over the crew and brought Cunningham Construction back into existence, continuing the partnership between that company and English's. And there was one more twist in this saga.

"Originally my daughter was also going to be involved but she ended up changing careers," English says.

Like mother like daughter.


About halfway through the backyard construction, the owner decided to enhance the front yard also. Local precast concrete supplier Pacific Stone provided the columns in the background, the caps for the veneered columns and the wall, the treads and risers, and the centerpiece and cap of the fountain. Its basin was made from poured in place concrete. The wall, built with mortared concrete masonry units and surfaced with stucco, is actually retaining because the yard used to slope. Saddleback Valley Iron fashioned the front trellis from a design that the metal works company collaborated on with English. To illuminate the steps, she installed down lights in the trellis, a technique English favors as a dark sky enthusiast. The turf is irrigated with a drip system.


The raised 10-person custom spa, as well as the main structure, was engineered by Dawn Pasol of Phase II Engineering. Its two rain curtains are 8' long each. They are made of copper, as are the fire bowls. All the stone veneer throughout the project was supplied by local outlet Cougar Stone.

A Winning Way of Working
The custom residential project in Irvine began as most do for English.

"I have my clients fill out a questionnaire. They let me know what they are looking for."

The owners had a very plain backyard with a concrete patio and turf. They also had a large extended family, which they entertained at least six times a year. So accommodations for that was their main focus.

This included a well-equipped outdoor kitchen, a large, heated dining room with an adjoining TV room, a seating area with a fire pit, and a custom 10-person spa.

A wood-fired pizza oven was high on the homeowner's wish list of amenities but a local ordinance complicated matters, and convincing them to remove it from their list became a challenge for English.

"They really wanted it," she remembers. "But regulations prevented it so the kitchen plan had to be modified a few times."

In the end, the kitchen had more than enough to satisfy the owners' needs.

Cunningham Construction built both structures, the water feature and the rest to English's design. She was on site about twice a week, reviewing progress and consulting on any changes.

Alterations on the Way
Originally, English wanted the backyard build to be more extensive.

"I wanted to make it wider but the clients didn't want to use the room," she says. "And after we were done they wished they had listened to me."

However, almost halfway through the project, they did decide, contrary to their original thoughts, that they wanted to refurbish the front yard. So English designed, and Cunningham constructed, an inviting setting with a few steps up to a travertine-paved area with a fountain, encircled by a small retaining wall made necessary by the removal of a slope.

An ornate custom designed and fabricated iron trellis arches over the entryway. Lush, drip-irrigated turf provides a transition from this area to the front door.

Lighting with Care
English is very "dark sky" friendly. For that reason the lighting was up lights, down lights and wash lights, all with shielded sources.

"I don't want to see the glare of the light," counsels English. "I want to see the light where I need it."

She does not use paver lights because, "They are shooting light up into the air where you don't need it."

Step lights are not in her repertoire either. Instead she installs down lights on overhead positions, such as the entryway trellis, to illuminate steps.

A Return Engagement
Awhile after the project was completed, the home was sold. The new owner then wanted to add to the outdoors, and after seeing English's original plans, and admiring them greatly, hired her for the expansion, which is currently taking place.

"I thought I'd be done in a month and that was about three months ago,"

English says slightly amused.

In fact, a contract for more ironwork was just signed at the time of this discussion.

Being willing to adapt has its advantages.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, June 2018.

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October 20, 2019, 5:44 pm PDT

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