Pavan Bhatia is relaxing poolside, watching son Neil swimming in the light of a summer moon. After a long commute from downtown Los Angeles, she finds that her backyard refuge in the San Fernando Valley provides some much-needed peace — "a retreat from the hustle and bustle," she says.
As a facilities project manager for the Los Angeles Unified School District, Bhatia hires the architects and engineers who work on thousands of buildings at more than 800 schools. She is a fan of modern design, not surprising for a graduate of the Southern California Institute of Architecture. But she is quick to note that, "Things you appreciate don't always translate at home."
When the time came to transform her barren backyard, Bhatia didn't go modern. She wanted a warm environment that reflected her roots.
"When I was 7 years old, I visited the Taj Mahal, and I remembered it vividly," says Bhatia, who was born in India and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. "I was so inspired. It stayed with me all my life. It has always been in my heart."
Her 1968 "boring tract home," she says, had good energy and was in a quiet neighborhood near family, but the backyard was uninspired: little landscaping, loads of concrete. When the pool's pipes rusted, she had the push she needed to create an outdoor environment all her own.
She began with the pool. She replaced the pipes with PVC and switched to saltwater — "much softer on the skin and hair," she says.
To give the outdoor space the peaceful vibe she was looking for, she designed a free-flowing waterfall at the edge of the pool, topped with an enormous Buddha. The statue cleverly hides the filtration system, and the gurgling gives the space "a nice auditory element," she says.
With her mother's help, she planted a variety of fruit trees — figs, apples, plums and loquats — as well as black and green bamboo, star jasmine and climbing roses. Potted plants (real and fake), hanging lanterns from Z Gallerie, and Indian- and Moorish-style furnishings help to create the ambience she wanted.
To complete the retreat, Bhatia designed an outdoor reading cove and meditation area. Working with simple materials from Home Depot and aided by a contractor, she framed the space with Moorish-inspired cutouts and a canopy of heavy timbers. The outdoor room, which extends out from a detached library, cost about $7,000 to build.
The meditation area is part of the escape, "the experience," she says. For someone who wants her home to be open for friends and extended family, Bhatia has found great satisfaction in creating a gathering place that reflects who she is: creative, artistic, dramatic and decidedly Indian.
"I'm a Valley girl," she says, laughing. "But I hang on to my culture."