Sunset Magazine's annual Celebration Weekend will kick off May 31, with festivities running through the following day, when the Menlo Park-based publishing corporation will host presenters, displays and seminars like their featured garden exhibit.
This year's exhibit is dubbed the Small Spaces, Big Dreams Gardens, and it coincides with the magazine's recent launch of a new column of a similar name in its print magazine. The column showcases particularly tiny homes and backyards that owners have maxed out in design and function.
The exhibit also lends itself well to the festival's overarching theme of "What's new in the West." The Bay Area's housing market means more money for less space, so one burgeoning trend finds creative solutions in tight quarters.
As Sarah Gaffney, Sunset's home programs marketing manager, said: "You can do a lot with a small footprint."
And that is exactly what this year's festival aims to teach visitors. The garden exhibit opens with four 25-by-25-foot plots arranged to transform the company's back parking lot into a varied spread of personal, miniature oases. Designed with themes in mind, the gardens will showcase 1,500 plants arranged as a lush Balinese paradise, a modern desert retreat and an edible oasis, showing visitors several options for transforming smaller yards.
"There's such a trend of shifting from huge yards to small spaces," said Lauren Dunec, Sunset's garden editor and designer of this year's desert modern-style garden.
"We want to show people how they can make their gardens feel like an extension of the home," she said, also mentioning the added benefit of using less water in smaller spaces.
The festival's gardens will showcase the talents of some of the Bay Area's up-and-coming landscape designers, whose participation in this year's festival encouraged thinking about designing on a smaller scale. All of the garden designers will be available at the festival to talk about their gardens and answer visitors' questions.
"For visitors, the quality of the ideas will be very different," Dunec said, noting that the takeaways from this year's Celebration Weekend will be more applicable to visitors' own backyard spaces.
The gardens will open to a larger backyard spread and this year's "tiny house," a wheeled box measuring just 20-by-8 feet and designed to echo the idea of maximizing small spaces.
The house, manufactured by Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, which offers ready-made homes or build-it-yourself workshops and construction plans for DIY types, was originally designed as a kind of alternative to the traditional RV. But, Gaffney said, the company quickly found that buyers had different plans for the miniature homes.
"The person buying this wants to add a backyard house or cottage," she said, noting the difficult permit process behind building livable backyard space. Add to that the 10,000-pound weight of the house that requires a Ford F250 to pull.
And so rises the phenomenon of the tiny house, the small hero of this year's Celebration Weekend.
Since the tiny house's wheels are nearly impossible to remove, Sunset's designers will build a deck that will work aesthetically to hide them and also improve the connection between indoor and outdoor space.
Gaffney noted that the fluidity between yard and home mirrors the Sunset ethos of "taking the party outside."
The magazine's home editors will decorate the inside, showing visitors how they can liven up the tiny space with paint, linens and small-scale furniture, like the kind easily found at IKEA.
"The space is going to be imagined as a female's home office in her backyard," Gaffney said. "She'll have a rattan chair from Serena & Lily and a side table for a book and drink."
However it's devised, the tiny house is growing in popularity for its low cost and easy transportability, features that will be touted by several tiny house enthusiasts at the Celebration Weekend. One such guest is Kent Griswold, publisher of Tiny House Blog and Tiny House Magazine, who will be on a panel fielding questions about the tiny house movement with other guests.
Griswold talked about the financial benefits as one draw of small living.
"The tiny house movement involves people that are downsizing. ... People are wanting to live within their means," he said, citing the 2008 stock-market crash as one factor that drove some people to rethink their lifestyles.
Griswold, who lives in a smaller-than-average home at just over 1,000 square feet, doesn't technically live in a tiny house.
"It's still a dream to downsize even more," he said.
But living in such a small space would have its challenges, too, as one could gather from a quick look at any tiny house. Still, Sunset's upcoming festivities will celebrate the small, looking past its limitations to all the freedoms it can offer.
In addition to its featured garden exhibit, the Celebration Weekend will also include stages for tutorials and presentations on cooking, travel, home and outdoor living. Industry specialists like chef Fabio Viviani, fashion journalist and author Linda O'Keeffe and architect Vina Lustado are among this year's festival presenters. The weekend will also offer wine seminars, live music and hands-on activities, including terracotta pot painting.
What: Sunset Celebration Weekend
When: Saturday, May 31, and Sunday, June 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Sunset Magazine Headquarters and Gardens, 80 Willow Road, Menlo Park
Parking: Main parking lot at Facebook headquarters, 1601 Willow Road, Menlo Park; complimentary shuttles during event hours
Tickets: VIP Access Pass: $80 (Children: $40); General Admission: $20; Seniors (60+): $18; Children (12 and under): free