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Big Design For A Smaller Space: San Jose Landscape Design Challenge

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again–even small backyards have plenty of potential for big design. In today’s San Jose landscape design challenge, we’ll review a small yard in San Jose that was bursting with potential. The homeowners were looking to maximize both practicality and style in their space without excluding any of their major wishlist items. At Water and Earth, we love the challenge of transforming a tight space and this property was no exception. From a custom swimming pool to a full covered living area, this project has it all.


Introducing The Space

The starting point of this property had a lot of traditional appeal. Brick pavers lined a concrete patio. Simple landscaping and grass offered a lot of green space, but the overall functionality and style of the yard was not in line with our clients preferences or needs.

While the grass and brick was simple, it served no functional purpose. The orange tree was more work than it was worth, and periodically littered the space with fallen fruit. Even the concrete patio had seen better days, and the empty slab in the middle contained no landscaping and was impractical.

The clients were interested in taking this plain canvas seen above and injecting their own modern sense of style. On their wishlist was a pool, spa, dining area, outdoor kitchen, and large covered living area with all the bells and whistles. It was a long list for a space with limited square footage, but we knew that with some creativity and expertise, we could make it happen.

3D Renderings

When designing in a small space, creating a functional layout is everything. After discussing the project with the clients, we had a series of meetings to talk through different design options. During these meetings, we received and integrated their feedback, ensuring that they were approving a space that met their aesthetic and functional preferences to a T. Once design approvals were received on the 2D concepts, we produced a series of detailed 3D renders, seen below.

Above, you see a birds eye view of the space, rendered in 3D. Here, you see the old concrete and brick hardscaping has been removed off of the back of the home to make way for a new, composite deck. An arbor anchors string light to the home above the new outdoor seating area. To the right of the deck, grass and a series of stepper leads you around the front. The back of the yard is divided between the new custom pool and spa, and the covered outdoor living area.

This covered living area, seen above, is outfitted with all of the bells and whistles on the homeowner’s wish list. A cedar roof shelters the custom fireplace, kitchen, and bar area. The floor of the space is finished in concrete pavers.

Looking out from the home across the rendered deck, you see another angle of the custom swimming pool and spa. A long, water feature wall adds visual and sonic interest to the space. Layered at the edge of the property is a fence, overlaid with geometric pattern privacy screens. String lights anchored to the arbor twinkle over the rendered dining table.

From the corner of the pool, you can just see how the spa fits seamlessly within the swimming pool. Bar stools line the counter peninsula near the covered living area, and lush landscaping softens the hard lines and offers a pop of natural color in the modern palette of fresh whites and woods.


Upon seeing the space fully rendered, the homeowners were excited and we moved straight into construction. The finished backyard turned out even more beautifully than we could have imagined.


The Finished Space

It is always our goal to match final spaces to their final renders. However, sometimes small changes need to be made to the design while construction is occurring. This final space is ultimately true to the final renderings, aside from some small design tweaks. Regardless, the result is a beautiful, practical space that fits easily into the small square footage of this San Jose backyard.

As in the renderings, the above photo provides a bird eye view of the finished space. From this vantage point you can see just how faithful the final space is to the original design, as well as identify areas where modifications were made. The steppers to the side of the home were left in favor of additional grassy space. The spa has moved toward the back wall of the pool and the three scuppers have been exchanged for a single, wide waterfall feature.

Looking from the far corner of the deck, you see the finished TimberTech deck and the finished arbor, just awaiting string light. The perimeter of the deck is illuminated with path lighting, echoed by spotlights beneath each privacy screen.

The light tone of the decking plays into the tones of the pool’s feature wall and the facade of the home itself. To the left of the pool, you see the custom covered living space brightened by lights inlaid into the custom cedar ceiling. From the arbor, to the covered space, to the privacy screens, wood features tie each of these spaces together while offering additional warmth and organic texture to the yard.

Stepping beneath the covered living space, you see a continuation of the warm, neutral concrete pavers in the flooring. The space includes a functional outdoor kitchen, as well as wiring for a mounted TV. Dividing the covered living area from the pool is a floating waterfall bar, providing plenty of seating for guests to grab a drink or eat dinner fresh off of the grill.


Taking a closer look at the pool, you can see the intricate tiling of the feature wall using FireClay tile and finished with a concrete cap that ties in the coping around the perimeter of the pool. Though the yard is small, the pool remains a functional 15 X 30 feet, and houses an 8X8 foot custom spa.


At the end of the day, Water and Earth is out to prove that even small backyards can have it all. This San Jose landscape design challenge incorporated every item on our clients wishlist without feeling cramped or disfunctional. From a luxury pool and spa to the covered outdoor kitchen and wide open deck space, this backyard living space is now as functional as it is beautiful.


For a look at more small space renovations, visit our blog! For day to day updates on all of the latest Water and Earth projects, follow us on Instagram.



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