Los Altos Landscape Design Challenge: Custom Pergola, Fireplace, and Outdoor Kitchen
Introducing the Space
In today’s landscape design challenge, we revisit a Los Altos home that was in need of a modern makeover. While the space wasn't necessarily a blank slate, it was outdated and in need of a makeover in order to match the new owner's modern California style.
The entry to the space was finished with a stone pathway, but offered little in terms of functional storage. Furthermore, it didn’t provide great access to the rest of the space. Immediately upon entering the backyard, a large patch of dirt, intended as a garden, occupies the right corner. This may have been purposeful for a previous homeowner, but these clients were not gardeners, and were looking to transform the space into something they would actually use.
The rest of the yard had remnants of previous outdoor living projects. The original paver patio was large enough to provide room for plenty of seating, but was outdated in aesthetic. Not to mention, it offered little in the way of covered seating. Our clients were looking to upgrade this space significantly into a seating area they could use rain or shine.
Overall, these clients were looking to upgrade their Los Altos backyard living space in both style and function. In terms of aesthetic preferences, the homeowners were a fan of the modern California farmhouse style. They were interested in upscale finishes with a traditional, southern California feel, including a clean, simple color palette of blacks, whites, and grays.
Necessary features for the finished space include decking, an updated outdoor kitchen and bar, fire features, covered seating, and outdoor lighting to transition the yard from day to night. After a few in depth conversations with the homeowners, we had a sense for both their taste and lifestyle. We hit the drawing boards and came back to present two distinct design directions.
With all of our clients, we open the design process by presenting two distinct design directions. In this Los Altos design challenge, both designs included many of the same elements. However, the layouts varied in order to give the clients an idea of the flexibility that was possible in their backyard. Looking at both directions allowed the homeowners to envision the flow of each design, and determine what layout was best for them.
Seen above, the first design concept, Concept A, divided the backyard space into a living area, and an open lawn space. Entering from the side of the home, the clients step onto a new paver patio where the previous dirt and stone walkway once was. This previously unusable space becomes functional and stylish storage. Immediately to the right is a screened off trash enclosure. Further along, a bike rack and small shed give the homeowners plenty of discrete and functional storage space.
Entering the main backyard, the homeowners step onto a linear pathway of concrete steppers that move them through the first half of the yard, which is dedicated to open, green lawn space. At the end of this pathwar, they step onto a brand new deck.
This deck marks the beginning of the entertainment and living space. Inlaid into the deck is the new spa. From here, the rounded edge of the tanning deck allows homeowners to step off towards the home, onto the new paver patio in two directions. Stepping toward the home, they can settle into a seat around their brand new propane fire pit. Moving in the other direction, they find themselves beneath their custom pergola, outfitted with additional seating, a tv, and their new kitchen and dining space. From here, they can exit the backyard toward the front of the home.
The next design option, Concept B, took many of the design elements from the first concept while shifting the layout and tweaking materiality. Stepping into the space along the side approach, the pavers from Concept A have been replaced with slab concrete. The trash, bike, and shed storage remain the same. From here, the homeowners step into their yard and onto a paver pathway.
Unlike the first design, the lawn space is broken into two even sections along the perimeter of the yard. Dividing them is the deck and spa, which is provided partial shade by a large tree on the edge of the property. From the deck, the clients step back down onto the paver pathway, and move in the second half of the yard.
In Concept B, the fire pit and covered living space have flipped positions. In this design, the clients step out of their home into their new, covered living and dining area. The back corner of the yard now centers around the fire pit, creating a cozy nook. Along the perimeter of the property is the new outdoor kitchen, which is covered by a modern arbor, tying it to the pergola off of the home.
After looking at both designs, the homeowners were excited about the possibilities. They liked elements of both concepts, however they still didn’t feel completely swayed by either one. Using their feedback, we decided to create a revisionary design, incorporating elements from the initial directions while making the necessary changes.
The result was the 2D rendering seen above. In this render, the entryway remains the same as that of Concept B. Stepping into the yard, the homeowners find themselves on a series of concrete steppers, like those seen in the first design. However, unlike the first two directions, Concept C sees the spa moved to the far right corner of the yard.
Walking along the steppers toward the main living space, the clients pass a large lawn area, bordered on the other side by a new, large paver patio. Here, the initial composition of the first design is intact. The firepit is directly off of the home, while a large, custom pergola covers the outdoor dining, seating, and kitchen area.
After presenting this final revision, the homeowners were on board and we moved into the next step of the design process–3D renderings.
3D Renderings: Round One
The 3D rendering phase of designs is one of the most exciting of the entire design process. This is the point at which we get to truly bring the space to life, and the homeowners can begin to imagine what their dream backyard will actually look like.
In this Los Altos design challenge, we took the space through two separate rounds of revisions before arriving at a finalized design.
Above, you can see the overall layout of the space. We were able to create a layout that felt cohesive, while allowing each element to stand on its own. You can see how the homeowner’s personal aesthetic preferences have been incorporated with the modern white tile and neutral color palette. An aerial view of the space also gives a good look at the custom roof of the pergola, which has skylights that allow in sunlight while shielding our clients from inclimate weather.
It can be hard sometimes for homeowners to visualize what a custom design element will look like in the space. Above, you can see how the pergola springs to life in 3D. Wooden supports and beams mix with a dark roof finished with skylights. Below, there is plenty of room for both relaxing, dining, and cooking.
One of the biggest changes made between Concept C and the first round of 3D is to the spa itself. While the last 2D design showed the original deck changes out for stairs, the clients loved the idea of including more wood. To make this possible, we reverted back toward decking, while retaining the elevated positioning of the spa. The result is a relaxing destination both in and out of the water.
One of the most unfinished areas of the original Los Altos backyard was the side approach. Here you can see how modern concrete and creative storage provide extra space that is both stylish, and inherently functional.
The clients wanted to ensure that their final backyard would transition from day to night easily. The simplest way to make this happen is to prioritize outdoor lighting. From spot lights, to string lights, the updated lighting designs adds both ambience and safety to the outdoor living space.
3D Renderings: Revisions
After seeing the initial renderings, the clients were excited. However, there were just a few minor tweaks they wanted to see brought to life before we completely delivered a final design. At Water and Earth, client satisfaction is our first priority, always. Because of this, we are happy to reimagine and revise designs to make sure homeowners are fully satisfied with their space before construction begins. Several of these last minute revisions can be seen in the below renderings.
The first minor tweak made to the space was done to the fire pit. Instead of a square, the clients were interested in elongating the line of the fire feature, to give more room for communal seating. Changing the shape to a rectangle allowed a natural space for a long, outdoor couch to be placed, giving the patio space a more “living room” like feel.
Another change made in this round of design was a modification to the covered living space. After some thought, the homeowners were interested in adding an additional fire feature to the backyard, in the style of a traditional fireplace. The pergola’s privacy wall offered a perfect opportunity to incorporate this. You can see the seamless addition below, with a new fireplace positioned directly below the outdoor television.
Finally, we wanted to give the homeowners a better look at what the bicycle storage would look like. Instead of open, arbor-style slats above the bike rack, we opted for a translucent glass finish that keeps metal bikes safe from rain and rust.
Upon viewing this final set of renderings, the clients were satisfied with space, and eager to see it come to life. We recorded all of the final changes and specs in a final, 2D design concept, and then put the project into production. Once construction concluded, the homeowners were left with a Los Altos backyard that exceeded expectations.
The Finished Space
In this Los Altos landscape design challenge, practicality and style converge for a backyard space that’s fit for the whole family.
Entering the yard, you see the approach has traded dirt for clean concrete slabs and a custom bike rack. Not only are family bicycles given a place to go, but they are up and out of the way, protected from the elements by a custom arbor style cover. From here, the homeowners walk into the larger backyard space.
Immediately upon entering, the homeowners see their brand new raised spa. Nestled into dark, modern decking, the spa is a destination, a relaxing corner shielded from prying neighborhood eyes by a privacy screen. Around the spa, the deck provides plenty of square footage for seating, tanning, and relaxing away from the bustle of the main covered outdoor living area.
Below, you can see another glance at the spa and deck, and the fencing surrounding them. Along the perimeter, a long bench opens to provide additional seating as well as storage for outdoor equipment. At the edges of the space, new trees and rocks compose a clean and modern landscape design.
Moving towards the main event of the yard, you see the large covered living space brought to life. A cedar pergola roof sports modern skylights, letting light in while keeping inclimate weather out. Along the back wall of the structure, a TV is mounted above an outdoor fireplace and framed by dark gray pavers. To the left, the outdoor grill and dining area give the feel of an outdoor, open concept kitchen and living room.
Below, a paver patio creates open space for seating, while creating cohesion between this space and the patio off the central home. Finishing off the design is a mounted fan, as well as an array of outdoor lighting to bring life to the space long after the sun has set.
Turning from beneath the covered living area, you see the modified fire pit nestled in a nook off the back door of the home. The long, rectangular shape leaves plenty of room for a sofa and chairs, giving the patio a cozy and communal energy. The pavers forming the sides of the fire pit mimic those found on the fireplace, bringing the spaces together to create unity in the design.
This Los Altos landscape design challenge started with a space that was lacking the true functionality it needed to serve these clients. Not to mention, the fractured and inconsistent design of the yard was not a reflection of the homeowners tastes.
Through conversation, revision, and Water and Earth’s signature ingenuity and unique approach to design, we arrived at a modern, beautiful, practical outdoor living space that serves everybody.
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