Los Gatos Landscape Design Challenge: Pool with a view.
Updated: Jan 28
Introducing the Space
It’s not everyday that Water and Earth is given the opportunity to design a space perched atop panoramic views of the Los Gatos hills. In this landscape design challenge, we were given the opportunity to craft a design that would be flanked day and night by views that hold their own. Our job? Create a space that would coexist, not compete, with the environment.
A little background information: When the homeowners of this property reached out to Water and Earth, they were in the process of renovating their home. They had made significant progress on their house itself, and were looking to tackle their outdoor living space next. But they weren’t exactly sure where to start.
The existing outdoor space was mostly bare bones when we arrived.
A drone shot of the space, showing the darker area of future renovation, and the existing deck wrapping around the far side of the house.
There were traces of a footprint from an old pool that had already been removed, and a new deck that had recently been installed, which the homeowners wanted to keep. Other than that, they were simply looking for a modern minded yard with a pool that could serve as a space to unwind, hangout, and absorb the views. This couple also had two young children, and wanted to keep some grassy space for the kids.
We used a drone to capture the full scope of the property. These shots would prove useful in conceptual steps down the road.
Now, Water and Earth does a lot of our work down in the valley. And we love those properties! However, projects in the valley don’t exactly have views for days. Most often, we’re looking at three sides of a house, and a fence. Sometimes, like in this Spanish Revival design, we’re coping with how to design around shared property lines.
That said, we’re very rarely working with panoramic views. This project was truly special, featuring a full breadth of showstopping views of the Los Gatos hills. Immediately, we knew our job was to create a beautiful, interesting space that could stand on its own, but would also stand back and let the views speak for themselves.
If the Los Gatos hills are the picture, we wanted our final product to be the frame.
Over the course of the design process, we looked for lots of different ways to incorporate premium materials and structurally interesting elements that would work in conjunction with the property. Features included black, powder coated steel and IPE decking. Three different types of Techo Bloc pavers work in unison to create a patio that is as nice to look at, as it is easy to navigate.
But even with all of these small touches, we were careful not to overwhelm. When all was said and done, no elements of our design could impede the view. It’s not every day we work with a backdrop like this, and we wanted a design that worked in unison, rather than competing for attention.
Conceptual Design Phase
After our initial site analysis and meetings with the clients, our next step is always the conceptual design phase. Here, we are able to lay out our ideas for the client, while keeping the design open to feedback and collaboration. We always present two concepts, and then work with our clients to settle on a design that hits all aspects of their wish list. Often, as in this project, Concept A and Concept B are similar, featuring a few key differences.
Pictured above is Concept A. Upon entering, you start down a concrete walkway, running up along a grassy space, offering room for kids to play. Further in, you follow the paver patio and pool up to a covered, raised deck big enough for a couch and chairs.
In Concept A, this covered deck steps down onto a continuing path that follows along and around the far side of a long pool, taking the client all the way up onto an auxiliary patio. The hardscaping in Concept A is continuous and unimpeded, allowing fluid, straightforward movement from one area of the space to the next.
Overall, it’s a very simple, clean design that brings navigability and connection to the forefront. Concept B harnesses many of these same elements, with a few distinguishing features.
Immediately, you notice some changes to design in Concept B. The same leading path guides you into the space along the grassy area. However, in this concept, the homeowner takes the path up to a series of concrete steppers, rather than a fully paved patio. These steppers follow the short side of the pool up to the same covered yoga deck from Concept A.
But unlike in Concept A, the hardscaping does not provide a direct pathway from the covered deck, down the long, far side of the pool, and up to an auxiliary patio. Instead, homeowners step down from the covered deck onto a larger tanning area, cordoned off by plantings. Additionally, the original auxiliary patio has moved down the frame, closer to the pool, and become a cozy, integrated space featuring a fire pit and some seating that looks out over the hills.
To access this patio, the client would take the initial steppers back along the pool, and follow the paved pathway along the house to the fire pit, and additional landscaping.
Edited Concept Design
As we said, the conceptual design phase is one of the most important parts of any project. It is the point in the process where we are able to get the most input and constructive feedback from our clients. While we present two designs, it is less common that either concept is adapted with no changes whatsoever. Instead, elements from each generally are incorporated into a final, edited concept that fits the homeowner’s specifications.
This project was no different. In the end, the clients ended up opting for Concept B, with a few minor tweaks. While the homeowners preferred many of the additional elements of the second design, such as the steppers and supplementary plantings, they also liked the idea of prioritizing navigability.
In the end, the final concept, pictured below, is all of the elements of Concept B, with a small adaptation from Concept A. In it, the hardscaping continues around the far edge of the pool, linking the covered patio space and tanning platform to the auxiliary patio and fire feature.
The final conceptual design, blending all the visual interest of Concept B with additional navigability of Concept A.
This end result is why the conceptual phase is so important to us. The client is able to picture themselves in the space and give feedback. They can narrow in on which end result would optimize not only aesthetic sensibilities, but day to day functionality for their family.
To us, collaboration is not a means to an end- it’s a process that ensures we are designing with each individual client in mind. It ensures that every space is custom made for the people who will actually live in them.
Speaking of the importance of client participation, and allowing every homeowner to see themselves in the space, sometimes it’s hard to marry the idea of a finished design with your existing property. In this case, the client loved the design. Still, they were facing a challenge in seeing how it would play out in their own backyard. This is where the drone shots, taken earlier in the process, really came in handy.
In this project, we were able to give the clients a good idea of how the final design would incorporate into their existing space using these overhead photos. We did this by superimposing the conceptual design over the initial drone photos of the property. This is shown in the photo below.
Final Concept Superimposed on Initial Drone Shot
After seeing this image, the homeowners were able to really visualize how the project would come together. It was a great testament to how non-traditional elements such as drone photography can elevate client experience.
Today’s design process is about mixing traditional elements with the digital age. By combining a beautifully simple 2D design with starkly modern drone photography, the homeowner could easily understand the layout and flow of the space, without ever even seeing a full 3D mock up.
After talking through this image with the client, they were on board, and excited to move forward. From there, we moved quickly to the next phase of the project-- 3D rendering.
We’ve touched on this a number of times in the past, but Water and Earth is always careful not to jump into a 3D rendering without giving clients plenty of time to consider the simpler, 2D design first. In short, 3D renderings are beautiful and exciting, but if presented too early they can confuse, and make it difficult for homeowners to think through the potential space.
In this case, once the conceptual phase had wrapped, we were eager to unveil the 3D renderings and really bring the future of this space to life for our clients.
Below, you can see a series of renderings that implement all of the previously discussed design elements. From the first steps into the space, design elements presented in the final conceptualization are on display. You see the initial, grassy space, flanked by a walkway and those concrete steppers.
Even in this first image, you see that no design elements compete with the view, which has admittedly, been scaled up in these photos. The Los Gatos hills do look a little like the Rocky Mountains here, but we digress.
A view of the space upon entering. 3D-rendered mountains not to scale.
Looking back onto the space from the far side of the property, you take in the entirety of the design. The covered yoga deck overlooks the long pool and spa. A step down takes you to a tanning area, which flows around the short side of the pool to a fire pit and additional seating.
A view from the edge of the property, looking back towards the house.
Throughout this space, clean, modern lines are punctuated by low-profile, softer plantings, bringing the color and life of the landscape in. Even though the views are the star of this project, the design holds its own. The homeowners enjoy all the functionality they requested- a pool, grass for the kiddos, and spaces to hang, with added visual interest of interlocking pavers, high end material, and clean, modern lines.
An aerial rendering of the space, featuring the existing deck build along the back side of the home previous to our involvement.
Above, you see how the auxiliary patio from Concept A has moved down, closer to the pool as shown in Concept B. This repositioning leaves space for additional landscaping below the existing deck, and helps to emphasize the easy walkability and movement of design, adopted in the final conceptualization of the space.
Finally, the clients are treated to a rendering from one of the best seats in the house. In this image, you look out from beneath the covered patio, across the pool and spa, out at the hills. The emphasis on framing the environment is especially present here. Even the black, powered coated steel beams holding the pergola aloft act to divide the view into two, uninterrupted snapshots.
Looking out at the (too big!) hills from beneath the covered yoga deck.
Once we presented the renderings and got the green light from our clients, construction began.
Water and Earth is a landscape design company, but we make it our priority to see that our client’s spaces come to fruition. We serve as project managers for the construction and installation phase of the project, working with a close circle of trusted brands and contractors.
One of the focal points of this space is the pool. All paths wind around the water, and anchor plants, patio, and pergola to center space. Installation of the pool is pictured below.
Pool Construction Begins during Camp Fire
From this vantage point, you can almost imagine floating on a summer day, soaking in the sun and the views. Details of this pool included a hidden, automatic pool cover, as well as an integrated spa. When occupied, water from the spa is allowed to spill over into the pool without issue.
Materiality is always critical in our designs, but becomes especially important within simpler spaces such as this one. This raised and covered yoga deck was constructed using a beautiful IPE wood, anchored with a black, powder coated steel and inlaid with four lights. The result is a sleek, functional structure perfect for a morning sun salutation or an evening drink with friends.
IPE Wood Yoga Deck, Fit with Custom Structural Steel and IPE Wood Cover.
Paver Patio featuring Diamond Techo Bloc Pavers, and gas line hookup.
Water and Earth was excited to be one of the first to introduce Techo Bloc pavers to the Bay Area with the completion of this project. The pavers seen in the above and below image are primarily the diamond paver style. The alternating, staggered pattern creates visual interest without becoming too busy, while a straightforward border paver and pool coping keep the design reigned in.
Pavers are a great tool in simple design like these. They serve as accents, move the eye around the space, and are ultimately unparalleled in durability and versatility.
The Completed Space
We enjoy every part of the design process, from first meetings to final photos. Still, there’s no better feeling than walking into a newly transformed backyard. Especially when the final product is as rad as this one.
When the last of the dust settled, and the final touches were placed, our clients were left with a simple, stunning space that was as beautiful as it was functional for their family. Best of all, it allowed the views to speak for themselves.
From the moment you enter, you are greeted with a cohesion of design and environment. Visible upon entrance is the stone stepper from the final design, leading up to the finished, raised yoga deck. Follow this path, or walk along the long side of the pool to the auxiliary patio to unwind around a gas fire pit. Hidden in the below photo is the automatic pool cover, which winds back into a tray, out of sight and protected by concrete pavers when not in use.
The view from the far corner of the pool, looking out over the Los Gatos hills.
Below you see the finished spa, complete with gray subway tile ledge which allows for water to displace into the main pool with no impact to the filtration system. This placement allows the homeowners to easily enjoy the view without feeling isolated from any of the other gathering areas in the space. Opposite, parents can easily keep watch from around the fire pit as the kids splash in the pool.
Morning views from the custom spa.
The Los Gatos hills and Northern California environment are on display from every angle of the space. Even with your back turned, the landscape creeps in.
Strategic plantings soften the space without overcrowding. Notably, the only tall plantings in this yard are the preserved live oaks, seen in the photo below. These trees are not only protected in the Bay Area, but create both the vertical interest needed to tie this space together, and privacy from above and below as you relax on the raised yoga deck.
Looking back towards the house towards the pool and yoga deck. Native, live Oaks can be seen in the background.
Client views from the covered deck. Los Gatos hills at their appropriate size, this time.
Each project we do at Water and Earth is intentional, and faces its own unique set of challenges. In this case, our mission was creating a functional, interesting, and dynamic space that could hold its own, without compete or obstructing the most important element of the property- the view.
In this regard, every choice was intentional. Moving the covered patio towards the rear prevents visual impediment of the hills. Multiple paver patterns create movement without becoming a distraction. From the pool to the fire pit, no matter where you choose to relax, the landscape unfolds around you.
Looking toward the yoga deck from the house. Targeted overhead lighting makes the space livable post sunset, while allowing nighttime panoramas to shine. Native oaks segment the skyline, for an unmistakable Northern California feel.
Full view of the completed space from the far side of the property. Paver patio stretches around the far corner of the pool, from yoga deck to fire pit.
In the end, we were able to create the perfect backyard for our clients. Months later, these homeowners are enjoying a one of a kind outdoor living space that caters to the whole family, and looks great doing it. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but when the view is as priceless as it was in this project, a photo simply doesn’t do it justice.
At Water and Earth, we specialize in approaching each project with a fresh perspective. By listening to our clients and keeping them involved throughout the process, we are able to adapt and develop designs to fit their individual wants and needs. The finished result? A one of a kind space, tailor made for your day to day life.