Modern Front and Backyard Transformation in Sunnyvale, CA
Updated: Mar 8
Introducing The Project
Many of the landscape design projects we take on at Water and Earth center around giving a Bay Area home a brand new backyard. However, if you are starting from scratch on your outdoor space, then a fully fledged backyard renovation can leave your front yard space looking disconnected. The homeowners of this Sunnyvale property were looking for a complete outdoor redesign that tied together their front, back, and side yard spaces beautifully.
We love doing entire properties because it is a chance to ensure that the entire space looks cohesive, and has been designed with the homeowners in mind. Doing both the back and front yards gives us a chance to ensure that the spaces are not only beautiful, but incredibly functional as well. It’s one thing for a space to look great, but if a landscape design doesn’t serve your client, then it misses the mark.
As we do in every project, the first thing we did was sit down with our clients and get to know them, their space, and figure out what purpose they needed to serve.
Before we even begin sketching or ideating, we meet with our clients to talk through their outdoor space with them. This gives the homeowner a chance to discuss any must haves, major concerns, or ask any pertinent question. In this project, we talked through the potential design yard by yard.
Starting in the front yard, the clients expressed a need for more depth, visual interest, and functional space. Not only did they want the front of their home to level up in curb appeal, but they wanted to create a design that drew the eye around the yard. Layered landscaping and beautiful materiality were a must.
On the practical end of the design, the clients were eager to have more parking space, and a front yard patio or porch area where they could sit and relax both in the morning with coffee, or at night while taking in the sounds of the neighborhood chatter.
In the backyard it was important for our design to address several different practicalities. The homeowners wanted a deck that spanned the same grade from their home’s backdoor to their bedroom door. They wanted ample grassy space for their kids to play, covered seating, and a functional outdoor kitchen that also looked great.
Every project that we tackle has its own set of unique features. Sometimes these quirks make it to the other side of the design process, while some are resolved in the backyard renovation. On this property, we fell in love with a unique tree on the right hand side of the space. Though it was bare during the conception of the process, I envisioned the green tunnel and shade it could provide the space. After getting the go ahead from the homeowners, we decided to incorporate it into the final design.
All of our projects begin with 2D rendering. We start the landscape design process by presenting two different 2D concepts, and talk through each with the homeowner to see what elements of each are working, and what needs to be tweaked.
Beginning in the front yard of Concept A, you see that the original driveway has been removed. In its place, we have proposed a paver driveway with extended parking. The approach or walkway to the home has been brought halfway down the yard, connecting the client to their new driveway from a covered front patio.
Where the walkway resolves, we have installed some layered landscaping elements. Boulders, greenery, and plenty of grassy space keep the yard accessible while creating a dynamic and layered visual effect.
Connecting the front and backyard space are the side approaches, which are finished in this design with functional items such as a shed and utility area, and elevated with a beautiful paver walkway.
Moving into the backyard living space, the design opens up. The homeowners step off of the side walkway into a grassy lawn area. Continuing through the space, large concrete pavers bisect the new patio and deck. One of the clients biggest wish list items was a deck space that connected their two backyard exits. That is seen in this design, bordered by a seating wall, and housing a covered outdoor kitchen.
At the other end of the yard, the homeowners step off the paver patios, under the large, existing tree, into a nook containing veggie beds, and back alongside the other end of the house.
The second design concept we created emphasized many of the same points as the first design, with a few significant revisions to the layout.
In the front yard space, the extended seating area, lawn space, and extra parking are retained. However, the walkway or front approach has been revised. Instead of resolving halfway through the lawn space, it extends all the way down the length of the driveway and down to the street. This creates an immediate eyeline and functional pathway from the edge of the property to the front yard.
Like the front yard, the side approaches have remained largely the same. Pavers bring the clients around into the backyard space, punctuated by a shed and a strip of lawn space. Stepping off of these pavers, the homeowners enter the backyard where most of the design revisions of Concept B can be seen.
On either end of the yard are lawn space for the kids. These grassy areas round out the center of the living space. Similar to the Concept A, a deck spans the grade between both back doors. However, in this design the pergola has been moved down into the yard to cover the paver patio, finished with seating and a gas fireplace.
In both designs, carefully planned landscaping and lighting add texture and day to night functionality.
Picking a Direction
When multiple spaces are being designed at once, it makes sense that clients may favor some aspects of one design over another. In this case, the homeowners preferred Concept A’s design on the whole, but favored some elements of Concept B.
When all was said and done, we decided to draw on small elements of both designs to create a final plan. From these discussions, we moved to 3D renderings of the space.
3D Renderings and Revisions:
Renderings of the design really begin to bring the space to life. From a fully formed firepit and seating area, to the materiality of the pavers and the limestone patio, the details missed in simply 2D renderings come to life here in full color. The seating wall that borders the elevated deck has been graded perfectly to create an ideal space to perch and conversate on the deck.
As you look through the 3D renderings of this space, you’ll notice that even once a landscape design has moved to this stage, there is still room for revisions to be made. Many of our initial 3D renderings were created with a covered deck. However, this changed in our final designs as we realized too much light was blocked this way.
Moving into the rendering of the front yard you can see the extended covered seating area and extra parking. Also visible is the front walkway, punctuated with boulders and landscaping throughout.
The Final Designs
After the 3D renderings were reviewed, we moved to finalize all elements of the design. As we noted, sometimes even the best laid plans can change before the design moves to the construction stage. In this project, even after the 3D renderings had been reviewed with the client, the final design still underwent some slight revisions.
In this finalized overview of the project, you can see that the limestone patio and seating area are still included. During construction, this was removed in exchange for additional lawn space. The concrete steppers remain, but the final design decision gives their kids additional green space, and softens the overall look of the backyard.
The Finished Space:
In the end, this project came together beautifully to create a property that felt cohesive, functional, and was undeniably beautiful.
Starting in the front yard, you can see the brand new paver driveway with additional parking space. To the left of the driveway, the unique walkway has been brought to life. Here you can see the way the organic material of the landscaping has punctuated the end of the walkway, bouncing the eye around as it is pulled up towards the house.
Around the side of the house, new planting has room to grow. A utility pad and shed offer functionality without interrupting the front yard or backyard design.
In the photo above you can see the final shots of the project as it is completed. The elevated deck is flanked by the same board form concrete as the front yard patio. A pergola provides a little bit of reprieve from hot summer sun while allowing in ample light.
Instead of leaning into the standard pergola slats, which go in one direction and emphasize sun cover, we decided to add more visual interest with an x shaped roof. This means that ample light is allowed in, while the slats throw a beautiful design against the deck as the sun moves across the sky.
Finally, at the far end of the property is the tree we fought to keep. Here you can see the foliage is completely grown in, creating a green tunnel that guides the homeowners through and around to the far side of the yard. The shade created provides space for extra seating, a retreat from the dog days of summer while softening the final design and adding additional livable space.
When all was said and done, these Sunnyvale homeowners were left with a front yard and backyard space that not only looks beautiful, but fits their family’s unique list of wants and needs. Small touches like board form concrete and uniquely designed pergola slats bring a burst of modern interest to a classic space. The kids have plenty of space to play, the adults have space to relax, and the entire landscape design ties together the front and back of the property seamlessly.
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