Introducing The Space
Fitting everything you want in your outdoor living space into one central area can be a challenge. How do you make one functional area flow into another? How do you incorporate everything without making it feel cramped? And how can you accomplish all of the above while keeping aesthetics a priority. In today’s San Jose landscape design challenge, we confront those exact questions.
These clients had a very straightforward, rectangular lot to contend with. They wanted to devote a good amount of the existing yard to the lawn to give kids and pets room to run and play. At the same time, they wanted all of the bells and whistles that turn a backyard into a premium outdoor living space.
As a result, we approached the design with the intention to keep green space distinct from the outdoor living area. This meant creating a central hardscaping area off the back of the home, and being extremely intentional with the layout and materials. We needed to fit an outdoor kitchen, covered seating, and a fire pit onto a main patio without the final effect feeling cramped.
After thoroughly discussing the clients’ vision for their San Jose backyard, we hit the drawing boards and came back to present two design directions.
All great landscape designs start with 2D renderings. There tends to be a tendency to overlook the importance of 2D as technology continues to evolve, and 3D programs become increasingly realistic and advanced. And while Water and Earth uses all of the most modern software available to create 3D renders, we never underestimate the importance of presenting in 2D first.
2D design renderings retain a sense of malleability that homeowners appreciate, especially in the early stages of the landscape design process. They avoid feeling cornered or pigeonholed into a space that may ultimately not work the way they want. Instead, 2D design allows a lot of room for things to be changed, tweaked, and customized to our clients’ preferences.
Above is the first of two design directions presented to our clients. As you can see, this home is situated on a corner lot. In the front yard we took advantage of the space to create a driveway extension that increases parking availability. To the right of the entrance, a granite pathway curved towards the side approach, running along new landscaping and turf. Existing boulders from the property have been relocated to increase curb appeal and visual interest.
Moving around to the backyard space, you see the design centers around a large paver patio, accessible directly off the back of the home. Closest to the home is the outdoor seating, which is illuminated by a series of overhead cafe string lights.
The patio as a whole is separated from the lawn by two corner planters. The first, on the left, creates a buffer between the yard and the new outdoor kitchen. To the right, decorative planting brightens the space behind the new corner seat wall, positioned to give our clients and their guests a cozy spot to enjoy the new fire pit. The rightmost section of this patio ends not in a right angle, but a gentle curve that gives plenty of space for more outdoor seating and open access to the yard.
To soften the right angles and straight lines of the lot, we create curving garden beds around the perimeter of the space. There’s even room for a series of raised vegetable beds on the far left side of the space.
Above, you can see the secondary design concept, Concept B, which we also presented to our clients in this first stage of design meetings. If you compare this to the first concept, you will notice that the main differences in this space come in the arrangement of the assets, as well as the straighter over all lines.
As in the first concept, the front yard features a new landscape. However, in the left hand corner of the lot, a row of trees has replaced the open lawn, sheltering the front of the home from the street. To the right, the granite pathway has been changed for a linear, modern series of concrete steppers that lead in a right angle around to the back of the home.
In the backyard, the homeowners still find themselves stepping out of their back door onto a large patio. However, the patio from the first design has been squared off on both ends, and bisected in the middle with a shock of grass and plantings.
Finishing the space are the relocated raised vegetable gardens and a gentle curve of trees and landscaping along the back edge of the property, inserting just a bit of organic movement into an otherwise angular design.
The left patio now houses the firepit and seatwall, as well as a pergola-covered outdoor living space. Connecting the two patios is a series of concrete steppers. Traveling right across them, you step onto the right hand patio. Here, you find outdoor dining space and another pergola, which shelters the new outdoor kitchen. Above this patio are the cafe lights seen in the first design, adding a distinct ambience well after the sun goes down.
After viewing both directions, the clients decided they were interested in seeing a further exploration of Concept A. To give them a better idea of what the design would like when brought to life, we moved to a series of 3D renderings before finalizing the concept.
Above, you can see the newly landscaped and laid out front yard. A wide driveway with plenty of parking space curves off to the left. The front door is approachable from a curving granite pathway. Curb appeal is abound with colorful plantings and a large shade tree.
Bringing the backyard to life was an exciting moment, as the homeowners could really see how the new living space would tie together without feeling cramped. In this first view, you see the outdoor kitchen and grill forming one side of the patio’s perimeter, with the other leg of the angle supporting the posts to which new cafe lights attach. Beneath the lights is the new outdoor living space, which looks out over the backyard.
Concrete pavers are softened by garden beds and more shade trees and native grasses. The effect is a design that feels modern and functional without becoming harsh or too sterile.
Plenty of green space was important for these clients. From the angle above you can see the wide expanse of grass creating a buffer between the fence-side landscaping and the concrete paver patio. Also visible here is the singular curved edge of the patio, as seen in the initial 2D design. This feature was one example of a design element that client’s had new opinions on once seen fully rendered. The changes made here can be seen in the final design below.
Overall, moving Concept A into a 3D space allowed the homeowner’s to see the potential of their space fully unlocked. It also gave the clients a better idea of exactly what they’d like to refine and change about the initial design concept.
After seeing the space rendered, the homeowners were excited to commit to the project. They did ultimately decide to go with Concept A, with a few tweaks made to the overall design. This final concept can be seen in full detail below.
The final concept matched the first closely. The patio is capped on either side by planters formed in right angles. The outdoor kitchen, dining area, and fire pit are located in the same place. However, the curved rightmost edge of the patio has been straightened out, flush with the edge of the planter.
Additionally, the exit points from the patio to the yard have been tweaked. Instead of one central concrete stepper serving as the gate into the space, two smaller concrete steppers have been added in its place.
Ultimately, we found a way to give the clients all of the functional outdoor space they needed, while still providing plenty of open green space to spread out. Every new property presents its own unique sets of challenges. The fun is figuring out how to navigate these design questions to create a unique, custom space that fits each client’s lifestyle to a tee.
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