Pergolas, Pools, and Modern Retaining Walls in Los Gatos
Introducing The Space
In today’s landscape design challenge, we visit a home in Los Gatos in need of a modern makeover. When we arrived at the property it was apparent that we were not starting with a blank slate.
The backyard had already been touched and previously transformed by multiple forms of hardscaping including pea gravel pathways, a brick patio, and steppers. Some landscaping had been previously implemented, leaving some pockets of the yard neatly groomed, while others were waiting to be maintained.
The overall result was a bit of a mish mash. The property already had a sprawling quality to it. From the open space immediately near the back entrance of the home, to the greener, overgrown fence line opening to a hidden ADU, there was no real sense of cohesion among the existing space. The hardscaping was mismatched, and there was no one driving design vision that tied each material together. To make things more difficult, the property was positioned at the top of a hill. This meant that the uneven grading had created a need for a retaining wall that didn’t currently exist.
The homeowners were excited for a change. Not only did they want to bring the space together aesthetically, but they were eager to add additional functionality. A modern pool, harmonious outdoor seating area, and covered living space were all on the docket. They also were eager to find a way to link the common living space to the existing ADU, while maintaining the structure's privacy.
After talking with our homeowner’s about their design preferences, we got to work sketching. Then, we came back with two distinct, modern design directions.
For some homeowners, the first introduction to their new space happens in an extremely intricate 3D rendering. Modern technology is great, but before Water and Earth presents 3D renderings to clients, we are sure to thoroughly explore 2D renderings, first.
This process allows homeowners to visualize the possibilities of their space, without feeling boxed in or overwhelmed by 3D renders. For these homeowners, both 2D design directions offered two distinct layouts and design concepts. Each incorporated all of the items on the homeowner’s wishlist and provided a preview of the modern cohesion the clients were looking for.
In Concept A, seen above, you get a bird’s eye view of the property. From this render, you can see the long linear expanse of the yard, the large space to the side of the home, as well as the ADU set along the back edge of the property.
In this first design concept, the clients step out of their home onto a large paver patio. On this paver patio is the new outdoor kitchen, covered by a pergola. In the center of the patio is a new fire pit with plenty of surrounding room for chairs. To the left side there is yet another covered space, offering more room for outdoor seating.
To the left of the patio is turf, which runs up along the newly landscaped perimeter where large shade trees have been planted. Bisecting the linear yard space is a new path of steps leading down to the property’s ADU. The ADU is given enhanced privacy by additional plantings, trees, and a new retaining wall.
Moving off the property, towards the side yard, you see more green space through the use of turf. Tucked along the edge of the yard is the homeowner’s new pool, spa, and raised deck. The higher grade of the deck allows the proposed pool and spa to sit nested in the wood of the deck. The front of the home is tied into the design of the backyard with a brand new paver patio, granite walkway, and landscaping.
In Concept B, the ample green space and organic lines of the first design are exchanged for more modern, geometric angles and additional hard scaping. As in the first design, the clients step from their home onto a large paver patio. In this design, howener, the separate pergolas of Concept A are traded for one larger pergola which covers the entirety of the square footage. The central fire pit has been moved along the left side, while the outdoor kitchen remains in its prior position.
The curved edges of the property are contrasted by the sharp angles of the yard’s new retaining wall, which are softened by new landscaping. As in the first design, the yard is bisected by the path toward the ADU, which contains stair steppers that lead the homeowner’s down along the falling grade.
In this concept, the homeowners step to the right, off the paver patio and onto a series of concrete steppers. These long, linear steppers lead to Concept B’s raised deck. Offset by a few stairs, the clients can either step directly up to the inlaid pool, or cross a small bridge to the new, luxury spa. This deck is marginally larger than that in Concept A, providing additional space for tanning and relaxing in the sun.
The front yard echoes the back, including a paver patio, additional turf, and stepper paths to guide the homeowner back around the side of the home.
Before approving the final design, we were excited to move to the next stage of the process–3D renders. While we don’t lead with 3D renderings, they are a powerful tool once the direction of the space has been firmly established. This series of backyard renders brought the space to life, and allowed the homeowner’s to truly envision what their dream backyard would look like after work had wrapped.
As you will see in these 3D renders, and the final design to follow, the homeowners preferred the lines of Concept B, with layout components of the first design. We’ll dive deeper into this when we look at the final design concept a little farther down the page. Before we wrap this up, however, let’s take a look at some of the images we used to bring this new backyard into focus.
Starting with the front of the home, you can see how the new retaining wall creates an insular and private feeling to the space. The new paver patio is interspersed with new landscaping, and a concrete stepper pathway leads our homeowner’s from the driveway to the front door.
One of the changes made during the rendering process was to the configuration of elements on the backyard paver patio. In this version, the pergola extends to cover the outdoor kitchen, but the fire pit in the corner is uncovered. A long seat bench caps the corner. Also uncovered is the large living area in the center of the space. Instead, the pergola runs in a more narrow configuration flush to the back of the home.
Above you see a rendering of the new pool and spa. The raised deck elevates the space above the surrounding lawn, while allowing the water features to slot into it seamlessly. This elevation creates a pool that is level with the grade of the deck, exposing a decorative edge on one side. The long, linear deck area to the back of the frame gives the homeowners plenty of room for a table and chairs, or for a row of chaise lounges.
Above you can see a complete aerial rendering of the design. From this perspective, you can see the new configuration of the deck, which echoes the clean angles from Concept B. Also visible is the path of concrete steppers leading towards the raised deck, pool, and spa. The front of the home is thoughtfully landscaped, balancing the additional hardscaping that creates the new paver patio along the front of the home.
The Final Design
After sitting with both designs for a while, we came to a final design that used elements from both concept A and concept B. The homeowners were partial to the clean lines of concept B, but preferred layout elements from the first design. Through discussion and viewing the 3D renders, we were able to discern which features from each plan should stay, and which needed to be tweaked. The result is the design you see above.
As you can see, the homeowners step out of their back door onto a large paver patio. Like in the first design, the kitchen is tucked along the left side of the home. However, the right angles and straight lines of concept B are also present. Something new presented in this final iteration is the three separate pergolas that define each area of the patio while creating a continuity in the space.
Here, one pergola floats above the new outdoor kitchen. Another covers the space’s new covered living and seating area, while a third creates shade for a large dining space. The fire pit is now moved to the left corner of the paver patio, and is flanked by a long seat wall wood matching the new deck.
This paver patio is surrounded on all sides by brand new turf, creating green space for kids to relax and play. Long, linear concrete steppers, like those seen in Concept B, guide the homeowners from the patio to the new deck, which retains its shape and layout from the first designs.
Stepping up onto the deck, the clients have the option of jumping into the new pool, or sinking into their brand new spa. Around them are lush trees and greenery, softening the space and adding color while providing additional privacy in the yard. You can see here that the long retaining wall runs along the property, dividing the main living space from the ADU.
Once the final plans were approved and permits were granted, we began construction on this Los Gatos backyard. The process went smoothly, and it is always a treat to watch a design come to life.
Above, you can see the concrete steppers and landscaping taking shape in the front yard. Also visible is the retention wall which contains the perimeter of the property, and helps to contend with the changes in elevation. The paver patio has not yet gone in.
It’s important for client’s to understand that construction will happen in steps, and that not every element will take shape at once. With the new pool and spa, the elevated deck was first built. In the above photo, you can see the blank space where the new pool will be, sitting flush with the top of the deck. In the meantime, the homeowner’s kids had fun with an impromptu basketball court.
A change from the initial renderings was the configuration of pergolas on the back patio. Here, you can see the framework for the three steel and wood pergolas being constructed. The outdoor kitchen is flush to the back of the home, while dining and living spaces are separately configured. Again, the retaining wall at the back of the property is visible, with a break in the wall allowing for steps down to the home’s ADU.
A large feature of this Los Gatos property was the uneven grading of the yard. To content with the slope in the back and the front of the home, we proposed a modern retaining wall finished with native plantings for color and visual interest. In the image above, you can see the retaining wall during the construction process.
Construction isn’t always fun for our clients. We know that everyone is eager to get to the end point of a backyard project, when all the stones are laid, the concrete is dry, and the plants are in. However, we think there is something to be said for the excitement of watching an entirely new space come to life from a blank canvas. At the end of the day, these homeowners were left with an incredibly beautiful backyard, perfect for the entire family to enjoy.
We love all stages of landscape design, but there is nothing compared to taking a step back and admiring a finished product. For these Los Gatos homeowners, the start point was a yard full of mismatched hardscaping, pathways, and half-finished landscape design. The end point was a sleek, modern, beautiful, and functional space that was as practical for kids and guests as it was for our clients.
The star of this design, the backyard patio went through a few iterations before we settled on the version that became reality. In these finished photos, you can see how the separate pergolas work to create divisions of space, while also working to link the long patio together. At the left of the frame, you can see the outdoor kitchen finished with bar seating. Behind it, a propane fire pit with a finished seat wall. In the right of the frame are the two remaining pergolas, one covering an outdoor living space, while the other uses a screen to create a private outdoor dining area.
One of the benefits of photographing a space at night is seeing how the updated lighting boosts both the atmosphere and functionality of the outdoor space. Here you can see the new steps leading through the retaining wall, down the property, and toward the ADU. The step lighting makes sure the path is safe at night, while also spot lighting the landscaping after dark.
Aside from the patio, the other star of this backyard is the new deck and pool. After a short walk along concrete steppers, the homeowners can now ascend four steps and find themselves on their brand new pool deck. To the right, they can step into their new pool, or walk left and take a dip in their luxury spa. We finished the space with pool lights and overhead string lights for that extra touch of fun and function.
At the end of the day, every property has its own set of unique challenges. In this Los Gatos design challenge, we worked to create a seamless, modern, beautiful landscape for a home at the top of a hill. To contend with elevation, we added a new retaining wall, and softened with native plantings. The previous mish-mash of pea gravel and brick was replaced by a sleek paver patio and steel framed pergolas.
Our clients and their kids alike can enjoy relaxing on the new lawn, gathering around their fire pit, or taking a dip in the pool. No matter where you’re at on this property, there are no bad seats, and certainly no bad views.
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