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San Jose Landscape Design Challenge – Cozy, Covered Fireplace and Modern Inground Pool

Introducing The Space

Today’s San Jose landscape design challenge takes us to a Bay Area home in need of a serious backyard update. The homeowners of this property were excited to turn their existing backyard into a dream backyard getaway. Must have items included a pool and spa, outdoor kitchen and fireplace, and space to sit and unwind.

A view of the space from the left fence. Two slab concrete patios are connected by pavers.

The initial property was largely a blank canvas. Two concrete slab patios already existed in the space, connected by a short series of concrete steppers. Around this was empty, grassy space. While the clients did not want to completely eliminate lawn space, they were open to the idea of minimizing it to increase their outdoor living space.

Looking toward the home from the concrete slab patio in the far corner of the property.

It was important to these homeowners that any renovations maximized the backyard’s usable space. The current layout did not offer many design options, or any covered outdoor living space. Instead, the clients had been using the patio nearest to the home for outdoor dining, and to house their fire pit. The back patio had become a makeshift grilling and recreation area.

A look around the side of the home. This space contains additional lawn space and raised vegetable gardens.

After speaking thoroughly with the clients about what their dream backyard looked like, we were ready to begin work on this San Jose landscape design challenge. Our designers quickly got to work reimagining the space, and returned with two different design options for the clients to review.


2D Design Concepts

If you are familiar with our design process, then you will know that every project begins with 2D design. We know it can be tempting to skip straight to 3D and see your new space fully rendered. However, we believe that skipping past 2D can actually become limiting for clients.


Once a space is fully rendered in 3D, it may become difficult for clients to see how the space can change. Water and Earth never wants our clients to feel like they are locked into one design option from the start. We favor a highly collaborative experience. Presenting in 2D first allows this collaboration to thrive, as the homeowners are able to flag any changes they’d like to make on paper first before the designs are fully brought to life.


Concept A


Concept A

In the first concept, Concept A, the homeowners enter the backyard on the left, immediately stepping onto a paver path that blooms into a larger paver patio. Turning the corner there is space for outdoor dining. Twinkling string lights hang overhead.


Central to the new space is the brand new pool and spa. The pool is set perpendicularly to the home, with the luxury spa fully integrated, nested as a square in the lower left hand side of the rectangular pool. This pool and luxury spa design is made more dynamic by the grading. The top of the spa is even with the water level of the rest of the pool, allowing it to almost disappear into the layout, allowing the eye to pass seamlessly over the space.


To the left of the pool and spa is the new outdoor fireplace, kitchen, and dining space. At the foot of the pool is a raised tanning deck with plenty of room for the homeowners to unwind and enjoy soaking up the sun.


Stepping off of this tanning deck, the homeowners continue along a series of concrete steppers, past open lawn space and around to the front of the home. The perimeter of the property is fully fenced, and finished with trees, shrubs, and other native plantings.


Concept B


Concept B

Comparing the two designs, you will notice that Concept A and Concept B are fairly similar. In both designs, homeowners enter the backyard space by stepping onto a long approach of pavers. Following these into the backyard, you will notice that in Concept B, the size of the covered living space has been increased to match the footprint of the pool next to it.


Increasing the size of the covered patio means that both the living space and dining area have more room to spread out. In Concept B, the fireplace has been brought closer to the home. The size of the outdoor kitchen has increased, with counter space wrapping around the back side of the paver patio.


The pool in both designs is largely the same. However, a long storage bench has been introduced along the side of the home in this design, taking the place of concrete steppers from Concept A.


The tanning deck has also remained largely unchanged. From the tanning deck, the homeowners walk along concrete steppers, past lawn and landscaping, and around to the front of the home.


Revised 2D Rendering


A revised 2D design, based on the layout presented in Concept B. An auxiliary patio and slatted pergola have been added. The fireplace and kitchen have been detailed in a sketch.

After reviewing both designs, the homeowners were excited about the overall layout and design direction. They preferred the larger patio and bench storage of Concept B, and wanted to move forward with this general layout. However, there were a few things they wanted to tweak, add, or see in more detail.


The first modifications we made were to the pergola above the fireplace and kitchen. Instead of a solid roof, the clients wanted to incorporate a slatted roof design that would provide shade while allowing light through. They also liked the idea of downsizing the amount of space that was devoted to the outdoor kitchen, leaving the backside of the covered patio open.


Instead, they decided to relocate their grilling equipment and smoker along the backside of the home, replacing the long line of concrete steppers from the initial designs. This change helped to create more usable space, while keeping smokey cooking equipment away from the general outdoor living space.


The homeowners also wanted to make a change to the main hardscaping design. Instead of pavers, we decided to go with a sleek, poured concrete patio throughout.


Finally, the homeowners were interested in including some additional seating that was set farther away from the hustle and bustle of the pool and kitchen. To accommodate this, we nestled a small, aggregate, auxiliary patio into the back corner of the yard. Finished with chairs and a new, gas firepit, this space is perfect for tucking away and unwinding with friends and family.


3D Renderings


An aerial view of the space, rendered in 3D, bringing the final 2D design to life.

After reviewing the final 2D design revision, the clients were onboard, and we moved ahead to 3D rendering. Rendering is exciting as you see, in full detail, what your new backyard will really look like once all is said and done. As you can see, these renderings matched the final 2D design almost identically.

A look over the new pool toward the covered living and dining space. A modern fireplace with room for storing firewood stands next to a sleek kitchen countertop and sink. A slatted pergola covers the entire living space.

The slatted pergola has come to life, finished with a dark steel frame and wooden slatting. The fireplace is sleek, streamlined, and finished in a smooth white stucco. Built in shelves provide additional storage for firewood, and add depth to the design. The back of the patio is covered by a large wooden screen, giving the homeowners an additional layer of privacy while dining and relaxing.

Looking out over the pool from behind the covered patio. The tanning deck is visible at the rear of the frame. The auxiliary aggregate patio is just within the back corner of the frame.

It was also exciting to see the pool and integrated spa come to life. In these images, you can see how the edge of the spa is flush with the water level of the pool. While this backyard was not the smallest we’d ever worked in, it was also not the largest. Incorporating the spa in this way created an even, uninterrupted line for the eye, and allowed the yard to feel bigger and more open.


In the above image you can also see the tanning deck fully rendered, as well as the long wooden bench seating and storage along the side of the home.

A closer look at the side yard space, which now contains additional seating and a firepit, as well as room for the home’s smoker and grills.

Also seen in this series of renderings is the new auxiliary patio and fire pit, as well as the relocated grilling space. You can see here how both of these features are tucked away from the main living area. This configuration allows the clients to use their grilling equipment without worrying about disturbing guests. The small corner patio provides a separate living space to relax away from the heavy foot traffic of the main living area.


We presented these 3D renderings to the homeowners, and they were thrilled. Construction began, and this San Jose backyard began its transformation into a dream backyard living space.

The Finished Space

Sometimes a lot can change between the initial 3D renderings and the final outdoor space. This is to be expected. However, in this project, everything came together nearly exactly as it was described, and the result is absolutely beautiful.

Looking toward the home from atop the new tanning deck. The pool with an integrated spa centers the photo. To the rear, a new outdoor kitchen bar and fireplace are covered by a modern slatted pergola.

From the white, stucco fireplace, to the tanning deck, to the spa, every element in this backyard maximizes function and design appeal. The concrete patio is sleek and low profile, taking the place of traditional stone or tile coping around the edge of the pool. This gives a modern, almost industrial feel to the space, and is another example of how clean, simple lines came to life in this backyard.


A closer look at the smooth stucco fireplace with built-in wood storage shelves. Kitchen and dining space is visible in the back of the frame.

One of the biggest statement pieces of this backyard is the outdoor fireplace. This piece was constructed exactly as it was rendered. Finished in white, it is anchored on the right by a black countertop and dining space. On the left, a series of built-in shelves calls back to a cozy indoor living room, while giving the homeowners space to store firewood.

The corner patio is brought to life. A firepit centers the aggregate patio space, while perimeter lighting illuminates the new landscaping.

In the back corner of the property, another fire feature was installed. This quiet corner patio offers the clients an escape from the potentially heavy foot traffic of the main living area. If the fireplace beneath the pergola feels like relaxing in your living room, then the corner fire pit feels like cozying up around the campfire. In this backyard, the clients can choose between both experiences.

A closer look at the new, modern pool with integrated spa. Evening lighting illuminates the pool space. A storage bench runs parallel to the side of the home, and chairs crown the tanning deck.

Every material and color for this finished space was carefully chosen, down to the shape and color of the waterline pool tile. Long, linear, white tiles not only pick up on the shape of the pool, but the color of the fireplace as well. Wood from the pergola slats mirrors the wood of the tanning deck. This same wood is picked up again in the bench seating along the side of the house.


The final effect is a simple, beautiful, functional, and modern minded backyard that offers something for everyone. From relaxing in the spa, to eating with the family, or gathering around the corner fire pit to roast marshmallows and tell stories, this space manages to feel both minimal and warm and inviting.


At Water and Earth, we are always striving to prove that sleek, funky, modern design does not mean comfort and coziness have to be compromised. This San Jose backyard is a prime example of how both things can be true at once.


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