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  • Writer's pictureWELD

Steep Front Yard Paradise: San Jose Landscape Design Challenge

At Water and Earth, we do more than just backyard landscape design. While many of our clients come to us specifically for a backyard renovation, sometimes homeowners are looking for a team to address the bigger picture. In today’s landscape design challenge, we visit a San Jose property with a huge front yard in need of an update.

The clients of this home came to us looking for a design and functional update to both the front and backyard spaces of their home. The front yard was much larger than the backyard, and was impacted by a slope. The current space had a large, U-shaped driveway, some undeveloped dirt, and a series of retaining walls. All of this was bisected by a long, gravel staircase.

As you can see, the incline of the front yard was considerable and was supported by a series of wood and stone retaining walls. A challenge of this space was understanding how to account for the grade while making the most of the available square footage. At the end of the day, the homeowners were really looking to find a way to increase the functionality of the front yard while also making improvements in curb appeal. Additional parking, new landscaping, and a big layout change were all in demand.

Another unique element to the front of this home was the courtyard. The current space was functional, but needed some aesthetic revamping, as well as a functionality update. This would later manifest in the addition of a firepit and updated hardscaping.

While the front yard was a unique focus of this project, the homeowners were looking to finish their backyard space as well. The existing home had a large overhang that created some existing outdoor living space. The remainder of the yard was largely unfinished, and split into dirt and existing grass. These clients were looking to add a swimming pool and spa, additional seating space, and some polished landscaping.


3D Renderings

After several discussions with the homeowners about their vision for the space, we hit the drawing board. After talking through a few options, the clients decided on a direction that they were excited about and we moved to rendering. Here, the homeowners get to see what their outdoor living space will eventually become, and make any additional final adjustments to designs, materials, and other details.


Front Yard

Beginning in the front yard, you see the new design proposed below. Final design plans used the slope as an element to work with, rather than against. Replacing the old gravel stairs is a long polished concrete staircase, weaving down through a series of retaining walls and planter beds studded with drought resistant landscaping.

Instead of grass or turf, these clients opted for a more climate friendly design that incorporated decorative hardscaping softened by grasses and trees. The winding stairs lead from the front entrance all the way down to the street, and draw the eye upward toward the home.

Another large element of the front yard design was rethinking the driveway. The previous U-shaped driveway was too narrow. The clients were in need of additional parking space. To accommodate this, we widened the driveway significantly. The old, cracked surface was replaced with brand new, sleek asphalt. From the top of the driveway, the homeowners can follow along paths on either side of the house toward the new backyard, or step into their brand new courtyard.

The client’s existing courtyard space was functional, but needed an aesthetic facelift to match the rest of the outdoor living area. To bring it in harmony with the back and front yard spaces, new pavers were proposed, along with some perimeter landscaping and a series of decorative privacy screens. Overhead, string lights stretch from rooftop to rooftop, adding ambience after the sun goes down.


The Backyard

Moving into the backyard, the homeowners step out of their home and under their existing covered living space. Underfoot, a new paver patio extends outward, surrounding the new pool and outdoor kitchen. Posts anchored in planters along the property’s perimeter anchor string lights above the new outdoor kitchen and dining space.

The brand new pool, seen below, features a tanning deck and gradual stair entry. In the corner is the integrated spa, finished in complimentary tile. At the edge of the home and along the fenceline, detailed plantings are installed.

Now, while this home’s backyard was relatively simple, it did have its own special, unique touches. This unique touch comes in the form of a custom Bocce ball court. Designed to make functional space out of the narrow side yard, the Bocce ball court acts as a complimentary entertainment feature alongside the custom pool.

The other side of the yard, rendered below, was kept simple. Where the patio ends, grass begins. This gives kids and pets plenty of room to run around, while the grownups watch from the patio or grill in their outdoor kitchen just a few feet away.

Overall, the clients were thrilled about the renderings, and were excited to break ground. And while it’s always tough to be patient and wait for a landscape design project to complete, the results are plenty worth it–especially when the final outcome is as good as this.


The Finished Space

Finished Front Yard

Above, you see a side by side before and after comparison of the front yard living space. What was an unfinished, grass and gravel lot has been transformed into a sleek, modern front yard with heaps of curb appeal. The rendered staircase is brought to life, winding through the raised planters and retaining walls. Native plants and trees add color and breathe life into the space, without feeling crowded or overgrown.

For safety and style, the custom concrete staircase is fitted with a series of step lights. Not only does illuminating the stairs keep guests safe once the sun goes down, but it allows the landscaping and design to shine even in the dark. The final effect is beautiful, organic, and polished without feeling unapproachable.

As mentioned, the homeowners were looking to increase the amount of parking in their front driveway. In the drone shot above, you can see how the driveway has been widened and an additional parking space has been set into the layout of the asphalt. Decreasing unused lawn space allowed the homeowners to gain additional functionality without sacrificing on style.

At the top of the driveway, the homeowners step through a gate and into their new courtyard, seen above. A brand new fire pit has been added, acting as a central point to the space and giving friends and family a place to gather. Finished with square pavers and embellished with decorative screens and string lights, the updated courtyard is warm, cozy, and private.


The Backyard Living Space

Stepping into the backyard through the gate, the homeowners are greeted by their brand new, at home Bocce ball court. This unique piece of entertainment is finished on all sides by a raised concrete border. Against the fence, spotlights highlight new landscaping.

From this side yard, the clients step into their main space. Here, the pool is nestled into a brand new concrete paver patio. Integrated into the pool is a wide staircase next to the inlaid spa, finished with a beautiful geometric accent tile. The additional patio space leaves plenty of room for tanning on pool chairs while the kids splash around.

Against the fence, block retaining walls house the new landscaping, contrasting against the warm wood fence. Small touches like the large ceramic pot seen below add texture and color to the space.

Moving further into the space, the homeowners step into their new outdoor kitchen and dining area. Complete with ample counter space, a grill, and enough square footage for a large dining table, this is the perfect backyard for a family barbecue or neighborhood get together. Directly behind the kitchen and dining area is the covered living space. The beautiful wood ceiling with skylights and a rotating fan provides all-weather outdoor living, and gives parents a space to relax while they watch their kids play in the lawn.

It’s projects like this one that truly represent the versatility of the design here at Water and Earth. It’s rare that we get the chance to put so much love into an entire property, but once all was said and done these homeowners had a brand new front yard bursting with curb appeal and the backyard retreat of their dreams.


To view more design walkthroughs like this one, visit our blog! For day to day updates on all of the latest Water and Earth projects, follow us on Instagram.



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