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Willow Glen Landscape Design Challenge: Modern Front Yard/ Backyard Design in San Jose

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

Introducing The Space

An overview of the back yard, before the design process began.

Often, Water and Earth is hired for projects where the design focus is centered exclusively around the backyard. This happens for a variety of reasons, but most often when people think of outdoor living they think of their backyard space.

However, all of the land that surrounds your home is deserving of a beautiful, cohesive design. It only makes sense for an amazing new backyard to be linked seamlessly with a front yard in the same design style.

An overview of the front yard, before the design process began.

For this San Jose home, located in the Willow Glen neighborhood, the homeowners were looking to reimagine the entire outdoor space. This meant designing a new front yard, backyard, and approaches that link both spaces together.

The Wishlist

In the front yard, the clients were interested in installing a new planting and lighting design, as well as a more aesthetically pleasing seating area. The area to the side of the home, known as the approach, needed to link the back and front of the property together while remaining functional.

In the backyard, the clients were looking for a design that included a spa, outdoor kitchen, covered seating, and a fire feature. As you can see in the photo below, the property had an existing maple tree incorporated into the existing deck, which the homeowners wanted to keep.

A look at the old decking, which contained an old maple that the homeowners loved, and wanted to keep.

Concept A

Concept A

In concept A, you see a new front yard planting plan, finished with updated concrete steppers, and a new driveway. Running alongside the home are new pavers that make up a long approach to the backyard.

Stepping into the backyard space from this side approach, you see the attached deck to your left. In front of you, in the back right corner of the yard is new bench seating, which creates a gathering area around a brand new fire pit. The bench seating extends along the back of the property, becoming a raised bed as the patio ends.

In the far left corner of the property is the outdoor kitchen, which is accompanied by an outdoor dining area. Step forward from this dining area towards the house, and the homeowners find themselves in the new, pergola-covered spa and outdoor shower.

Concept B

Concept B

Concept B takes many of the same elements found in the front and back yards of Concept A and reimagines them. The front yard still features concrete steppers, new planting, and a new driveway. However, in Concept B, these steppers extend down the yard towards the street, creating a full length walkway running the same length as the home’s new driveway.

In Concept B, homeowner’s walk along the same pavers at the side of the house to find themselves in their new backyard space. Instead of being immediately greeted with the new patio and fire feature, Concept B sees our client’s stepping into the outdoor shower, with a long raised vegetable wall along the back of the property.

In this concept, the spa has been moved towards the deck. Behind the spa is the relocated fire pit, which is flanked against the property line by a floating bench. The left side of the yard still houses the outdoor kitchen and patio, but the pergola has been relocated. Instead of covering the spa, as in Concept A, it now shelters the outdoor seating area, giving out clients space to gather without worrying about the weather.

Client Feedback

After presenting both Concept A and Concept B designs, our clients were excited about the direction of the property. They liked many of the positioning elements and sensibilities of Concept A. However, they still had some interest in potential revisions to the initial designs.

This backyard space was small, making incorporating all of these elements a challenge. To address this, we honed in on the elements they were most interested in and made design decisions at a more granular level.

Kitchen and Final Revisions

The first area of design we revisited was the kitchen. The clients felt strongly that they would like to be more involved in the layout of this particular space. Here you can see a design revision that takes an up close look at the future kitchen.

The rendition below includes a cantilevered pergola over an outdoor seating and bar area, with the spa behind as seen in the original Concept A layout.

A closer look at an intermediate design rendition of the outdoor kitchen.

We tinkered with different iterations for a bit. When our clients have concerns, the last thing we want to do as a company is overlook them, or force through a design without being sure that they are completely happy with it. After trying a few different things, the final design began to take shape.

Final 2D Revision

The Final Design

In the final revision, seen above, the right side of the yard has remained very similar to the design seen in Concept A. The left side of the yard, however, has undergone some significant revisions.

The spa has been moved more centrally, now level with the deck . In its place is the new covered patio area and outdoor kitchen, including a seated dining area, full bar, and cooking station.

Reconfiguring the space in this way allowed our clients to keep all of the elements they wanted while maximizing the function. Arranging the design in this format even allowed for lawn space to be freed up.

Additionally, this redesign allowed us time to revisit the front yard space as well. Although our first concepts were leaned into simplicity, we ultimately decided the space would be more functional with less planting, and more seating.

The final 2D rendering, including the reimagined front yard space.

The final design concept features a paved seating area off the front of the home. Steppers lead from this patio to the concrete stepper walkway, ending in bench seating inside of the front entry approach.

Ultimately, these were the designs our clients were most excited about. After getting confirmation, we went ahead and began the 3D rendering stage.

3D Renderings & Revisions

After our 2D rendering had finalized the design, we moved into a round of 3D to allow the homeowners to really visualize their final space.

A rendering of the backyard space, looking back towards the deck and final kitchen space.

What is reflected in these renderings is directly reflective of the finalized 2D designs. However, seeing it brought to life helps our clients to envision themselves moving from the front to back yard space. They are able to see what individual material choices will look like. Furthermore, we are able to take advantage of this stage to play with materials, colors, and other details.

A 3D rendering looking at the pergola. Materials used include a steel frame, and cedar ceiling to tie into the back fence.

One of these material elements is the pergola. Though our clients could see the placement, this rendering shows the full effect, including the materials. These renderings show the final pergola design and materiality, composed of a steel frame and cedar ceiling.

This cedar ties into the fence along the back of the property, which combines with the concrete and pavers to create an incredibly cohesive, modern minded design.


Even once a project has been put into 3D, we make it clear to our clients that no detail is set in stone. Sometimes, it takes bringing a project to life for homeowners to pick out small elements that just aren’t working.

In an additional round of renderings, we made some final small changes. These changes include relocating the outdoor shower, which is seen in its final location below, and changing the floating entry bench for a closed version.

The outdoor shower, in its final location.

Also seen in these final renderings are small additions that make a big difference. To create even more comfort and visual interest, we’ve designed a custom backing for the bench surrounding the fire feature.

The added seat back for the bench surrounding the fire pit.

The Finished Space

A look from the back right corner over the yard, towards the home.

In the end, this project came together just as the homeowners had dreamed. Their lackluster front yard became a modern, sleek space with room to relax. The backyard became a hub for entertaining, hanging out, and having fun with friends and family.

Looking at the finished space below, you see the materials come to life with the design. IPE wood makes up the deck and bench. Narrow, linear pavers echo the long lines of the wood throughout the space.

Looking into the backyard from the side approach. IPE wood deck and bench are seen, along with linear pavers. The deck-contained maple tree is just visible in frame.

A main feature of the space, the kitchen, is also seen in these finished photos looking nearly exactly as it did in the proposed rendering. Final shots show a more detailed look at material and color. The bar is finished in patterned tile, and the steel and cedar pergola sports custom can lighting, making the kitchen functional at any hour of the day.

A look at the finished kitchen bar. The sides are done in blue, geometric patterned tile. The entire space is illuminated after hours with three pendants, and custom can lighting set into the steel and cedar pergola.

Moving around to the front of the home, you see the new front yard space brought to life. Long, modern concrete steppers draw you in from the street and lead you all the way up the yard into the front entry, where a closed bench is nestled.

A view of the front yard at night. Concrete steppers are illuminated by pathway lights, and bisect the driveway from the lawn and paved seating patio.

To the left of the steppers is the patio area seen in the final design revisions. This allows our homeowners to have livable space in all areas of their property. Finally, a long, paver driveway ties the entire design together, while remaining practical.

Discover More Outdoor Inspiration

At Water and Earth, we are passionate about creating dream outdoor living spaces that serve each of our client’s individual needs. From modern Spanish revivals to a pool with a view, no space is too small or too large.

Discover more outdoor inspiration by browsing our portfolio, or by following us on Instagram.

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