Is This Just Too Much Hardscaping?

aloha2009May 22, 2012

I'm getting cold feet (though it's getting warmer out) as we are getting closer to committing to a concrete contractor.

We're looking at having a patio extend the width of the house and out 18', a 15' round patio, about 60' a walkway paths, and 20+ steps. The walkways are what they have to be, but the main patio has just grown and grown where it is almost the entire backyard. The 15' patio was added to take advantage of some much needed afternoon shade and have a patio closer to the beach level. Consequently I'm nervous about that much hardscaping!

We're leaving room for plantings but being there is a restriction of plants being 3' or less from our house to the lake which limits our options with doing any larger areas. The little bit of grass that we could have, we decided wasn't worth the hassling of maintenance. That said, I'm concerned about just having a "parking lot" in my backyard.

I've included a pic of the backyard. The main patio would extend to the ends of the house and within 5' of the retaining wall. The 15' patio would be within 3' of the property line on the right (of the pic). As you can see, it doesn't leave much room for much else.

We mocked up the main patio with a few pieces of furniture and before we knew it, all that space seemed barely enough! If it wasn't for the 3' restrictions, I might very well change the overall landscaping but the restrictions are there.

Do you think we'll be sorry in the end? Though resale isn't an issue for a LONG, LONG time, I don't want to do anything that can negatively impact the appearance in the short term. Most importantly do you see any viable alternatives that we are overlooking?

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karinl(BC Z8)

The easy answer is to do it in paving stones/slabs of some sort; something that is easily reversible. Of course, concrete can also be jackhammered out.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:11PM
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I think it entirely boils down to the details. If you build it of army-base style and quality of materials.... square regardless of the surroundings... plain, unadorned utility concrete... well, it's bound to have that kind of feel. If however, the patio shape reflects its surroundings, has some decorative element to it (border, stamped pattern, color, aggregate surface, decorative edge banding... anything at all above ordinary) then the space will have that character as its foundation. I've seen stamped concrete using no color that was quite attractive. Or adding a 12"-wide scored band at the outside of a concrete slab does wonders for the overall piece. Pay attention to the joint locations (if there are any) so they contribute to the design, not rob from it. If the overall shape of the patio is simple and attractive, I think you can easily build on it with other landscape features (plantings, etc.) If the shape is complex or strangely shaped for no apparent reason, then other elements will not exactly fix it. In your previous threads, you've submitted rather scratchy-looking drawings. To the best of my recollection, I'm not sure I ever saw a "final" patio drawing where all the details had been worked out. One presumes you wouldn't be having concrete placed by fellows who were working only off of verbal instructions. That would be high risk. A good drawing is essential for good communication and seeing that what you intend is what is actually built.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:43PM
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Karin, you do make a strong argument for pavers. Yes concrete can be jackhammered, but it would be a NIGHTMARE to remove. We must differ a lot on what "easily reversible" means because though it could be done, it would still be a lot of work to redo pavers.

That said, whether it be pavers or concrete, I wouldn't want to go through the expensive (and headache) only to tear part of it out.

Do you see any other options given the HOA criteria of 3' planting or shorter?

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:50PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

From the photo supplied, it does look to me as if all that paving and limited height/area of plantings will make it look like too much paving, but you haven't included a plan to really illustrate the context. I'd question the actual need for so much paving, given that you have the deck above and the small beach frontage forward of the wall that can also accommodate furniture. You might also think of incorporating some built in seat walls as part of the hardscape; they can do double duty as both seats, vertical interest to play off plantings, and give more space for tables and umbrellas than equivalent chairs would occupy the same space. I'd also be thinking of using clumping grasses or taller flowering perennials that could slightly exceed the 3 foot height when in bloom, but wouldn't likely be construed as violating the height limitation as the flower stalks are seasonal and wispy rather than view blocking permanent year round objects.

Only you can evaluate what your actual need for paved area is in the area, but flat lawn can also act as overflow for furniture when you need more for entertaining. I might also suggest that narrower walks against the house could be poured as separated rectangular pads with planted lawn or low ground cover in-between to make it look less industrial. In fact, the 15 foot diameter patio could also be broken up into a gridded square pattern with 4 inch gaps run singer both ways for lawn to run through it and scale it down.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 1:25PM
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Thanks for the ideas and feedback.

Yardvaark, the contractors have used what we have marked off with rope and hoses. From the few bids we've received no one has even given us a rough sketch. I think I'm going to have to redraw the one I have to make sure there are no misunderstandings. It's so hard to get the entire backyard in and count each microscopic foot on graphed paper - gosh I'm getting old. I saw a clever but simple design on a driveway last night. It was simple but VERY unique. None of the contractors have offered anything imaginative (though the one I like best has done quite of work at the Botanical Gardens here). I'm seeing I'm going to have to research your idea further. Instead of just control joints, the one I saw had double joints approx 12" apart. Twice the jointing can't be that hard no costly. We were also going to purchase cheap but decorative large area rugs to control some of the sand that gets into the house. Perhaps we can get wild with such a temporary item.

Bahia, I agree that overflow can be on grassy area it's not nearly as nice as having everyone close by. I had to seriously give pause to adding the 15' "disconnected" patio. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your idea of placing some built in seating along the patio. This would minimize having to have a bunch of plastic seating on hand, when parties get too big...practical but beautiful. I agree with you regarding the ornamental grasses. Bottom line we can at least grow them in pots, since it wouldn't be a permanent planting. We were thinking at one time about doing exactly what you indicated with the sidewalks but somehow that got pushed to the side - probably decision fatigue. It's amazing how even a little bit of green between pieces of stone/cement go a long way.

I'm hearing loud and clear, reevaluate at least the materials we choose and to be very aware of how we adorn the area.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 2:23PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Ding ding ding - Warning Will Robinson : No Plan ! ? ! ?
What the ........... ?

It's beyond words.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 3:18PM
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Deviant, there is a plan, just not one that is easy to read. I graphed out the entire 100' wide backyard onto an 8.5 x 11 sheet of graph paper. I don't have the sophisticated software that some of you have. I would NEVER proceed w/o a plan! It's by the time I'm finished with a yard, my diagram is pretty sad looking.

I'll draw one up a new one this afternoon. Though this project is really close to implementation, as I said with Yardvaark, I don't want there to be any "misunderstandings".

I've been thinking though this afternoon and how extremely rare we ever see patios under a deck extend beyond the upper deck. Being that the deck only comes out 10' that doesn't leave enough space hardly for even a 48" round patio table w/o having to worry you'll step off the patio and fall. The deck, the retaining wall, and HOA restrictions are HUGE absolutes we're trying to work within. That coupled with our EXTREMELY costly water (neighbors with an average amount of grass has a normal water bill of $350/month), it doesn't leave us with as many options.

I'll be back with layouts soon.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 3:57PM
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I would strongly advise some professional input before you go any further, to have a 'concrete contractor' come in and work to a plan marked out on graph paper from dimensions done with tables and chairs sounds like a formula for disaster. This is a beautiful house and I would seriously consider doing something that would connect the upper deck with the waters edge, perhaps in wood also, what a pity to risk ruining the look.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 4:38PM
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If you ask your question slightly differently, "Will I be unhappy if my patio has insufficient space to accommodate the number of people who will typically or occasionally use it?" I think the answer will be a clear, "No." At whatever size you determine is the right size for you, it is development of the details (regardless of what they are) that will insure that the patio looks good. Once those details are worked out, the next step is communicating them clearly to the contractor. If bids are involved, the communication for each contractor must be consistent from one to the next so that apples are compared to apples. Rope and hoses, while they can communicate information, leave room for error. They would be especially troublesome if used to communicate a patio layout at the construction stage because then they would have to be moved and it is easy to see the disagreement that would come later: "It was 16 feet!" "No, it was 15'-6!" @#$%K&^%!!

You don't need a complicated drawing... just a simple layout showing the edges, anything decorative--such as a border or field--and showing how the patio relates to that side of the house. You do need dimensions so that the size of various areas of the patio don't come into question later. Some details--finishes, materials, thickness, etc.--can be incorporated in notes on the drawing. Also, spell out any concerns special attention must be paid to during the construction, if such things exist. Everything on the drawing should be as simple as possible, clear and readable. It will eliminate later disagreements or at least keep them to the absolute minimum.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 5:28PM
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At one point, I started looking and asking around for a landscape designer to help out since I felt this was way beyond my skill level. After weeks and weeks of looking and finding no one person that I felt good about their portfolio so I went back to trudging through my options. This is an extremely difficult piece of property to work within.

My last home/garden was beautiful and designed by me. When someone new would enter through the gate, their usual reactions were "WOW". Our lake now has a major wow factor and I just want the landscaping to compliment it and not detract from it. I've done this before and can do it again - though I'd be the first to whip out the check book if I found someone I felt could do a better job then myself.

Yard, if I understand what you said, I'm going to have to disagree with you regarding the size of the patio. Most of the neighbors we have met have already increased the size of their patio by quite a bit and the ones that haven't most wish for something larger. When I've been on their patios, they do seem a bit cramped, though in reality they are at least average patio sizes if not on the larger side. I don't know if it's the openess in the backyards that give the patios a cramped feeling but nevertheless they often times do feel cramped.

Inkognito. We've played around with adding steps to our deck. The hardscaping plan that we have now, would allow stairs on the right side to be added at a later time if we so choose.

We currently use the deck during the summer only because we have nothing level down below. We could see doing as several of the neighbors have and move into the basement during the summer months to be nearer to the water. Having steps from the deck to the lower level is an option we have entertained but for now are keeping it as is. The new patios though would still work with a staircase added at a later time.

Here is a pic I drew up. With the deck extending out another 10' beyond the house, the 15' round patio has to be pushed a bit further many constraints. The "X" designate the deck posts.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 6:13PM
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"Yard, if I understand what you said... Most of the neighbors we have met have already increased the size of their patio by quite a bit and the ones that haven't most wish for something larger. "

I don't think you understand what I said. I'm saying make the patio whatever size is needed (as large as) in order to make it function for the number of people you believe it must accommodate. Your original question asks, if it's THAT size, is it too much? I'm saying it's NOT too much if you take care of all the pretty little details (whatever they are: decorative surface treatments, shape, levels (or not), built-in seating, color, pattern, connection to other areas, etc.) I'm more or less warning you not to make it too small.

I know you're not asking for criticism on the drawing, but 3 things jump out at me as potential problem areas. At the upper, outside patio corners, the pie-shaped areas will be awkward to use... so much so that I think their existence will be pointless. If the patio is the "positive space," the "negative space" that remains outside of the pie-shaped wedges--the landscape bed space--is indeed awkward, too.

Where the walkway (to the round patio) ties into the main patio it seems that it would be better NOT to have it tie in directly at the corner. It seems that it diminishes the artistic quality of the layout and will diminish the potential use of the main patio. (One avoids placing doorways in rooms smack at the corner and the principle is the same. It's awkward for placing furniture and sometimes for walking. Located so close to a drop in elevation, I think it might be awkward for a sense of security.)

There is a strong octagonal theme already established by existing bay window extensions of the house. It seems to me that you could use this theme greatly to your advantage in making the patio less of a large, not-so-interesting rectangle. What's more, the theme could get rid of the awkward pie-shape spaces mentioned above and also help make sense of an improved walkway connection to the lower patio.

You would definitely need a more detailed drawing for bid and construction purposes. The drawing posted above does not spell out details that are important elements of the patio. If you don't feel up to the task of drawing it, you must hire someone to do it. It seems that you could use professional guidance with some of the issues that are unresolved. I don't know where you are, but with the decline in the construction industry since '08, there are landscape design professionals everywhere who need more work. You might try again to find someone who can help iron out the wrinkles. Surely, there must be top-notch landscaping somewhere in your area. Investigate who designed it.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 8:08PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

You can certainly do better than your proposed patio layout. In a word, it leaves no room for any real effective landscaped areas that will help this fit with the site. What you have as your design makes it look like cheap motel hardscaping. I'd suggest starting from square one. Hiring a designer to assist you might be an excellent idea.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 11:37PM
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I think you are right to question your current plan before moving forward and possibly having major regrets. Yardvaark already said most of what I was going to say upon looking at your sketch... The little triangular areas at the ends are only going to collect dirt. I can understand wanting a patio to be deep enough to accommodate a table, chairs, grill, etc., without feeling cramped, but I don't think you need all that width to create a very spacious, usable patio. The half octagon formed by your bay windows also jumped out at me, and I could easily see repeating that to make a symmetrical patio that's as deep as you need it to be. Then, if you want, you could repeat the octagonal theme where you now show your circular patio. I also agree that the stair placement would feel more comfortable coming from the middle of the large patio rather than where it is currently shown. And I think the built in seating idea would be great. Maybe you can incorporate some of the same stone used in your retaining wall?

It seems like you extended the patio in the plan for lack of other landscaping ideas rather than because you really need a super wide patio. Even with the 3' restrictions on plant material in that area, I think there is a LOT you could do with plants. I'd bet Bahia is right on that no one would consider you in violation of the rules if you have some wispy perennials and grasses that extend higher than 3' during their bloom periods, and there are plenty of shrub options that would stay in bounds as well. I can understand not wanting to maintain a small swath of lawn, but another idea to consider would be a meadow grass that you don't have to mow more than once or twice a year, and you can pepper it with wildflowers if you like a naturalized look. See if your library has a copy of "The American Meadow Garden" by John Greenlee for some beautiful options that might fit your site and tastes.

Since you've already said you are open to hiring a landscape designer, I would recommend you keep looking for one with whom you feel comfortable. Someone who listens to your needs and "gets" your taste and has ideas that impress you. I'm not sure how many people you interviewed when you were first looking or how you got their names, but there must be someone out there who would be a good fit for your needs. If you like someone else's hardscapes, that would be a great place to ask for a recommendation, or you could go to your favorite nurseries and ask for business cards there. That is what someone on this forum recommended to me when I was in a very similar situation to you last year, and after sorting through many business cards and web sites, I managed to interview someone who just clicked. We were also looking to extend our patio, add/modify pathways, build a small seating/retaining wall, and reduce lawn, among other things. Even with my detailed, to-scale drawing on graph paper (6 pieces taped together), I just didn't feel comfortable moving forward without a professional set of eyes to look over everything.

The design help wasn't cheap, but now that our hardscapes changes are complete, we are very pleased with the end result, and I don't think that would have been the case if we'd plunged in with my hand drawing... That is what we did the first time we hired a landscape company to do basic hardscapes, and I think it was a big part of why I wasn't happy with our first attempt at landscaping. We got what we paid for both times. Now granted, that first hand drawn plan was much less detailed and I knew MUCH less about landscaping, gardening, and how we wanted to use the yard back then, but still, I know we could not have gotten where we are today (or anywhere close to it) without the designer's help during the planning phase. There was no one else I interviewed that even came close to her though, and I don't think any of the other designers would have done a better job than what I already had come up with myself, so I know what you are saying... You haven't found the right person to help you with this project.

Given that you are having second thoughts, I would recommend hitting the pause button until you have a plan with which you are really confident. Sorry this post is so long, I just feel like I can relate to your situation and would hate for you to end up feeling like you have to live with regrets.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 3:01AM
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I think you should just hire a professional, write a check and get this done.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 9:03AM
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heres a link

Here is a link that might be useful: still looking for answers

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 9:10AM
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and this

I am not saying that your questions aren't welcome here, but I am just thinking that you have been mulling over this landscape area for quite a while. Perhaps its time to let go of your preconceptions and let a professional handle the situation. Just another thought; if you are meeting with professionals and they can do the job right away even though its spring, that is probably not the person you want for the job.

Here is a link that might be useful: going on three years

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 9:18AM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

I think Drtygrl is right. If this has been an ongoing discussion for 3 years I would think it's time to bring in a professional.

Chris, no one's interested in your spam.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 3:19PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Hiring a professional will only work if you will let them talk you past some of the things you are presently stuck on. I've remarked before on, for example, your certainty from another thread that the wall has to stay as is, undisturbed. Not every instance of overcoming an impasse will consist of a new idea that you love, like Bahia's built-in seating. Often, overcoming an impasse requires that you let go of something you are now treating as a constraint. That frees you up to go to places you currently can't imagine, and because you can't imagine them, you are assuming they do not exist.

Another thing I would question is your belief that the patio shape has to echo the shape of the house. I don't see the need for this; there are many good shapes.

I do empathize with your process, but I think you are setting yourself up for an impasse by gluing yourself to too many proposed outcomes, and I also think you are letting the opinions of others make some decisions for you - again, you say people love the wall, or you note their opinions of their patios, or you say people were "wow"ed by your previous yard. Let other people's opinions go, and tune in to your own instincts. If the "wow" means that much to you, it may mean compromising on your function, easy access, etc. Frankly, I think a yard that works well for you is worth more than the wow, or in fact, will generate it for completely different reasons.

If you hire a designer whose work you like, let go and let them give you a proposal from scratch. The proposal itself does no damage! I'm a control freak myself and know how hard that is, but giving up control may be the only way of getting to a new idea that you like.

'nother thing. I keep hearing people talk about HOA rules as if they were hapless victims of them. As far as I understand, every homeowner is part of the HOA and thus empowered to influence the rules if they truly are unreasonable.

Finally, it is unbelievably hard to just get to a good solution in your head. Have you gone outside and marked your lines on the ground, put down some pieces of paving to see how they feel? That's one reason I like working with reversible materials, it feels different the moment you get it done. There is always something your imagination misses. I am currently working on dining room curtains on a complicated window, and I bought a bunch of fabric, three types, of which two are proving utterly useless, and I bought too little of the third. Turns out the light in the room is influenced by the different colours in a way I totally did not anticipate.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 6:59PM
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