Just Stumped with design ideas

SHMOMay 13, 2012

I have been putting this aside since building my house, nearly 5 years ago. It has been a thorn in my side since I broke ground. HOW DO I WANT TO DESIGN THIS BACKYARD!

Originally, I intended on building a large free-form planting bed that would run the length of my yard. It is intended to divide my yard from the adjacent property where my business is located. I am not a fan of fences in general, so I have somewhat designed for a green belt buffer and put that portion of the plan into place.

Where I am struggling drastically is in regards to the hardscape. I originally thought I would place a deck off the back of the house. I also envisioned a free form stamped concrete patio below the deck with a fire ring and a meandering path leading to the gate/arbor. Plantings around that would finish up the project. Easy, right? HOWEVER, now I am second guessing my entire plan. I am starting to wonder if a larger patio with wide steps leading from the house would be more inviting than a deck. There is roughly 2 feet of rise from grade up to the house. I am also wondering if there are aspects that I could add for visual interest and practicality that have completely slipped my imagination. I am hoping some of you can chime in with any suggestions. This will be my first complete landscape design. I don't want to choose poorly.

A little family background and intended use for this area are as follows:

I am 40ish...wife in her early 30's and a 5 year old daughter. We are all active and enjoy the outdoors. The yard will be used for family gatherings, campfires, child/family play and BBQ get togethers. We have access to large grass areas and playgrounds nearby.

If anyone has ideas or input, I would really like to hear them.

Thanks in advance,


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Here is my basic plan on paper.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 9:59PM
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Here are a few randoms of the backyard as it sits now, to give you a better lay of the land.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 10:16PM
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My frame.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 11:16PM
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One picture that is needed is looking square on to where the deck would be... from far enough back that we can see what's at each side.

A deck seems nicer with its convenient access to the house. If you don't have deck, to make it seem extra nice you need some kind of smaller deck-like space (covered... veranda) to step out of the house onto before descending to the patio. But after you make a nice one of those, why not make it a little bigger and you have a deck! The elevated position of the deck also gives an enhanced view of what's in the yard. I rather like the concept you have now of moderate deck, wide steps, stepping down to patio (maybe you don't view the firepit are as a patio, but that how it seems to me functionally, regardless of what you pave it with.) The planned angled portion of the deck seems oddly configured. It seems that the deck/patio lines could be improved. At steps from the deck, I'd consider elevating the grade a little in an attempt to minimize steps. Getting rid of one step if you can will improve the luxury factor. This would still apply if you have a patio instead of deck.

You've definitely achieved the botanical garden feel!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 11:24PM
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Here is a pic of the back of the house. You can see the ledger board I have already placed. The Hot tub is positioned on an angle to the house, and the deck will wrap around half way. That will leave the side facing the yard exposed for maintenance. I completely agree with the easy accessibility with a deck. Actually, that was a big reason I originally decided on a deck. The only real thing changing my mind is how a deck will limit the view into the yard. I just love the looks of a patio with a seating wall, and that fact that it gives you the feeling of being more "In" the landscape than sitting above it looking down. I flip flop back and forth so much, hence the reason this project has not gotten off the ground.

As far as the deck angle and stairs being awkward, I have already addressed that. I placed the gate/arbor farther down the yard and changed some of the angle of the planting beds. My original design was just a rough rendering, more intended for plantings.

I appreciate the input so far.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 12:39AM
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Can you update here so we can see how the deck has changed from the drawing? Just to be clear it is the deck itself, not beds surrounding it, that seems partially awkward.

"The only real thing changing my mind is how a deck will limit the view into the yard." I do not see why you think this is necessarily the case. ??

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:46AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Well I wouldn't want to decide for you, but I have some suggestions as to how YOU can decide.

1. Mock it up. If the view from inside is an important issue, and it should be with such a lovely garden, try mocking up a railing (a rake or two stuck in the ground will do) and then sit inside and see what the view is. It might not be as bad as you think. Also try to imagine or experience the view of the yard from sitting or standing at deck height. Visibility of child in yard is probably also important - consider that (although you'd likely usually be in the yard with the child).

Go through the motions of walking around the yard with both your options, can you find any aspects you absolutely DO or DO NOT want to experience? Note: things you HATE are usually easier to identify :-) An important variable here is the manner of exiting the door - I think a step down immediately from the door sill is a safety issue - do you want at least a small porch if you do a patio? Also, every time you want to enter the house from the yard, you will have to walk around the "fence" to the entrance. Mentally go through the paces of having that gathering, of being a guest at it (if I'm there and it's a patio, I've already fallen out the door :-)).

2. Check your assumptions, shop more. A deck doesn't need to have a fence-like railing; what about glass sides? Wrought iron is also easy to see through. Is it the upright railing you are worried about, or the top bar, which may also sit right at eye level.

3. As you proceed, keep your mind open to a third or fourth option or different way of combining the two types of surface. If you can't decide between two options, it is usually because neither of them quite meets your needs. Try to identify the use and view and maintenance needs you are sure of, that are important to you. Also consider the construction/wear/replacement issues. Consider issues of water drainage on the site (everyone loves a dry crawl space) and other practical things. Consider what your future needs might be - 10, 20 years out. Consider the off season. These may lead you to a different option, or combination of surfaces, altogether.

4. When in doubt, draw all your options. Make a template of the space and draw every option you can think of. Take it to the detail level, because that may be what makes or breaks it.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 10:03AM
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rosiew(8 GA)

You've done a beautiful job so far. The 'buffer' is great. I think patio rather than deck would suit you and yours beautifully. I tore off my deck, had a large patio poured, then tiled in Indian rainbow slate, have never regretted that decision. Looking forward to following this project.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 8:52PM
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The deck in my original plan was just a rough sketch. As I am sure you can all tell, I am no professional rendering artist....haha

With that said, here is a little closer interpretation of what I envisioned the deck to be. I placed the steps and the gate/arbor so that they would line up as a direct view from inside of the house. I also hope to incorporate a kitchen area with some counter space and built in BBQ. The existing house lighting will work well to light that area. The dining area would be slightly raised with a curved step up to make it a little more interesting. However, I am by no means a deck specialist. If you feel that it would be an awkward layout, by all means I am open to suggestions.

The patio below would more than likely be stamped and colored concrete to match other areas of the house. Lawn would be to either side of the path.

Again, if ANYONE has suggestion on a different layout, I am open to just about anything. The only real plan I am comitted to would be my plantings. Any and all hardscapes and features are on the table.

Thanks again

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 10:02PM
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I am not meaning to wound your pride, but I find the deck geometry a little odd and gimmicky. I'm not opposed to different levels, but the idea of the raised area at the far side of the deck seems out of synch with natural flow. The highest level should start at the house and other levels should descend in order from there. The only way I could see the dining area at a higher elevation is if it was hugging the house, but your hot tub/ walkway areas aren't conducive to that scheme.

I don't know how much difference this would make to you, but would it be good to arrange the kitchen so that when one is using it's facilities, they are facing the yard instead of having their back to it and to guests... more island-like?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 2:48AM
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There are innumerable ways this could be played with, but I'm just trying to show you an idea of simple, straightforward geometry for the deck without any funky connections or gimmicks. The "octagonal" format lends itself to transitioning space between rectilinear architecture and curvilinear landscape. In this case, the dining area is one level down. With such a concept--and careful working of the grade--you could eliminate the need for a railing around the dining area and not have it seem obstructive of the yard view. Naturally, it could all be built as one level if that were preferred and details would change accordingly. Low, built-in seating flanking the hot tub could protect the deck edge yet not obstruct view. The idea of deck/patio combination is still viable. Karin explained how you could get a feel for how things would seem by mocking them up. It's the best way. Bright string or somesuch run at the proper level would be an easy way to create a realistically placed edge of something.

After exploring it some, I find the "kitchen that allows you to face the yard while working at it" has the down side of being obstructive of the yard from the house view so not worth the trade-off in my estimation. A possible way around it is a larger deck. Another thought about it is a kitchen island that rolls about for use and getting it out of the way when not in use. Maybe you're content with it as is, where is.

I'd bump the walk farther from the garage. I'm not working with any scale--just eyeball--but the planting space there seems too tight.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 2:28PM
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Don't seem to be struggling to me! I like everything you;ve done and your overall concept. :-)

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 10:16PM
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OMG that make so much more sense. To be honest, I never sat and thought about how elevating the dining area would look awkaward. Obviously, I knew it would obstruct the view into the yard, especially considering how it would require handrails at that height. Your approach is far better, and don't worry, you didn't even bruise my pride.

I have one question. Do you think that repositioning the kitchen area so that it could be used as bar seating in the octaganol area would be a good idea? I realize the octagon would need to be scaled so that there would be adequate room for barstools, as well as a dining table and chairs. I just thought it was something that might be worth considering. While it would not place the chefs point of view directly into the yard, it would improve it.

One thing that I especially like is the seating area next to the Hot tub. I kept looking and looking at that area, and I never even considered your approach. Granted, it would require the deck to be much deeper into the yard, but after seeing it in a rendering it is a no brainer. It is so much better. One thing I noticed with the changes you have made is that handrails have pretty much disapeared. The only exception is the rail between the house and the hot tub, but that could easily be turned into an additional low seating area. I like this design considerably more than what I had been dreaming about. Design is definitely not my cup of tea.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 10:42PM
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I toyed briefly with that kitchen arrangement but moved on thinking it would be obstructive from the living room view. But with the shorter leg of the "L" as you have it, it could work. I prefer it as you have it and think it would function better. I think the bar seating could work if you tweak all the sizes and details as needed. Pay attention to seat and counter heights.

If you needed to get the deck 6" lower to make the scheme work, it's possible to add a half-octagon "stoop" spanning the doors. But better, I think, would be to elevate the grade at the yard a little and not have a stoop at all (if it comes to such a decision.) I'd try to keep the overall elevation differential to no more than 18", if possible.

Don't know if you noticed, but the gross shape of the deck roughly reflects the undulation of the landscape bed beyond. It's something to keep in mind as you consider changes and do your "tweaking."

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 11:36PM
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I really like this design. Yardvaark, Thank you very much. I also want to say thank you to everyone else. I appreciate all the suggestions.

I will update this thread as progress moves along.


I thought I would include some additonal pics of the landscape and a general feel for the house construction to give you an idea how I hope to finish out the back yard.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 2:07PM
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Those garages, especially, are spectacular!!! It's all very nice. You DO have your own botanical garden!

When you finish the back, post some pictures here, please. (Don't start a new thread for that or they'll never be linked to the "before" story.)

You're welcome!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 3:19PM
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Wow. Seriously, you are on the right track. Keep filling in the blanks and trust your urges, and it will be GREAT.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 9:44PM
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Everything is so very well done. You have excellent taste and a terrific eye.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 10:14PM
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If obstructing the view wasn't an issue, I'd put a pergola over the dining deck... will an umbrella be enough for shade?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 2:37AM
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After considering the plan more, I am leaning towards maybe placing a pergola over the bar/kitchen area just to give it more interest. It would not hinder the view into the yard at all. Plus, I kind of like the idea of being able to go topless (no umbrella or shade structure in the dining area) when the weather permits.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 9:34PM
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